Names of God: El Shaddai

I wanted to start weekly writing a post about the names of God, and the implications that has on our lives. Today’s post is over a name that has some debate as to its exact meaning. It is also a personal favorite of mine. It is El Shaddai (Shad-dah-ee).

The first place we see this name is found in Genesis 17:1. We find in this passage that Abraham is 99 years old, and still has not children as God promised. God comes speaks to Abraham and announces himself with the name “El Shaddai”. Most translations will usually translate this name to “God Almighty”. That is a pretty fair translation, but it is also pretty broad. There is more richness to this word that can impact our interaction with God in a powerful way. Different scholars have varying opinions on its origins. There are some who look at this word and see connection to it and the Hebrew word for Mountain. This would give the concept of God’s majesty and awe. A fitting translation in some ways.

Another possible translation to this is God’s breast or chest. This would give the idea of a nurturing God who gives provision to others. This also has some validity to it since God is clearly nurturing to His children. He cares for them and protects them. He provides them with their needs.

There is another translation though. It is one that I am admittedly bias towards, and in truth if I had to choose I would say it could very well be a mixture of all of these things. This translation was pointed out to me by a college professor who gave some points as to why this translation fits best within the context of this meeting with Abraham. Shaddai has some very close ties to meaning “One who deals with violently, devastator, destructor.” In fact, most old school scholars who want to get to the basic roots of this word would say this is the most likely translation. Bible translators encompass everything, and put it into a generic “Almighty”.

Why would God introduce himself as one who deals with violently? What in this passage would make that name give comfort to Abraham? The concept of one who deals with violently would have had a different sound to it back then than it does for us today. It really would have had all the grandeur of “almighty” that has even been lost in our vocabulary in this age. It signifies the idea of all powerful, capable of defying the laws of nature, and unstoppable. What God is saying here is, “I am the God who gets what He wants even if I have to do some extreme things to get it.” What does God want? To make a chosen nation out of Abraham. What is in God’s way? The laws of nature that have made Abraham’s wife barren.

God won’t settle for adoption in this situation. He will not settle for Abraham impregnating another woman. God wants to keep this couple together and perform something incredible through them. He wants to achieve the impossible to prove He is beyond the impossible. He is a God who deals with nature itself to such a violent extreme that he makes a barren woman capable of having a child. God is saying nothing can get in the way of my promises. Nature itself is no obstacle since I am above nature.

Suddenly the idea of a God who deals with things violently is not so much gruesome and insensitive, but instead is awe inspiring. God was going to radically change a woman’s womb in order for a child to be conceived at a couple’s age that was long past capable of doing something like that. Nothing gets in the way of a promise made by God. When your translation says God is almighty it literally means He is almighty.

How does this impact you and me? What does this name of God tell us about Him? How can it provide us with security and grow our appreciation of Him? Any problems we face are petty compared to the power of God. The issues are country faces are nothing when I realize the leader and king of my life is the only things that matters. Natural disasters are nothing compared to His power and majesty. Every promise God makes in Scripture will be fulfilled even if he must deals with the universe itself in a violent and forceful way. Satan is merely a play king on this earth. When the time comes, even he will be unable to keep from falling beneath the force of the one who deals with things violently.

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