On Meanings of ISRAEL -
“... Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
(Genesis 32:28, KJV;
compare with Hebrew Genesis 32:28)
It was the LDS Bible Dictionary that years ago prevailed on me to accept the definitions “Israel.
One who prevails with God or Let God prevail.”
Where do these definitions come from?
Apparently these definitions were chosen (asserted
really) from a comment in STRONG’S Hebrew Dictionary.
See entry 8280 on the verb “saw-raw’; a prim.
root; to prevail:- have power (as a prince). ”
In other words, those contributing to the LDS Bible Dictionary, conceived a
couple of meanings for Israel from “sarah” (שרה),
as uniquely interpreted in STRONG’S Hebrew note 8280. This they felt
good about, and published,
even though STRONG’S Concordance actually defines the name Israel differently (3478).
When one searches all instances of the Hebrew verb “sarah”
one struggles to find even one instance in which the verb is translated “prevail”.
If “sarah” means “to prevail” where is it used as such in the Bible?
verb “sarah” can mean persist, persevere, wrestle, contend,
strive, struggle, exert oneself, exercise power
… but none of these guarantee prevailing, or explicitly mean prevail. In fact, the expression translated “and have prevailed” in
Genesis 32:28, comes from an entirely different word,
same as in
Genesis 32:25, and
If “sarah” means “to prevail”, then we have a potential redundancy in the verse: “... for as a prince hast thou
power prevailed with God and with men,
and hast prevailed.” This verse, Genesis 32:28, you will recognize
from above, is the verse explaining Jacob's new name
Of course the potential redundancy does not prove that “sarah”
can’t mean “prevail”. Given the meanings of “sarah”
(שרה) and “yakhol”
(יכל), we may see in the
“... for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed
overpowered.” But as we look into the details of these two
Hebrew verbs, it comes as no surprise that prevail is absent in the
Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon definitions of
“El” in Yisra'El, is a reference to mighty “God”.
The Most High God is “El-Elyon”,
who, of course prevails, and will prevail; though human beings are free to choose whether or not they will obey his
The question therefore isn't whether God will prevail, but whether he will
prevail more with justice, or more in mercy. (Isaiah 42:13,
LDS Doctrine and Covenants 3:3-14)
The word “sar” (שר)
means “prince”. The verb “sarar” (שרר)
should be considered. Especially consider the verb “sur” (שור) as used in
and Hosea 12:4.
One who is to reign and become a prince of God is suggested in the name
verse 11 in Hebrew)
The Hebrew letter yod
at the beginning of the name, indicates third person, masculine, future
tense. So a direct interpretation of Yisra'El is: He will strive (persist,
contend, wrestle …) – El. This is taken by some scholars to
mean God strives, persists, contends …
Other scholars like to make a command out of the name, and suggest the jussive
[Let] El persist,
persevere, contend, strive, wrestle, exert power, … But
there is really no explicit let in the name, and no
prevail appears in these scholarly interpretations, notwithstanding STRONG’S Hebrew
entry 8280 which asserts that “sarah”
pronounced “saw-raw” means “to prevail”.
What if Jacob had let the being he was wrestling prevail? Would Jacob have been blessed with the name
Israel? Scripture seems to indicate the answer is no!
24 ¶ And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he (the man)
prevailed not against him
(Jacob), he touched the hollow of his (Jacob’s)
thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
26 And he (the man) said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he
(Jacob) said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he (the man) said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he (the man) said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
(Genesis 32:24-28, KJV)
One of the reasons Jacob was blessed with a new name was because he prevailed. In fact,
in Hebrew literally reads, “... va-tukhal”
(ותוכל) = “...
and thou hast prevailed”, meaning Jacob (Israel) had prevailed.
For Jacob to have been blessed with the name Israel, he had to prevail with that being that strove with him. How do we know this? The man
who blessed Jacob said so:
“Thy name shall be called … Israel: for … thou … hast prevailed.”
