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The first time the word Hebrew is used in the Bible is in reference to Abraham. Genesis 14:13 says, “And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram.”  Abram’s name is later changed to Abraham, as we read in Genesis 17:5, “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”  Many suppose that the title of Hebrew refers to Abraham being related to Eber.  However, by reading the genealogy in Genesis, chapter 11, we see there were five generations between Eber and Abraham.  This would typically mean there were many more people designated as Hebrews, yet the name is limited to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob.  This means that Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar and Esau, Jacob’s twin brother are not referred to as Hebrews. As most of us know, the nation of Israel gets its name from Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel as we read in Genesis 32:27-28, “And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

What, then, is the significance of the word Hebrew?  The root from which we get the word means to ‘pass over’ as when someone passes over a river or from one area of land to another.  Let’s read Genesis 12:1-4, “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.”  The Lord directed Abraham to leave his country and go to a land the Lord would designate for him.  It’s not until Abraham is in Canaan, that he is called a Hebrew.

While in prison in Egypt, Joseph spoke of his home in Genesis 40:15 where he said, “For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.”  He acknowledges here that his homeland was the land of the Hebrews, showing it was to Jacob’s children, or Israel, that the term Hebrew is properly applied.  The descendants of Abraham through Isaac, and then Jacob (or Israel), made up the nation of Israel and were often called Israelites as we first read in Exodus 9:7, “And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.”

There are groups of people today that called themselves Hebrew Israelites.  This term is not used in the scriptures.  As we have seen from the scriptures, the term Hebrew or Israelite is properly used to designate those who are the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob.  (111.2)