Israel / ישראל – Yiśrāʾēl meaning – Triumphant with God, who prevails with God.
In our first issue of Kaleidoscope we featured the Hebrew word for Genesis—Bereshith—a fitting introduction to the start of our ministry launch. This month, I’d like to introduce you to a word that is both a place and a person—Israel/Yiśrāʾēl.
In the Prologue of Just a Little Girl, I’ve shared a story about a very special trip my family and I took to Israel several years ago. I’d like to include a short excerpt here—as this highlights our Hebrew 101 word for the month.
While there is a seemingly never-ending debate over exactly where human history began on the planet, there is no doubt the land we are approaching is where Jewish history began—the land of Israel.
However, Israel began not as a place, but as a person.
The historical facts of Judaism can all seem very complicated. Especially for non-Jews raised in America under the influence of Hollywood or the umbrella of a Christian denomination, many of which teach little to nothing about Jewish history, tradition or culture. Trust me, I get how confusing it can be. There was a time when my husband Paul and I understood virtually nothing of the Jewish roots of the faith of Jesus. Paul was born in Ohio and raised Catholic and I’m a Texas native who grew up in a Lutheran family.
Yisrael is the name given to Jacob in Genesis 32:28 after he wrestled with the Messenger of God who then bestowed upon him the Hebrew name Yisrael. Later, the twelve sons of Jacob (aka: Yisrael) became the forefathers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel—whose offspring were given a national identity as they became known as the Israelites. Today, ten of Israel’s twelve tribes (also known as the Northern Kingdom and as Judah’s brothers) have lost their documentation (and I believe the memories of their identities as well,) and predominantly exist assimilated in the nations as the Bible clearly states. Judah, which was once a separate kingdom included the tribes of Benjamin and some of the Levites and now make up what is known as the Jewish people of today. This remnant of Jacob’s children still maintain their identity and are called “the children of Israel.”
For many modern-day Christians weaned on Cecile B. DeMille epic films, the story of Judaism and of Israel began with the Ten Commandments and with Charlton Heston as Moses, the mass exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt and the wrath of Yul Brenner who played Ramses, the Pharaoh.
Jewish history actually starts with the story of Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob. Known as the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are often referred to as the physical and spiritual ancestors of Judaism.
Some would argue whether Judaism is, in fact, a religion, an ethnicity, a culture, or a heritage. I would suggest it is all that, and more.
Understanding the Judaism that Jesus obediently observed has shaped how I see Christianity. It shapes the way I now read the Bible, and the way I approach my Messiah. It has helped to lift the fog of spiritual amnesia that for years kept me from experiencing a deeper relationship with God.
As a Christian, the more I learn about the Jewish faith of Jesus the more I want to know. And the more I know, the more I want to share this knowledge with others. This desire to teach—to share God’s truth as it’s revealed to me—runs through my blood like oxygenating cells. In fact, I have been given this prophetic mandate.
The truth is, after years of seeking and study, I find familiarity and comfort in the land of the people who gave us the Bible, in the prophets whose words are still being fulfilled today, and in the celebrations and traditions of the faith of Christ that bring balance and meaning to life. I find purpose in my love of the Messiah Yeshua—who many call Jesus—and who has ushered in the way to stand before the God of the universe.
Just a Little Girl – How a Clinical Death Brought a Teenage Girl Face-to-Face with an Angel and Head-to-Head with Her Faith by Victoria Sarvadi with Allison Bottke. Morgan James Publishing, New York, NY © 2016, pages 2-3.
God made a covenant with Abraham, his son Isaac and eventually with Jacob. And that the God of the universe chose this Jewish family of all the people on Earth to covenant with, to claim as His people—must be strongly recognized as favor over all the nations.
In His covenant with the Patriarchs, God prophesied that one day Israel/ Yiśrāʾēl and all the nations would be blessed by the the Seed (Messiah) that would one day come from this chosen people. The Messiah would open the covenant to all who loved and believed in Him and He would fill them with His Spirit, writing His Laws and Ways on their hearts and that they would show forth that love by obeying His commandments in Spirit and in Truth.
Yeshua said, If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15 KJV).
It is interesting to note that when God made this covenant He also included the wives of the Patriarchs. This is apparent to me in the Hebrew word Yiśrāʾēl as the Hebrew letters (the aleph-bet) actually form an acronym of their names along with the names of their husbands. It’s important to know that Hebrew is read right to left, look at the diagram below and notice the first Hebrew letters of each of their names make up the letters in the Hebrew form of the word Yiśrāʾēl.
Yiśrāʾēl … ישראל
יִ – יִצְחָקיִ – Yitshak – Isaac
יִ – יַעֲקֹביִ – Ya’aqov – Jacob
שָׂ – שָׂרָהשָׂ – Sarah – Sara
רִ– רִבְקָהרִ – Rivká – Rebecca
רִ -רָחֵלרִ – Rakhel – Rachel
אַ – אַבְרָהָםאַ – Avraham – Abraham
לֵ – לֵאָהלֵ – Le’a – Leah
January of 2017 will see us launching a class in Beginning Hebrew at the Bethany Center, as well as a new Internet radio program featuring fascinating facts of a language rich in heritage and tradition—a language that is absolutely like none other.
You may wonder, how is it different? In English our letters have a sound connected to them but not a meaning. Not only do the letters of the Hebrew alef-bet have individual meaning but the letters also represent a number. These letters are individual principles with definitions that are important building blocks that construct a word—and then these power packed words create life concepts that explode with deep meaning.
The most important revelation concerning the Hebrew language is related to a Hebrew acronym called PRDS, which interestingly enough is where we get our English word “Paradise.”
In PRDS, there are four levels of meaning to Hebrew words.
P’shat – surface, literal or concrete
Resh – hint, hidden, could be prophetic
Drash – conceptual and connected to other Hebrew words to create deeper meaning
Sod – mystical or deeply spiritual
Unfortunately, when Hebrew is translated to any other language the prophetic, deeper and mystical levels of meaning are lacking. The Bible isn’t intended to be taken primarily in the literal sense—any more than it is to be taken primarily in the spiritual sense. When dogmatically viewed strictly in literal terms, readers can miss the multi-faceted levels of meaning of God’s Holy Life Giving Word. Conversely, when viewed from the sole perspective of spirituality, readers are unaware of God’s interest in our physical world—the Creation that He Himself said was good.
It’s in a healthy co-existence of the two—literal and spiritual—that we are able to understand God’s complete divine intention.
A Thankful Heart
Unless one dedicates himself to the study of the original ancient language of the Bible, most people will miss the deeper meanings—the PRDS—of the Word of God. Additionally, without knowing Hebraic idioms we often scratch our heads in confusion. However, I am so very thankful to the Holy Spirit, our teacher, who reveals to all those who press in and seek Him, the deeper meanings of His Word in any language.
I take comfort in knowing it won’t always be that those of us from the nations will be at a loss. One day in Paradise we will all speak a pure language and in my spirit I am very confident it will be Hebrew!
For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent (Zephaniah 3:9 CJB).