I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
What's in a Name?
In the play Romeo and Juliet, two young lovers want to get together and get married. However, there is one problem. They come from two families that are at war with each other: The Montagues and the Capulets. In a famous soliloquy by Juliet, she is complaining about the fact that she isn't allowed to see her love just because of his name. If he had any other name there would be no problem. So she says:
"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would were he not Romeo called."
While we can sympathize with Juliet in wishing that her Romeo had a different name than Montague, she could not have rightly said "What's in a name?" if she were living in the ancient Near East during biblical times. For names had great significance in those days.
In the West, we either give children names because they sound nice or because they have some sort of sentimental significance. In the East, a name was the equivalent to the person themselves. It signified their person, worth, character, reputation, authority, will, and ownership. God, in Scripture, is given many names. One of those in the Old Testament is that of El Shaddai, which usually is translated 'God Almighty' in most English translations of the Bible. However, it signifies so much more.
This name that God gave Himself is used eight times in Scripture, the first of which is Genesis 17:1. The word Shaddai is sometimes used by itself, in which case it is simply translated as the Almighty. Between the two uses, the name appears some forty-eight times in the Bible.
El Shaddai, when put together in combination, is utilized almost exclusively in reference to the three great patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it is most certainly the primary name by which they knew the Lord. The name Yahweh was given later to Moses but El Shaddai was first uttered to the patriarch Abraham. So this is a very ancient name for the God of the Bible. Let's take a look at it and see what El Shaddai reveals about our God.
I. Meaning of the Name
First of all, we must be careful to note that the Bible makes the assertion that there is only one true God, However because that one God has many characteristics He goes by many names. Each denotes a certain aspect of His character, so the more names that we understand, the more we can begin to comprehend who the Lord has revealed Himself to be.
The name El in the Bible is just the general generic word for god. It could be any god including the many pagan gods of the nations surrounding Israel. In the book of Genesis the plural is used of the one true God when it states that :
"In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1).
El is probably used in this way as a majestic plural. A majestic plural,
also called a royal plural, is often used of a single thing or person in order to emphasize something or honor someone. Here it honors the God who created all that there is by His word. Of course, now that we understand something of the Trinity, it fits the Triune God perfectly. However, it is unlikely the writer, Moses, understood it like that.
When used of the God of Scripture, the term El is often coupled with another Hebrew word in order to further define the God we serve. So, for instance, the Lord was sometimes called El Elyon meaning God Most High or El Olam meaning God Everlasting.
There is some controversy over what the word Shaddai means. For instance, some have suggested that it comes from the Hebrew word Shadad which means 'to overpower or destroy.'
However, the most promising understanding of the term seems to be that it is derived from the word shad, which is the Hebrew word for breast. This indicates God's sufficiency and nourishment of his people.
In Old Testament times, there was no manufactured formula that a child could drink. If a child was unable to get nourishment from its mother's breast, or that of a wet nurse, the child would die. So the mother was not only the source of comfort and security, she was the very source of life for the child. In the same way, God is the All-Powerful, All-Sufficient source of our life.
What a beautiful picture of our Lord! Not only is God seen in Scripture as a strong, protective father. He has the characteristics of a nurturing, caring mother as well. While we should never call God our mother, for that is not how He pictures Himself, women, created in His image, have some of the wonderful characteristics of Almighty God.
The Lord compares Himself to a mother in other places as well. For instance, in Isaiah 49:15 God says this to his people:
Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb. Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
In the New Testament, our Lord Jesus Christ actually wept over the City of Jerusalem and said:
O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Matthew 23:37).
This is a vivid picture of a mother hen hiding her chicks under her in order to protect them from the elements or predators and to keep them safe and warm. Jesus wanted to protect and comfort his people in this way but they refused to let him.
Most of us never think of God in this way. There is a special bond between children and their mothers. Men usually date and marry women who are similar in some way to their mother. I have heard of men dying on the battlefield in war that call out for their mothers.
On Facebook, I saw a 102-year-old mom who came to visit her 80-year-old daughter while the daughter was very sick and in bed. When she saw her mom, as her mother slowly moved her way up to her baby and hugged her, the younger woman started crying and saying over and over "Momma!, Momma!, Momma!", like a little girl would who needs the comfort of her mother in a time when she had lost all hope.
Well God, your El Shaddai, your All-Mighty, All-Sufficient provider, wants to comfort you in that way. He wants to hold you to Himself and let you know that all is going to be all right. He desires to tell you that He will take care of you. You need but cry out to Him for help. And He is better than any earthly parent because He has the power to fulfill His promises to you no matter what. Even if the situation appears hopeless.
A beautiful example of this is seen the first time God ever used this special in Scripture.
II. Abraham Hears and Experiences the Name
We first read about the Lord calling Himself El Shaddai when God renews His promise to Abram in Genesis 17. The Lord had not yet changed his name from Abram, 'exalted father' to Abraham, 'father of multitudes', but that was about to change.
Abram was 75 when God had told him that he would have a son who was to be his heir. And through that son, his descendants would be as the sand of the seashore and as the stars of the heavens. Now, nearly three decades have passed and Abram is 99. Sarah is just ten years younger and is unable to have children. It was an impossible situation and Abram was probably more than a little discouraged by this point. It is at this critical time that God comes to Abram and tells Him:
“I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell face down, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:1-8).
It is at this point that God gives the covenant of circumcision to Abraham and tells him once again that He, El Shaddai, would give him a son to be his heir and that Sarah would have the son the following year. Here is Abraham's response:
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:17,18).
But Ishmael was not the son of promise. He was the son born to Hagar, Sarah's handmaid after Abraham and Sarah got anxious that God would not fulfill his promise. However, God insisted that he would have a son by Sarah and that his name will be called Isaac, meaning "he laughs" because Abraham had laughed at the prospect of God opening up Sarah's womb. We see later that Sarah laughed as well.
But God, the Almighty, All-sufficient provider came through and brought laughter into that home. Isaac was indeed born the next year.
So, this story shows that God works in situations that are seemingly impossible, to bring about His purposes. There is no situation too hard, too far gone, or too much beyond God's control that we can't talk to Him about it. And He will work it out for our good and His glory.
It may not happen in our timing when we think it should be fulfilled. We may even try to help God along like Abraham and Sarah did with Ismael. However, God Almighty will bring things about in His time and in His way.
In God, our El Shaddai, we have the combination of someone who cares for us as a loving mother her child and someone with the strength to see that all our needs are met. God can minister to every area of our lives, whether physical, spiritual, emotional or intellectual. Nothing is beyond His capabilities.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon once pictured God as the owner of a granary and we as insects coming to the door. He said this:
“Fear not! I will help you.” Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of your granary, asking for help, it would not ruin you to give him a grain of your wheat; and you are nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency. I will help you."
There is a song done by the Gaither Vocal Band that sums up El Shaddai. It is called 'He Will Carry You.' It goes like this:
There is no problem too big God cannot solve it There is no mountain too tall He cannot move it There is no storm too dark God cannot calm it There is no sorrow too deep He cannot soothe it.
Oh, if He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders Oh, I know my brother that He will carry you Oh, if He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders Oh, I know my sister that he will carry you."
What is it you wish to request from El Shaddai today? No matter what it is, He is and always will be the Almighty, All-Sufficient God, our Provider, and Lord. Like a good parent, He may not give you everything that you want. But come to Him and He will always give you everything that you need. Nothing is too hard for Him!
© 2018 Jeff Shirley