Near the end of Jacob’s life, he gathered his twelve sons together and gave each of them a blessing. In his blessing to Joseph, he used imagery which symbolized how Joseph had overcome persecution by trusting the Lord:
The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:
But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob (Genesis 49:23-24).
The Hebrew word which is translated as “the mighty God” in this passage is abir (אֲבִ֣יר), which only appears six times in the Bible, always referring to God. The more common word for “mighty” is gibbor (גִּבּוֹר), which almost always refers to human beings. Jacob’s message to his son is clear: you have been wise to trust in the God I taught you to worship. He is stronger than the mightiest of men. He has strengthened you to overcome mistreatment at the hands of people who seemed much more powerful and influential than you at the time.
The writer of Psalm 132 used the same phrase to describe King David’s determination to build a temple. David must have been thinking of the miracles God had performed on behalf of his ancestors when he sought to build “an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob” (Psalm 132:2, 5).
The word abir is translated in other passages as “the Mighty One.” Since Jacob was also named Israel, the phrase is sometimes rendered “the Mighty One of Israel.” Isaiah used a version of this title three times to reassure the descendants of Israel that God had the power to deliver them from their enemies (Isaiah 1:24, Isaiah 49:26, Isaiah 60:16).
Nephi was particularly fond of one of those passages: Isaiah 49:26. He quoted it to his family soon after arriving in the promised land (1 Nephi 21:26). He later assigned his brother Jacob to share the same passage in a sermon (2 Nephi 6:18).
It’s an interesting passage, because it illustrates the contrast between the might of man and the might of God. Immediately before this verse, Isaiah asks an apparently rhetorical question: “For shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?” Why would anyone assume that a weak person could overcome people who are stronger, more powerful, and more influential? That’s not the way the world works. But then comes Isaiah’s answer: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered.” Thus far, the word “mighty” is a translation of the Hebrew word gibbor, and refers to powerful people. But next comes the punchline: “I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; they shall be drunken with their own blood as with sweet wine; and all flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” This time, the Hebrew word for “mighty” is abir—the same word used by Jacob to describe God’s power to his son Joseph.
It’s easy to understand why this imagery resonated with Nephi. Like Joseph, he knew something about enduring abuse from older siblings, and he had also been miraculously delivered by God many times. Nephi said that he shared this passage with his family to “more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer” (1 Nephi 19:23). He certainly derived strength from remembering that the God he worshipped was literally the Mighty One of Jacob—the same God who preserved Joseph when he was sold into slavery in Egypt, the same God who led Jacob and his family to Egypt to deliver them from famine, and the same God who later delivered the descendants of Jacob from slavery in Egypt (1 Nephi 5:14, 1 Nephi 17:40).
In explaining this passage to his brothers, Nephi repeatedly emphasized the supremacy of God over the most powerful people and organizations in the world. The descendants of Jacob had already been scattered, first by the Assyrian empire and now by the Babylonian empire. Nephi and his family had been forced to flee from Jerusalem as well. But one day, all of these powerful enemies would be overcome by God, and the children of Israel would be delivered:
He will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel (1 Nephi 22:12).
Today, I will remember the imagery and history associated with this title. I will remember that Jesus Christ is the same God who delivered Joseph from slavery and from prison and who rescued his family from famine. I will remember that He is the same God who preserved Nephi’s life and performed miracles in the lives of his descendants. I will remember that mortal power and influence—gibbor—is nothing compared with the power of God—abir. I will trust in my Savior, knowing that He is able to deliver me from every challenge I face, because He is “the Mighty One of Jacob.”