Often in Scripture, a name reveals someone’s character or purpose. In these two verses at the end of Jacob’s story, God not only renames Jacob (v. 10) but also highlights one of his own names (v. 11). The new name Jacob receives—Israel—signals God’s faithfulness. Through the sons of Jacob, the descendant of Isaac and Abraham, God enables the 12 tribes of the budding nation of Israel to take shape, thus fulfilling his promise that Abraham’s descendants would be a “great nation” (12:2). The continuation of the Abrahamic covenant in Jacob is signaled by his new name and elaborated in a restatement of the covenant’s specifications (35:11–12).
In fact, a foretaste of this fulfillment had occurred earlier in Jacob’s story when his father had sent him to Laban’s house with a blessing: “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (28:3–4). The power of God Almighty now brings Isaac’s blessing to pass. God reminds Jacob of his father’s blessing when he restates it using the same name for himself, God Almighty (35:11; Hb. El Shaddai).
In effect, God is saying that he himself is able to bring his promises to fruition. By giving himself a name, God shows his desire to have a relationship with Israel and his descendants. After all, a part of the Abrahamic covenant is for the great nation of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (12:3). By making himself known to Jacob, God is making himself known to the world! Theology for Life—God makes himself known as a loving Father today as he brings salvation and mercy to the people he renames as his sons and daughters (2 Cor. 6:18). He is the only one mighty enough to bring this family together!