Monday, May 26, 2014

El Shaddai

It's been my habit for several years to focus on one of God's names or one of His character traits as a daily spiritual exercise of praise.  Today, I'm taking a look at a name that God reveals to Abraham in Genesis seventeen--El Shaddai.

I have to admit the first thing to pop into my mind when I hear "El Shaddai" is Amy Grant's classic song by that title from the early 80's.  I like the song and I like the song writer--Michael Card.  As a high school student, I frequented a small coffee shop in Knoxville, Tennessee where Michael Card was a frequent artist.  I graduated from high school in '81 and so "El Shaddai" is included in the soundtrack of my life as a staple of those late teenage years.

The meaning of the word, "El Shaddai" is a bit uncertain.  "El" is simple enough to translate. It means "God".  The "Shaddai" part is a little less cut and dry.  Depending on the word origin that you go with--it can either mean destroyer or it can mean sustainer.  That's a pretty big divide between the two options.  To sustain and to destroy are pretty much opposite ideas.  The biblical translators seem to try to split the difference and opt for God Almighty as the preferred translation.

God first reveals himself as El Shaddai in the Bible when He makes a covenant of blessing with Abram, "When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.  I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to make you into a mighty nation" (Gen 17:1-2, NLT).  Just a few verses later El Shaddai promises, "I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations!" (v4).  In verse 5, God changes Abram's name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many). In verse 6, God promises, "I will give you millions of descendants who will represent many nations."  In this same passage, Sarah's name is also changed and a baby is promised.

I was taught in hermeneutics class in seminary that context is huge when interpreting scripture. That said, the context of Genesis seventeen seems to point to sustainer as the best interpretation of El Shaddai.

One more interesting perspective to add is that acclaimed biblical archaeologist William F. Albright suggested that "Shaddai" comes from shadayim, the Hebrew word for "breasts".  This option gives us a wonderful metaphor of God as provider, caregiver, and nurturer.

Let me invite you to join me in worshipping God as "El Shaddai" today.  How marvelous it is to realize that God is nurturing me and nourishing me even as a mother feeds her baby.  I will thrive today because of God's great and gracious care.

I've included links to a couple of videos that might prove inspirational as you worship today.

For further study:

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