El Shaddai - God Almighty

Have you ever wanted to start over? Hit the re-set button? Make a clean break with the past? Once at a summer camp pottery class, I accidentally made an object that looked like a Salvador Dali sculpture. Unintentionally surreal. It was beyond repair; I had to trash it and start over. But we have this history that keeps chasing us down; there’s a legacy that we keep carrying with us.

In Genesis 35.9-15, God gives a man name Jacob the chance to start over. Jacob had been pursuing God’s blessing his whole life, but now, God is pursuing him. As we reflect on this passage, we see that God is El Shaddai, God Almighty - God is the God of new beginnings; he redeems identities, restores destinies, and gives us a fresh start.

1. Who Is Jacob?

Stepping into Genesis 35 is like opening the Lord of the Rings and reading about Aragorn’s coronation. If you don’t know the story, you’re wondering – who is this guy? Why is he in Gondor? Why is he being crowned? To set the scene, let’s take a brief tour of Jacob’s fascinating, troubled life.

Jacob is the grandson of a famous man named Abraham and the son of Isaac. He was one of two twin boys, but before he was born, his mother received a prophecy from God that ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger’ (Genesis 25.23). oGod always intended to fulfil his purpose through Jacob, but Jacob seemed to continually fall short of this early indicator of greatness.

Jacob came out of the womb grasping his brother’s heel, and he was named accordingly. One meaning of the name Jacob means ‘heel holder’, and though he had a great prophecy from God, he was always trying to grasp for what was not his.

The dysfunction of this family manifested in many ways. Rebekah favoured Jacob but his father Isaac loved Esau. Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright – the extra portion of the inheritance that goes to the firstborn. Later, when Isaac was old, and at his mother’s instigation, Jacob pretended to be Esau and received from his blind father the blessing he intended for Esau. When Esau heard about it, he threatened to kill Jacob, who fled to his mother’s homeland.

While in Padan-aram, Jacob stayed with his uncle Laban. Jacob fell in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel, for whom he worked for seven years but on the wedding night, Laban tricked him and presented her older sister Leah instead. For the promise of another seven years of work, Jacob also married Rachel.

Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and this provoked a competition of fertility. These two sisters gave their handmaids to Jacob, and between the four women he had eleven sons while he was in Padan-aram.

After twenty years away, and hoping that Esau’s anger had subsided, Jacob returned to Canaan. He finally met Esau, and, after a rough and tumultuous life in which he had been both a trickster and one who was tricked, Jacob settled down.

It was at this point that our story picks up. God seeks Jacob and adds blessing to what has been a hard life. But before looking at God’s intervention, let’s look briefly at Jacob’s relationship with God.

2. Jacob’s Conditional Relationship with God

Genesis 28.20-21: If God will be with me … then the Lord shall be my God.

Jacob had an if/then relationship with God: if God blesses me, THEN I’ll give him the honour of being my God. No. That’s not how it works. It’s a dangerous game to make your faithfulness to God dependent on whether or not God meets your criteria.

God is worthy of our love and our obedience whether or not he blesses us simply because He is God. God is going to teach Jacob that blessing comes on the basis of his grace, not Jacob’s performance.

3. The God of New Beginnings

v. 9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him.

This is a remarkable turn of events: all his life, Jacob has been pursuing blessing; here, God is pursuing Jacob. ‘To bless’ is to pronounce FAVOUR or WELFARE. So when God blesses humans, God is pronouncing a blessing – He announcing his favour and welfare, usually in a way that has concrete manifestations.

So God initiates an encounter with Jacob for the purpose of proclaiming a blessing upon him. God has done this with Jacob multiple times through out his life. Why does God keep pursuing Jacob? Jacob was a knucklehead.

God’s pursuit of Jacob has more to do with who God is than who Jacob is. God pursues Jacob because God is good, not because Jacob is good. God blessing Jacob is because of the covenant, not because of Jacob’s faithfulness.

4. The God Who Redeems Identities

v. 10: And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel.

First, notice the phrase, 'Your name is Jacob’. The name Jacob means heel holder or supplanter and is similar to a Hebrew idiom for deceiver. That is, Jacob supplanted, or usurped through trickery and deceipt, the place of his brother Esau. By calling him Jacob, God is acknowledging the past. God knew he was in his old life and still continues to pursue him anyway. To move beyond the past, we have to acknowledge it.

