Is there a biblical, or otherwise extra-biblical, explanation of how the nation of Israel came to be known as Israel instead of Abraham?

I know you could make cases for arguing that it makes more logical sense for the name Israel or the name Abraham to have come to be associated with the people (and I guess the land), however is there a specific reason?

3 Answers 3


God did promise the land of Canaan to Abraham. For example God says to Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 17:8:

The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.

However, a few verses earlier, God said that Abraham would be "the father of many nations":

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you." (Genesis 17:3-6)

Israel (another name for Jacob) was only one of those nations. It would not give due respect to Abraham, the father of many nations, to name only one of those nations after him. For a chart of the nations descended from Abraham based on the names of his descendants in the Bible, see The Genealogy of Abraham.

Isaac was the father of two nations, the Israelites and the Edomites, so the land of Israel could not be named after him, either.

Jacob, or Israel, was the father of a single nation composed of twelve tribes. In the Bible story, that nation conquered and adopted as its homeland Canaan and the transjordan valley. So his name is applied to that nation rather than the name of Abraham or Isaac.

According to the biblical story, later, when that nation began to fall away from faithfulness to God, it broke up into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel, each of which acted as a separate nation. However, the promise to the Patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--is seen as fulfilled in the reign of King David, under whom a unified nation of Israel reached its greatest extent.

  • 2
    I thought Solomon was considered to have reigned over Israel at its greatest. Why David over Solomon?
    – user3961
    Apr 3, 2015 at 17:38
  • David did the fighting and conquering that established the kingdom. Solomon inherited his father's kingdom and lived in great splendor, but fell away from obedience to God, resulting in the kingdom being ripped apart into two competing kingdoms (Judah and Israel) after his death. That's why David is considered the greatest king, and the pattern for the Messiah, rather than Solomon. Apr 3, 2015 at 17:45
  • Ah, yes. That makes sense. I do recall, "Solomon lived in the greatest splendor of the kingdom" being a common refrain. But it was David's work that brought that to Solomon.
    – user3961
    Apr 3, 2015 at 17:52
  • To be fair to Solomon, he did make many treaties and trade deals with surrounding nations, which contributed greatly to his own wealth and the nation's wealth and standing. He wasn't a do-nothing king. But he also taxed the people heavily to support his expensive lifestyle, and started worshiping the gods of the foreign princesses he married as part of those treaties and trade deals. Those things were his downfall. Apr 3, 2015 at 18:21
  • And of course Solomon built the Temple--something his father David wanted to do, but God didn't allow David to do. Apr 3, 2015 at 18:22

There is a specific line of succession starting from Abraham with whom the covenant is re-established.

First to Abraham:

Genesis 15:8: In that same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, form the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

Then to Isaac:

Genesis 17:21: But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

Then to Jacob:

Genesis 28:13, 14: And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

So the land of Israel was named as such.

You have to notice these nations emerged from the children of Abraham too:

  1. Ishmaelites - the Children of Ishmael who was the son of Abraham through Hagar, were called after their father Ishmael
  2. Midianites - Children of Abraham through Keturah
  3. Edomites - Children of Abraham through Sarah -> Isaac -> Esau (whose other name was Edom)
  4. Amelekites - Children of Amelek who was the grandson of Esau (Gen 36:16)

The Land:

The twelve tribes were descendent from and culturally identified with the twelve sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob), so it makes sense that the land they occupied was know as the land of Israel rather than the land of Abraham.

The Man:

Israel probably means something like "who fights with God", which is obviously appropriate for Jacob. Biblically this name comes from Genesis 32:28.

  • True, but wasn't the land first promised to Abraham?
    – Jay
    Apr 3, 2015 at 8:00

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