The process of nurturing and bringing forth life is encapsulated in one of God’s most prominent names- El Shaddai (El as in the letter “L”, Sheh-die). It is often translated in our Bibles as God Almighty. We might tend to think that “almighty” indicates strength and power, but those attributes are associated with “El” more than “Shaddai” (see Dt. 3:24; Ps. 68:35; 77:14; Neh. 9:32 for example). A little history behind the name is helpful. This translation came about due mostly to the influence of the ancient Latin version of the Bible called the Vulgate which is attributed to Jerome in the 4th century A. D. Jerome’s translation of Shaddai was based on a root word meaning strong and powerful as in one who can set aside the laws of nature or its ordinary course. And a case could be made for this thought since the name El Shaddai is closely connected to the story of Abraham and Sarah and God’s promise of off-spring to them at a time when that was (in man’s mind) physically impossible.
But there is a second possibility which is based on the root word meaning “breast” as in that which nourishes, supplies and satisfies. El Shaddai then becomes the title which illustrates God’s role the One who pours out sustenance and blessing. He is all-sufficient, all-bountiful. The Septuagint (the Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek) endorses this translation in its choice of ikanos for the Hebrew shaddai. It is interesting to note that the common Hebrew word for field, sadeh (sah-day), is another form of the word shaddai and the point is obvious: a cultivated field is something which nourishes and sustains life. Combined with the concept behind the first root word, El Shadai is then both the One who has the power to bring forth life and to sustain it.
There is no passage in Scripture which is more significant to this name than Gen. 17: 1-21. We have no problem relating to Abraham’s initial disbelief. After all, how many 99 year olds do you know that are able to father a child? But even more significantly, it is El Shaddai who confirms to Abraham that a child, and the ensuing descendants after him, will be the recipients of a unique relationship with El Shaddai Himself. It is one thing to have the power to produce a little seedling, that is, an heir. It is another to sustain an entire family tree! You have to be a very special Gardener to do that. Yet in time Abraham recognizes and believes that El Shaddai will do just that- produce both his heir and the generations to come because Paul recognizes in Romans 4:19-21 that Abraham’s faith confirmed God’s ability to fulfill His promises. The author of Hebrews says the same of Sarah (Heb. 11:11). To be truthful both Abraham and Sarah did not completely understand the power and sustainability of El Shaddai at first, but are we any quicker at understanding God when He steps into our lives? I think not!
In Gen. 17:1 El Shaddai requires two commitments from Abraham: walk before Me, and be blameless (NAS). Studying these words brings out wonderful nuances. If we were to literally spell it out, El Shaddai is saying, “Abraham set your face and the direction of your life toward me and move in that direction with complete and whole-hearted commitment”. The result of that dedication is a change in names which reflect the fulfilled promise to come a year later (Gen. 21:1-7). Did Abraham or Sarah initially believe that the Lord would actually give them a son of their own flesh and blood? Their actions seem to indicate that they did so- but with their own human perimeters and they proceeded to “help God out”. But they did eventually realize El Shaddai was quite capable of producing and sustaining life on His own! You may shake your head at them; you may even laugh, but how many times and in how many ways have you done the same? The way we live our lives indicates our response to El Shaddai’s command to Abraham: walk before me and be blameless. Which way are you facing? How committed to that direction are you? There is only One Gardener who can produce and sustain life. Is He the One who is tending to you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/16/2016