I got my first tattoo (only tattoo) at thirty-five, which probably tells you an entire story right there. “Mommy” issues. Leviticus issues. But last year, during a lunch break at a Law Conference, I got “El Shaddai” tattooed on the underside of my right wrist in Hebrew. El Shaddai didn’t have a specific relevance to me before, aside from being an over-played Amy Grant song (no shots), but the story of Jacob did. For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to the “guy after ‘the guy’” in Biblical stories. Not the “promised ones” but the guys that picked up the mantle after them: Joshua who takes the tribes into the promised land after Moses led them there, Solomon who builds the Temple in a time of peace after David built the kingdom in battle, and my guy, Jacob whose name (Israel) marked God’s people of promise after Isaac, the promised seed that almost fell to filicide.
I vibe with Jacob heavy. I was a Mommas boy too. My older sister wasn’t a crazy redhead hunter or anything, but she was the outgoing, sporty, cool one, while I “was content to stay at home among the tents.” My sister had cool nicknames and a lettermen’s jacket, while I was Mom’s little asthmatic. Jacob changed his first name after he moved out of his parents’ house. He found the love of his life, though it took some hard work and breaking another’s heart. He broke a hip in his wilderness, and I broke my back in mine. He was a savvy businessman successfully building wealth for his family, and I’m working on it.
But there was this little hiccup in Jacob’s life story; an arc change. A part of his story I was always very familiar with and understood but needed some life behind me to be able to feel. See Jacob’s story seems to indicate that he was a bit manipulative and played his family’s weaknesses against themselves to better position himself as the “golden boy.” Again, as the youngest child, I can relate. Having bribed his brother and conspired with his mother to trick his father into an elevated inheritance, Jacob found himself and his family running from his elder brother’s vengeance. After sending his loved ones ahead and preparing for the worst, Jacob finds himself wandering alone in the wilderness through the long, dark night. Well, not alone. Jacob ends up encountering a stranger and wrestling with him all night. The stranger could not free himself from Jacob’s grasp, so he pushed Jacob’s hip out of socket. Crippled from the exchange, Jacob continued to wrestle the stranger until the stranger agreed to bless him. The stranger gave Jacob a new identity, Israel, and then left.
What’s interesting about this story is that the next day, Jacob’s older brother catches up to him, and he couldn’t be happier to see his trickster baby brother. The elaborate manipulative ruse Jacob had used to fool Esau didn’t seem to be bothering Esau at all, as if Jacob had been running scared for no reason – as if Jacob’s enemy was not his brother but his own conscious. He was being hunted, not by revenge for his actions but by his own self-condemnation. Jacob reconciles with his brother and moves on (after tricking his brother one more time because old habits die hard.) While traveling again, God comes to Jacob and instructs him to return to the place where he’d wrestled the stranger while hiding from his past and construct an altar. Jacob does as he’s told, but before he returns, he takes all the foreign gods/idols that anyone in his company had and buried them under a tree.
Now, a point should be made here. Jacob has been moving and operating by divine inspiration this whole time. Isaac prayed a divine blessing over Jacob before sending him on his way. By the time of the wilderness experience, Jacob has already had his famous Stairway to Heaven dream. God has come to Jacob and spoken to him several times in the story, and Jacob has listened and followed the voice faithfully. But God has come to him and introduced himself by saying “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac.” I am the God of your fathers. In the wilderness, Jacob asked the stranger he wrestled with for His name. He was blessed, but no name was given him then. It was only after following the path directed by his parents (they’ve sent him off to marry the “right” kind of woman after all), experiencing his parents’ God, finding himself isolated in the wilderness, wrestling with the God that had been guiding him so far (yet felt like a stranger while in the wilderness), coming out on the other side with a limp, noticing and burying all his false notions and representations of God, and then returning to the site of his wilderness experience that God started His introduction differently. No longer did God say, “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac.” God said to him, “I am El Shaddai.”
“El Shaddai” – is commonly translated as God Almighty, but may mean God of the Mountain, God Most High, God of the Wilderness, God the Destroyer, the God that said enough, it is honestly unclear (el shaddai wiki). It’s meaning, for my purposes was irrelevant. The point and the realization I had was that this grandson of Abraham, this guy who went out of his way to receive the Blessing from the impossible child Isaac, who has been on the “inside” the entire time, still had to be introduced to God. This 2nd Generation PK (Pastor’s Kid) who shot himself up the Church ranks, who practiced more restraint than his wilder sibling, who seemed to fit the ideal biblical mold a little better, still had to come to a place where he could bury his false gods and finally meet the real One. He had to come to a place where he could let go of what he thought he knew from his heritage and find Truth himself.
Jacob’s story expresses the famous quote “God has no grandchildren.” No one can be born close enough to God to get Him for free. Jacob was in a spiritually privileged position but had a complete misunderstanding of his father’s love, his brother’s anger, and his God’s identity which left him fearing for his life and his safety. When he believed what he believed, all of his surroundings were fearful. When he let all of that go and wandered into the wilderness, he met El Shaddai, and suddenly his perceived enemy of a brother welcomed him with open arms, and he inherited the promises made to his fathers.
El Shaddai was the name of the God Jacob experientially met, alone and wrestling in the wilderness, instead of the God he’d been born and raised with. “El Shaddai” was the start of Jacob waking up to Truth after burying the myth.
Like I said, I vibe with Jacob heavy, so I got “El Shaddai” tattooed on the underside of my right wrist.
…It’s not an Amy Grant tattoo. 😉