The name 'Israel' comes from heaven. It was given by God to Jacob after he wrestled all night with an angel of heaven. The word stands for 'rebellion' and defines both a man and people in rebellion against God.
It is not often is scripture that God renames people. It happened here, and again with Simon in the New Testament when Jesus changed his name to Peter.
With this renaming, what would have been the twelve tribes of Jacob became the twelve tribes of Israel.
The name 'Israel' defines all the people of God. It includes the Jews, but is not limited to them. Ten of the tribes of Israel were taken into captivity and completely disappeared among the pagans of the world. Scripture promised their rescue, a promise that bore fruit when Jesus appeared and called them to return from the lands of the North into which they had been dispersed.
When the Jews rebuilt their homeland in Palestine in 1947, there was a great argument over whether their new nation should be called Israel or Judah, since it was a country only for Jews. The former name was chosen, a choice that seems to havae been foreordained by prophecy.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
Jacob (who was called 'Israel' by God because he wrestled against an angel), took his family to Egypt when a great famine swept Palestine. There he found his missing son, Joseph.
Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers and was taken to Egypt. There he rose to a commanding position, becoming the overseer of all of Pharaoh's graineries. Instead of treating them as they deserved, Joseph welcomed his family with open arms and provided for them sumptuously.
Israel (Jacob) and his sons stayed in Egypt.
Generation after generation passed during which the children of the sons of Israel (Jacob) grew into a large family of tribes. They had no land, however. During those same centuries, new Pharaoh's gained the throne of Egypt, Pharaoh's who nothing of Joseph. Meanspirited, they made slaves of the Israelites and forced them into captive labor.
God raised Moses up from among them and asked him to lead the Israelites out of captivity to a land of 'Promise'. Moses agreed and did so, though not without some difficulty (see Pharaoh's attack).
Reaching the Jordan River after a 40-year journey through the wilderness of Sinai, Moses divided the land among the descendent's of Israel's sons. These twelve groups of descendents were apportioned areas of land by drawing lots. (See Map).
Not all of Jacob's sons were included in this apportionment. Joseph, who had saved his family from starvation was elevated by Jacob to the status of patriarch, joining Jacob, Issac and Abraham.
Joseph's two sons, Israel's grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were then appointed status equal to Joseph's brothers, allowing their descendants to be included in the twelve tribes. (see footnote).
One other son of Israel , Levi, was removed from the landowning status by being given the mantel of the priesthood. The descendants of this son were to become the priestly caste of Israel. Both Moses and his brother Aaron were born of the tribe of Levi. In order to bolster the ranks of the priesthood, as it became more and more important in the land of Israel, the first-born sons of the other tribes were selected to join this priesthood as well.
'The Clock of God', Chapter 7, 'The Twelve Tribes of Israel'
'The Last Days of Babylon', Chapter 12, 'Judah Restored'
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