This does not mean that the verb prevail
is in the name Israel.
Suppose Israel can mean [Let] God prevail. Are we then to understand that Jacob was being reproved for prevailing when he was named
Israel? How else was Jacob to be blessed if not by prevailing?
Some blessings come by wrestling and prevailing with the Divine. Jewish faith understands this.
Consider Exodus 32:9-14,
1 Chronicles 5:2.
Note that God is not a mortal man that he should repent of doing wrong (as in sin, Numbers 23:19), but
the Eternal can change his mind, or be persuaded to change his mind
Why? Because God who is holy, is also a person or persons. To suggest that
there are no instances in which it may be appropriate to wrestle with God and prevail is contrary to scripture.
Genesis 32:28, LDS note
c actually admits that the verb in Israel means
Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon definition of this verb agrees that it means
persevere, and no where states that it means prevail.
So how did
STRONG’S Exhaustive Concordance Hebrew entry 8280 come up with the idea that the root “sarah” in “Yisra'El”
means “to prevail”?
Let’s compare the language of entry 8280,
which asserts that the verb means “... to
prevail -- have power (as a prince)”,
with the unique language of KJV Genesis 32:28: “as a prince hast thou power ... and hast prevailed”
(different than other translations).
See the similarity? One strong possibility is that what you see here, is an attempt to
fit a meaning to the verb in the name Israel
based on the venerable English translation of
verse 28; instead of more carefully discerning, and
rightly dividing the ancient language.
Besides Joshua (James) Seixas,
the Prophet Joseph Smith had few mortal Hebrew “experts” to consult
with. The Prophet had a copy of Seixas’ Hebrew primer, Manual Hebrew Grammar for the Use of Beginners. A Hebrew verb for “to be able,
prevail” is listed on
This verb is the same as that discussed in STRONG’S Hebrew 3201.
This verb is not in the name Israel. Of course there is more than one
Hebrew verb that can be interpreted to mean “prevail”. Even so, Israel
may come short of prevailing. Israel needs God’s help and blessing.
If the name Israel suggests the need for God to prevail in
hesed and in righteousness,
it may be precisely because the name Israel does not include the verb prevail.
So what is really a strong interpretation of the meaning of Yisra'El?
that if the Prophet Joseph Smith had openly, publically given us a definition of the meaning of
Israel it would have been a lot like the one found in STRONG’S Exhaustive Concordance
Hebrew entry 3478:
“…yis-raw-ale; … he will rule (as) God …”
This meaning of the name matches its use in the temple ordinances. With
Israel rules as
Elohim. (Exodus 22:28)
In fact, since “elohim” is masculine plural, and
parallels “anashim”, translated “men” in Genesis 32:28, the verse may be more properly translated:
“... Thy name shall be called no more Ya'aqov
(Jacob), but Yisra'El
(Israel): for as a prince
(שר as in שרית) hast thou
persevered (שרית) with gods and with men, and thou hast prevailed
Note that the name Ya'aqov (Jacob) sounds a little like the Hebrew word for prevail, “yakhol” (יכל).
(Jacob) called the name of the place Peni'El (Peniel): for I have seen gods face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:30; compare with Genesis 32:1)
Can the name Ya'aqov be interpreted to mean “he (Yah) will
God with us (imanu El),
the House of ISRAEL (ישראל) becomes an eternal family (ישרון, spelled with a
(ו) or sign of the
the place of
“THE CHURCH OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS”,
so named some years after
the 1830 restoration of the Church of Christ (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 20:1,
Though the LDS Church has divine authority, she is nevertheless as her
title indicates, a temporally limited part of a hybrid or compound
(2 Nephi 2:11,
The eternal part being the Church of Jesus Christ, or rather, the
ha-Mashiah, the Firstborn. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 115:3-4;
If you wish to read about the ancient meanings of each of the characters
spelling out the name Israel, click on the following letters
(read right to left):