Titles of the Father – The Champion of Jacob

Titles of the Father – The Champion of Jacob

Titles of the Father – The Champion of Jacob. 

Then Manoah, father of Samson, asked the Angel of Yahweh, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?’ The Angel of Yahweh replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is a name of wonder. It is unknowable, and too wonderful for you to understand!’” (Judges 13:18).

Trying to determine a list of God’s titles in the Hebrew Bible can be a tricky business, a daunting task. For one thing, the differences between a name and a title are unclear and they often overlap. There are times, too, when one is tempted to consider a common noun or adjective or metaphor to be a title if it happens to reference God. And there are plenty of times when we read of a character description of God, or a unique ability of God, and we find ourselves turning them into titles. So the titles of the Father that I will highlight in this series is a list, not the list. For all I know, there may not even be a definitive list of God’s titles. I aim to provide varied glimpses of God the Father in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament… who He is, what He can do, what He represents, what He has done. Most importantly, I pray the readers of these titles are able to maintain the Jewish tradition of using God’s titles as ways of addressing the Almighty. As we address God in prayer and worship, may we feel free to put a capital letter at the beginning of each title, making the title an aspect of His identity. In that way each title could be another way to honor God and recognize His greatness.

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a fountain, whose branches run over the wall. His bow remained strong and steady, and rested in the strength that does not fail him, for the arms of his hands were made strong and active by the hands of the Champion of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel; by the God of your father who will help you, by Shaddai the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings lying in the deep beneath.” (Genesis 49:22-25). 

Champion = Hebrew, Abir; Champion; Mighty One; Protector; Strong One; Nobleman; Powerful One.

“It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.”  (Hebrews 11:21); “And Jacob called his sons, and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what should befall you in the last days. Gather yourselves together around me, and hear, you sons of Jacob, and hearken to Israel your father.” (Genesis 49:1-2).

It’s easy to picture this poignant scene as Jacob was close to death. He gathered all his sons around him, and wanted to offer his last words to them. Jacob’s life to this point had been one long spiritual roller-coaster. He had his moments of deception, and ambition, and running for his life from brother Esau. On the other hand, he had been privileged to experience spiritual moments that are unmatched in Scripture, from the ladder to heaven at Bethel, to the Angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, wrestling with Jacob all night. Jacob was determined to receive a blessing from this divine Angel, and he finally did, from God Himself. His name was changed to Israel and was given a disabled hip to remind Jacob that dependence on God is now the order of the day, and not dependence on his own resourcefulness and cleverness. Jacob limped thereafter, he was never the same man physically or spiritually. As he walked, leaning upon his staff, he lived, leaning into his God. As someone who seemed to live spiritually bent over so much of the time, he now was finally spiritually upright. After the name change, he was upright even as he was physically bent over. He turned to God, and enjoyed a deep relationship with Yahweh until his dying breath.

So Jacob, still stubbornly resolute at the end of his life, was outspoken and brazen in the face of God. He was boldly determined to invite God into the future of his sons. Jacob was taken over by the Spirit of God as he offered prophetic blessings for each son. Jacob had words of knowledge for them all as he spoke his last words to them. “These are the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob), and this is what their father said as he told his sons good-bye. Jacob blessed them everyone with the blessing appropriate to him.” (Gen. 49:28). As the Message put it, “Jacob blessed them with God’s blessings – not his own.” (Hebrews 11:21).

The beautiful blessing said over Joseph referred to the Champion of Jacob, the Mighty One who has been Jacob’s mainstay, whether Jacob knew it or not. That idea of God being Jacob’s Champion is found in other passages as well. David vowed to “the Champion of Jacob” in Psalm 132:2Isaiah spoke of the Champion of Jacob in the same breath as Yahweh-Sabaoth in 1:24; in 49:26 at the same time as he spoke of the Lord as Savior and Redeemer; and in 60:16 when Isaiah spoke in similar terms, when he referenced the Lord as Savior and Redeemer and Champion of Jacob once again.

When we see Jacob think of God as his champion, one wonders if his famous wrestling match with the divine at Peniel was on his mind. In Genesis 32, we find Isaac’s son Jacob fearful about his meeting up with his long-lost brother, Esau. It’s been 20 years since Jacob, the con man, cheated Esau out of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Jacob by now was wealthy, had 11 sons, and was frantic with fear. Knowing Esau was coming to meet him with 400 soldiers, Jacob decided to send lavish gifts ahead of their meeting, hoping to soften Esau’s heart toward him. He would do whatever it took to save the life of his family, and of course save his own skin in the process. While waiting until morning to meet his fate with Esau, Jacob wrestled with the Angel all night. “In his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed.” (Hosea 12:3-4). Jacob was determined to receive a blessing from this man, this physical manifestation of God Himself. (32:24-31). This wrestling Angel could be none other than Jesus, God in the form of man. This mysterious wrestling match demonstrated Jacob’s strength of will and determination. He would not be denied a blessing from heaven, from this Messenger of Yahweh. The Angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel after the match, “because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.” The name of Israel has been translated in many different ways by Hebrew scholars: Someone who has successfully struggled with God; One who is a prince with God; God contends and prevails; May God show His strength; He who wrestles with God.

Jacob was tenacious in his wrestling match with this divine being. He stubbornly fought with the Lord all night without surrendering. Finally, when the Lord politely suggested they cease wrestling, Jacob refused. Jacob held on strongly to this mysterious Angel and wouldn’t let Him go. Jacob shamelessly told the Lord that Jacob was stuck to Him like glue until He blessed him. Talk about chutzpah! Jacob had the spiritual audacity, the gall, to force a blessing out of God! Jacob didn’t even give God a choice… Either bless me, or I never let you go, says Jacob. One could almost conclude that Jacob extorted a blessing out of the Almighty God! It takes a lot of nerve to be pushy with God, but sure enough Jacob got his blessing.

After receiving his hard-fought blessing from the Lord, Jacob named that place Peniel, which means “Face of God.” “For I have seen God face-to-face, yet my life has been spared.” (32:30). The next day, Jacob and Esau reconciled, and made peace with each other. And because the Angel threw Jacob’s hip out of joint, Jacob had to limp for the rest of his life. He had to lean on his staff and learn how to depend on God instead of his own wits. Jacob the Trickster became Israel, whose extended family founded the nation of God’s Chosen People. Jacob’s faith never wavered from that day onward. Because of his encounter with Christ, Jacob was a changed man, and he enjoyed a whole new and deeper relationship with God.

But Jacob’s farewell blessings were not the end. Revealing the importance Yahweh had become in his life, Jacob in his dying act worshipped the Lord. He leaned on the top of his staff, bowed his head, and offered reverent prayers to God, his deep friend. We don’t know the words Jacob used, but they were certainly in the spirit of his opening words to his blessing of his son Joseph. “May the God before whom my grandfather Abraham and my father Isaac, walked – the God who has been my shepherd all my life, to this very day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all harm – may He bless these boys.” (Gen. 48:15-16). We do know that Jacob went from clever schemer to faithful believer, and in his humility before the Lord, his final words were spoken in reverence and gratitude to the God of his fathers. In the Aramaic, the word for worship means “to surrender,” and that’s what Jacob did in his dying words, he surrendered his life one more time to the Lord. Despite the profound ups and downs in his long life, Jacob had come to believe that the Lord had been his shepherd through everything. Isn’t it wonderful that Jacob’s final recorded act was worship, his offering of adoration and devotion, a final act of astonished wonder? Jacob died well, as bold as ever.