Israel is a name which occurs throughout the Bible in many contexts, and meaning many things.
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- The risks of desert farming
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Israel the man
The name Israel means "he struggles with God"; this is both descriptive of the circumstances in which Jacob received his new name (Gen. 32:22-32) and prophetic of his descendants' struggles against the Lord. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and the last of the patriarchs.
See also Jacob
Israel the people
The Israelites were led, by Moses under God, out of slavery in Egypt. Joshua, Moses' successor, led them into freedom, peace and prosperity in Canaan, the promised land. For the first part of their history, they were ruled by judges who were raised up by God as saviors from the oppressive nations around. Eventually, the people rejected God as king and demanded their own king.
The Israelites worshiped God at the temple in Jerusalem, where the priesthood offered sacrifices and adjudicated in some medical matters. From time to time, God sent prophets to warn of judgment and remind of repentance; in later times, these prophets also looked forward to the coming Messiah and his reign of righteousness and justice.
See also Israelite
Israel the kingdom
Eventually, the people of Israel rejected God as their king and demanded to have a king "like all the nations" (1 Sam. 8:5). Despite God's warning of tyrannical rulers, the people refuse to listen and persist in their demand; the Lord therefore permits Samuel to appoint a king for them. Saul, David and Solomon rule over Israel. Saul's reign initially showed promise but degenerates rapidly; David's reign is one of triumph and expansion; Solomon's reign is peaceful and prosperous.
After Solomon, civil war splits the kingdom into the two kingdoms Judah and Israel (1 Kings 12). The kingdom retaining the name Israel was the northern one, based at first in Shechem, then Tirzah, and finally Samaria. The kingdom's leadership went from bad to worse, and was finally over-run by the Assyrians in judgment on the people and their kings.
Israel the Messiah
One of the major aims of Matthew's Gospel account is to show how Jesus takes upon himself the story of Israel. The structure of Matthew leads from Genesis: creation and patriarchs (Matthew 1) to the exile of the people and the kingdom, which is seen in the cross. Along the way, we see Jesus as the Wisdom of God, Jesus as God's chosen leader, and as King. As Peter Leithart put it, "Jesus' life, as Irenaeus saw, recapitulates the history of Israel, as Jesus relives the story and does it right this time around."  Jesus takes upon himself Israel's sad and sorry tale of rebellion and gives her a story of triumph, life and hope.
Israel the Church
Paul gives strong hints of an identification of the Church with Israel when he writes in Romans saying, "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel", and goes on to explain that it is not the natural children but the children of promise who are Abraham's offspring. Furthermore, the Church is referred to, in the New Testament, using imagery and language which was used of Israel by the prophets. For instance, Israel is sometimes called the son of God the Church is spoken of in terms of sonship (Gal. 3:6-4:7). Also, the relationship between God and Israel is sometimes likened to a marriage (Hosea); but the great multitude of John's vision plainly has the Church in view when they cry, "for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready."
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