iz'-ra-el (bene yisra'el): A very common term in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and it refers to the Israelites as the descendants of a common ancestor, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (see Ge 32:24-32). It was customary to designate the members of the various tribes as the children of the one from whom the tribe originated (see Nu 1:20-43; Ezr 2:3-61), and it was natural that the people who boasted of Israel as their ancestor should be designated as his children. The first reference to the descendants of Jacob is found in the account of the changing of Jacob's name to Israel, and the purpose is to connect them with the experience in Jacob's life which led to the change in his name: "Therefore the children of Israel eat not the sinew of the hip, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip." At the time when this was written "the children of Israel" was a phrase that was commonly applied to the Israelites. In 2Ki 17:34 they are called "the children of Jacob," and this occurs in connection with the account of the changing of Jacob's name to Israel and is intended to connect them closely with their father Jacob, who was favored of God.
After a time, it is quite likely that the phrase "children of Israel" lost its peculiar significance and was simply one of the popular terms designating the inhabitants of Palestine, but at first it was intended to connect these people with their ancestor Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. The Jews of the New Testament times connected themselves with Abraham rather than with Jacob (see Joh 8:39; Ro 9:7; Ga 3:7, tekna, or, huioi Abraam).