The Four Israels

Jacob wrestling with Angel

Jacob wrestling with Angel

The word “Israel” first shows up in the Bible when Jacob wrestles with the Angel of the Lord, and the Angel gives him that name. It means “to struggle/wrestle with God” ().

Throughout the rest of the Bible, the word “Israel” shows up in the Bible about 2,300 times, and has four distinctly different meanings. Any time you see the word “Israel” in the Bible, you have to look at the context to see what, exactly, is intended. (This gets particularly challenging when you see a promise made to “Israel”.)

Here are the four uses of “Israel” in the Bible:

1. Israel the Man
Aka “Jacob”.
This is the name of the twin brother of Esau, second son of Isaac and Rebekah, husband of Leah and Rachel ().
::This “Israel” received promises from God. ()

2. Israel the People
Aka “Israelites”, “Children of Israel”, “ethnic Israel”.
This includes all descendants of all 12 tribes of Jacob even to this day (eg ). Although they were set aside for God’s special blessings and graces c. 1446 BC (; ; ), they were, for the most part, unbelievers (; ; ; ; ; ; ), and upon their deaths, do not enter His Rest. Ultimately, for the most part, God called them “not My people” ().
::This “Israel” received promises from God (; )

3. Israel the Kingdom
Aka “the Northern Kingdom”, and sometimes called “Ephriam”.
This refers to the inhabitants of the land of the northern 10 tribes, and does not include the southern 2 tribes (Benjamin and Judah).
::This “Israel” received promises from God (; )

4. Israel the Beloved
Aka “Israel of God”. This refers to all true believers, people who are declared righteous by God and “called by My Name”. (eg Is 44:5, ) Upon their deaths, they find eternal Rest with Him. In the OT, this also includes Gentile believers such as Uriah the Hittite, Ruth the Moabitess, Aurunah the Jebusite, Rahab the Jerichoite, etc. (some would say it also includes Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, men who where chosen and anointed by God)
::This “Israel” received promises from God that are DISTINCT from the promises given to Israel the People and Israel the Nation (Is 45:25; )

These distinctions become particularly relevant when trying to discern promises made to Israel and promises made to the Church. In short, you have some camps (ie, Dispensationalists) who insist that any and all promises to Israel are not applicable to the Church. And there are other camps with varying degrees of overlap between Israel and the Church. (The process in which these distinctions play out is beyond the scope of this article, and will not be discussed here.)

But to have a useful dialogue about the promises made to “Israel”, the first place to start is to realize that there are distinctly different uses of the word “Israel” in the Bible, and that promises to one “Israel” are not necessarily intended for the other “Israel”.


22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh. (ESV)


28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (ESV)


24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (ESV)


1:1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household:

Exodus 1:7

1:1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household:

Exodus 1:7

But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. (ESV)


Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (ESV)


22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (ESV)


5:1 And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. (ESV)


11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (ESV)


24 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you. (ESV)


20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
I will see what their end will be,
For they are a perverse generation,
children in whom is no faithfulness. (ESV)


10:1 For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (ESV)


16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (ESV)


1:1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.

Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or softened with oil.

Your country lies desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
foreigners devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And the daughter of Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a lodge in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.

If the Lord of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah. (ESV)


“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
declares the Lord.

“For behold, I will command,
and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’ (ESV)


And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (ESV)


17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ (ESV)


25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

28 Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. (ESV)


31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (ESV)


15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (ESV)


16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (ESV)


10  Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” (ESV)

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