The Names of God: El Shaddai

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Last week, we considered the name El Rai (or El Roi): The God who sees. Hagar uttered this name when she realised that God saw her when nobody else did.

Despite the fact that God had promised Abram and Sarai offspring, they doubted God’s promise and took matters into their own hand. Abram took Hagar as a second wife to ensure that God’s promise would remain in effect. When Hagar fell pregnant, the bitterness between her and Sarai resulted in her being driven from the family. This was a traumatic moment for Hagar and God kindly revealed himself to her as El Rai. It also a traumatic moment for Abram and he no doubt rejoiced when Hagar returned and submitted to Sarai. The family was whole again. He would see his son and play a vital fathering role in the boy’s life. Things were looking up.

But it seems that things looking up became a stumblingblock to Abram. It seems that he grew complacent about God’s promises during this period. Despite God’s promises that Sarai would bear him a son, he appears to have grown content with Ishmael as the promised offspring. God needed to reveal himself afresh to him and remind him of the promises. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty’” (Genesis 17:1). “God Almighty” translates the name El Shaddai. Abram needed the reminder that God would come through on his promise. God encouraged him by revealing himself as El Shaddai.

The name El Shaddai is both powerful and tender. The Hebrew root from which Shaddai (“Almighty”) derives refers to the breast. There is a wonderfully tender picture here: As a nursing infant finds comfort and nourishment at her mother’s breasts, so God’s people are able to find comfort and nourishment in him in times of great uncertainty.

Revealing himself to be El Shaddai, Yahweh instituted a covenant with Abraham. With the covenant came the promise of divine power, ability, and commitment to perform what was necessary in order for the covenant to be fulfilled. When we consider the context of this self-revelation of God, the name becomes very significant.

Perhaps Abram and Sarai’s doubt regarding God’s promise had intensified in the thirteen years since Ishmael’s birth. Sarai had not yet conceived. If it had seemed unlikely that an 86-year-old man would father children, how much more impossible would it be for a 99-year-old man to do so! It had been nearly 25 years since God had first given them the promise of a child. Perhaps their faith had lapsed into complacency.

But now God spoke again. How Abram needed the revelation of Yahweh as El Shaddai. How he needed to see that El Shaddai is mighty to overcome all odds. How he needed the reminder that El Shaddai cared and that he could take solace in his loving bosom.

It is perhaps significant that this name of God, found 48 times in the Old Testament, is located predominantly in the book of Job, where it is recorded 31 times. This perhaps suggests that the revelation of God as El Shaddaiis most pertinent in times of affliction. If anyone needed to know that he could find nourishment and comfort in God Almighty, surely it was Job. If ever there is a time when we need to know the power of El Shaddai, it is when we are under affliction.

God graciously revealed himself to Abram as El Shaddai. God graciously reveals himself in Scripture to us by the same name. Do you need this revelation? Do you need this vision? Are you confused and disillusioned in your faith? Have economic woes, relational disappointments, physical ailments, or a fruitless ministry left you dazed and confused, wondering if God really cares? Have your circumstances left you knowing, but doubting, God’s kind promises to you? If so, be encouraged that he is El Shaddai. Be encouraged that he is mighty to fulfil his promises and that you can go to him for nourishment and comfort.

Perhaps you have grown complacent about God’s promises and purpose for your life. Perhaps you have been left unhealthily content with the status quo. You have little appetite for God’s word, little desire to spend time with God’s people, and church is a (necessary) bore, in which you ritualistically involve yourself. Every now and again, you open the Scriptures and find them meaningful. You pray before you eat, before important business meetings, and before family trips. You are not against God, after all. You are a true believer. But when all is said and done, you are not too thrilled at being a Christian. The cause of Christ and his church, though intellectually important to you, really does not factor too heavily into your life. And you are content with this. You are complacent that there is not much of a divine reality in your life. Bills are paid, investments are secure, career is rooted, and family life is stable. You are content with what the flesh has produced. Why would you desire an Isaac when you have the strength of an Ishmael?

If that is you, let me suggest that you need a vision of El Shaddai. You need to be awakened to and amazed by the great, glorious, and gracious God who is! You need to share in vision that Abram received and that has been recorded for your benefit. Consider, briefly, four truths that you need to consider about El Shaddai.

First, see the greatness of El Shaddai. We are far too prone to lose sight of his character, might, and faithfulness. We need to guard our vision of God. Your vision of El Shaddai will be manifested in your life. If you are petty, bitter, earthbound, grumpy, negative, self-absorbed, critical, easily offended, and fruitless, be sure that you have lost sight of El Shaddai.

Second, consider the glory of El Shaddai. After revealing himself as El Shaddai, the Lord gave Abram a command: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:2). God is sovereign, so Abram must walk before him. God is holy, so Abram must walk blamelessly. El Shaddai is almighty in his sovereign rule and holy in the exercise of his might. He will perform what he has promised and therefore expects covenant faithfulness from his people.

Third, reflect on the graciousness of El Shaddai. In Genesis 17:2–8, God makes seven “I will” promises. God did not deserve these promises but God gave them to him in grace. El Shaddai sees your sin, unbelief, weakness, impatience, failures, and frustrations, yet he graciously responds to all of this. We need to see that God’s mercy is available to us, despite our sinfulness, and thus we must dwell under the shadow of his wings. If you are a beneficiary of the new covenant in Christ, you can appeal to El Shaddai for comfort, ability, strength and, if guilty of complacency, for repentance.

Fourth, consider the appropriate response to the revelation of El Shaddai. When God revealed himself to Abram as El Shaddai Abram “fell on his face.” He was humbled by the vision and listened to God. We will never fulfil the terms of the new covenant until we are first humbled by grace. We need to give up on the flesh and give in to the Spirit. We must let go of our way and actively embrace God’s way. Yahweh is almighty, not us. Let us not lose sight of El Shaddai. Let us we see his greatness, glory, and grace, and go forth with renewed faith that we will be blessed.