Question: "What are the different names for the Israelites, and what do they mean?"
Answer: The Jewish people are referred to by many different names in the Bible. They are called Israelites, Jews, Hebrews, children of Abraham, Daughter Zion, God’s chosen people, etc.
One of the most common names for the Jewish people in the Bible is “Israelites.” This title was used in the same sense that American citizens are referred to as “Americans.” The Israelites were citizens of Israel. However, the origin of the word Israel is found in connection with Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. After wrestling all night with an angel, Jacob was given the name “Israel,” meaning “one who wrestles with God.” Jacob’s descendants included 12 sons, who became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.
A second common name for the Jewish people is “Jews.” The word Jew comes from the term Judah, the leading tribe of Israel. A Jew was, literally, “one from the land of Judah,” although the word later came to be applied to any Israelite, regardless of the tribe to which he belonged. The first occurrence of the word Jew in the Old Testament is in Esther 2:5 where Mordecai is called “Mordecai the Jew.”
Another common name for the Jewish people is “Hebrews.” The first mention of a “Hebrew” in the Bible is Genesis 14:13 where Abraham is called “Abram the Hebrew.” Many believe “Hebrew” in this context is related to Eber, an ancestor of Abraham mentioned in Genesis 11:14–16. Regardless of the term’s meaning, its original connection is with Abraham as founder of the Jewish people.
The Jewish people are also referred to as “sons of Abraham” or “children of Abraham.” The apostle Paul addressed the Jews in Antioch using this term in Acts 13:26 (see also Romans 9:7). “Children of Abraham,” of course, highlights the relationship between Abraham and the Jewish people. Jesus and Paul both called upon Jews not only to be children of Abraham by birth, but to imitate the faith of Abraham (John 8:39–40; Romans 4).
“Daughter Zion” is found in many prophetic books and is a poetic reference to the nation of Israel. Often, the passages containing “Daughter Zion” or “daughter of Zion” deal with the redemption and salvation of the remnant of Israel, especially in the context of the coming of the Messiah (Zephaniah 3:14; Lamentations 4:22; Micah 4:8; Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 52:2).
In the Old Testament, “God’s chosen people” is another name for the Israelites (1 Kings 3:8; Isaiah 47:6; 65:9). This term underscores the fact that the Jews have had a special purpose and calling, from the time of Abraham to the time of the Messiah, and they will again figure into God’s plan for the future. “You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
God promised a blessing to all the people of the world through the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). Jesus Christ, of the tribe of Judah, was born in Bethlehem and resided in Nazareth of Galilee. In Him we have all been blessed.
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