Second, notice what God says: no longer shall your name be called Jacob: God’s purpose for Jacob was not limited to his past; God was making a BREAK.  Third, God called his name Israel. The name Israel means God strives or God fights. The new name indicates that Jacob is no longer going to fight for his own blessing; now, God is going to fight for him.

When God renames people, it has to do with their destiny, not their past.  God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means exalted father, Abraham means father of nations. God calls us what more than what we are; He calls us what He is making us.

The point is that God doesn’t just ignore our past; he deals with it head on. Before he speaks destiny over Jacob, he acknowledges what Jacob is with out God. God doesn’t call us what we are, he calls us what He is making us. We get discouraged when we see what we are; to be encouraged we need to see what God sees, to know the destiny God has for us. All of us have made bad decisions that have brought us where we are today, and the same thing was true of Jacob.

5. The God Who Restores Destinies

v. 11: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.

God is repeating a blessing that has been a recurring them in Genesis up to this point; here is list of the people to home God has said, ‘be fruitful and multiply: Adam and Eve (Gen. 1.28), Noah (Gen. 9.1, 7), Abraham (17.6), Sarah (17.5-6), Isaac (26.3-5), and Isaac’s blessing of Jacob (Gen. 28.3-4): God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you.

The point of all these blessings: God created us in his image, and he wanted the carriers of his image to fill the earth. People sinned and rebelled against God and fell short of his glory and the image was defaced – not destroyed, but marred beyond recognition. God enters into covenant with Abraham and his descendants to establish a people through whom God would reveal himself to humanity. Even though humans continually go against God’s will and make choices against God and his ways, the Lord still brings flourishing and blessing to humanity.

Notice what Isaac prays for Jacob in Gen. 28.3-4: God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you. This is exactly what God now tells Jacob. But here is an interesting question: at this point, Jacob already has eleven children. Why is God telling him to be fruitful? God is extending to Jacob the generational blessing given to Adam and Eve and the covenant he made with Abraham.

Jacob’s future fruitfulness is not having more children, but his children’s children and their children and their children. BY positioning this immediately after ‘I am El Shaddai’, God is telling Jacob that his fruitfulness is NOT because Jacob was great but because GOD was great.

v. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.

This is a reiteration of the promise God made to Abraham to give him a land. Again, God told Abraham that the blessing on Abraham was a blessing that was also for his descendent, and that included the promise of the land. It was a long time before the land came into their possession, but God is speaking this same blessing on Jacob and his descendants.

Here's the good news: Although he had run away, God, by blessing Jacob, graciously restores him to the mission of blessing the world.

6. El Shaddai: The Lord God Almighty

v. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty.

Sandwiched in between the new name and the re-stated destiny, God reveals himself as El Shaddai – God Almighty. The Hebrew word for God here is El; Shaddai means Almighty. Thus, God is distinguishing himself from all the false gods of the Canaanites and the surrounding people. God is saying, ‘I’m not just A God but the God’.

This is the third time El Shaddai has been used in Genesis. The first is when God appeared to Abraham in Genesis 17 and made a covenant with him. God says, ‘I am God Almighty’.  The second is in Genesis 28, Isaac is sending Jacob away from Esau’s murder plot and off to visit his family in Paddan-Aram: God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. (Genesis 28.3).

The point is that Jacob can believe all these good things can happen, not because he has the might and the power to get this done, but because God has the might and the power to get this done. Here's the good news: God is sufficiently all-powerful to redeem identities and restore destinies.

7. The king from Jacob's body who gave his body for us

This is a short text, but there is a lot packed in here: God is the God who pursues people. God is the God who redeems identities and gives us a new name. God is the God who restores destinies and brings us back into his mission. God can do all of this because He is El Shaddai, God Almighty.

But the way he does it is through Christ. Remember what God told Jacob - kings shall come from your own body. One of the sons Jacob had was Judah, and one of Judah’s descendants was named David, and to David God promised than one of his seed would always sit on the throne of Israel.

Jesus, the son of David, the son of Judah, the son of Israel – Jesus is the king from Jacob’s body who gave his body on the cross to redeem our identities and restore our destinies. This is how Paul explained it to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 5.17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Because Jesus bore our sins on the cross, God makes us new creations, washes away the legacy effects of our past, and brings us into the newness of a relationship with him.

The point is simply that God created us on purpose. In Christ we are redeemed in our identity and restored in destiny because God is the Lord God Almighty. He is the potter who makes our lives beautiful. In Christ, we have a new identity and a restored destiny because God is El Shaddai, God Almighty.