El-Shaddai: Mighty to Nurture and Supply

El-Shaddai.

Every time I think of this name, a soulful voice in my memory begins resonating El-Shaddai and I want to join her in song. But, before I get caught up in singing it passionately, I have to take a moment and find out what foundation the emotion of this song rests upon.

What does El-Shaddai mean, anyway?

It’s translated as God Almighty. However, if we don’t delve into the Hebrew a little bit, the translation will leave us stilted in our understanding of what that means.

Let’s look at where we first see this name in the Bible

A Promise Dimmed

Abram was directed by the LORD to leave Haran and go where his Father had originally headed- to Canaan. He obeyed. (Genesis 12)

God promised Abram he would have a son- and as many descendants as the innumerable twinkling hosts. Abram believed (Genesis 15).

Abram gazed up at those same twinkling host’s from Canaan for ten years. In the land of promise. Per God’s instructions. Shimmering reminders of children not yet born.

And though the twinkle of those heavenly hosts did not dim, perhaps Abram’s faith did a smidge. He and Sarai were getting up in years. When Sarai brought a charge against the LORD, blaming Him for her barren state, Sarai proposed that he take matters into his own hands. He could build a family through her slave Hagar. Abram agreed (Genesis 16).

A Promise Rekindled

What happened next is less thrilling than a direct answer to God’s original promise. Hagar got pregnant and hate grew in her towards Sarai. Sarai mistreated Hagar with Abram’s permission. Hagar, with the child in her womb that Abram had taken in his own hands to get, fled into the desert where she might have died. Yet God appeared to her, introducing another name, which we will talk about in another post. She obeyed God and returned to Sarai and gave birth to Ishmael, a child of a different promise. One made to Hagar.

Abram gazed at those twinkling stars as more years etched by on the records of time. He watched as Ishmael grew to a young man of 13. He gazed on Ishmael with hope of God’s promise being fulfilled through him. He gazed at the wrinkled corners of Sarai’s smile, unable to mask the pain she felt. Her womb like a hearth in summer, empty, swept clean, and cold- unable to produce. Her dream extinguished.

The Name El-Shaddai Revealed

And here, at this tick mark in the span of history, God appeared to Abram again. This time to give Abram a new name. To give Sarai a new name. And, to reveal a new name of His own. A name by which the patriarchs would remember Him by- the name El-Shaddai.

In Genesis 17:1-2, God appeared to 99-year-old Abram and said,

“I am El-Shaddai; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

What Does El-Shaddai Mean?

We know it has been translated as “God Almighty.” That might lead us to conclude that the “Shaddai” part then means to have all power to do anything He wants. Ironically enough, that meaning is supplied by “El.” “Shaddai” is a bit more robust.

The name “El” is translated over 200 times in the Bible as “God.” It reverberates the omnipotence (all-powerful nature), the power, and the might of the transcendent One who created all.

So, what does the Shaddai part mean, then?

It seems that the translation “Almighty” indicates it also means, well, “almighty.” But here’s the beauty of it. This word is rich and deep. It was translated as “almighty” in the fourth century AD for the Latin Vulgate. There is some discrepancy among scholars about what word it was derived from. The Latin Vulgate scholars and some modern scholars connect this name to a root word that refers to special power of God. Specifically, it refers to God’s profound ability to compel nature to do things contrary to nature.

There is another word shad, very much like Shaddai, which I lean toward as its derivative. Shaddai is used 48 times in the Old Testament. Half that number and shad is used 24 times. This word is translated into our Bibles as “breast.” It is connected to the tender care of God to nourish, to satisfy, and to provide. He is the One abundantly sufficient to supply all we need.

He is all-bountiful, all-sustaining, all-supplying, all-sufficient to those under His nurturing care.

He is more than enough for us.

Combined, then, we have one who is all-powerful (El) to nurture, supply, and sustain with bountiful blessings (Shaddai).

The Loss of Self-Sufficiency

As years waxed on, Abraham began to depend on his own sufficiency to fulfill the promise of God to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. He had taken matters into his own hands to produce an heir, before it was too late (at least according to Abraham’s thinking). Abraham didn’t have access to Proverbs 3:5-6, which I wonder if it might have stayed his hand:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. 

His actions created a downward spiral of conflicts that would span generations even to today’s tick on the line of history. When God appeared to him, reassuring Abraham of God’s mighty power to be all sufficient- no matter what the laws of nature indicated, God also encouraged Abraham to be wholehearted.

Do you remember the verse in which God revealed El-Shaddai?

“I am El-Shaddai; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

The word “blameless” is better translated as “wholehearted” or “complete.”

How many times have I, like Abraham, squinted my eyes in determination, leaned forward, and braved the winds opposed me to make something happen, only to look back on it to see the brazen self-reliance that slaps the face of an all-sufficient, all-bountiful, nurturing God, whose way and time, though often different than mine, is always far better.

My faith in El-Shaddai’s complete power to nurture and supply must be complete. It must be wholehearted. It can’t be if I’m staving off portions of it to stake on my own supply.

I was the child who, when given a glass of milk poured by another,  rigidly extended the milk glass as far from my body as I could, swiftly turned it 180 degrees with a slight pause to ensure the glass was evacuated and then back up 180 degrees, and declared, “I’ll pour it myself,” while milk soaked the carpet below and the jaws of my onlooking family took a bit to creep back up to their proper places.

Becoming a Christian, I valued my ability to be independent and care for myself, because it freed me to care for others. But like my milk pouring stance, that self-sustaining attitude was bent toward an unhealthy, flagrantly self-reliant mode of operations. One God was gracious enough to use a back injury in my Junior year of college to help reroute to a more healthy reliance on Him (including a willingness to accept His blessing through the help of other people).

If you’re even a smidge like me, then basking in the reality of El-Shaddai is for you. I know I need to stay my mind on Him (which reminds me of another song: Like a River Glorious). To stay my mind on Him who is mighty in His sufficiency to nurture, satisfy, and supply me for each step of my journey. Including this one.

How Can I Recognize When El-Shaddai is Used in the Bible?

El-Shaddai is often translated as God Almighty.

The Strong’s Reference for Yahweh is  H7706

For a complete list of the use of this name in the Bible, click here.

Reflect on El-Shaddai

As you spend time with God this week, consider the reality that He is:

  • Nurturing
  • All-sufficient
  • All-bountiful
  • Mighty to supply
  • All-Powerful to provide
  • More than enough
  • Worthy of your wholehearted confidence

Search through the places in the Bible where this name is found, and consider the depth of this name in the context of the verses.

Pray to and Praise El-Shaddai

Dear El-Shaddai,

You hold me under your arm- mighty to supply my every need. You are all-sufficient, all-powerful to nurture, supply, satisfy, and sustain me and every aspect of my life in your hands. You have searched me and you know me. You know me so well. You know all the times in which I have relied on myself. You know all the consequences, the regrets, and the painful paths I’ve walked related to my own self-reliance.

My self-reliance reflects a half-hearted faith. Please help me stay my mind on You, El-Shaddai. Help me to firmly extend my palms toward You for all I need with confidence in You that is complete. In faith that is whole-hearted. In reliance on You with all my heart.

Thank you for the way you gently, tenderly, nurture me. I praise You, my all-bountiful God, Who pours forth blessing. You are enough. More than enough. Help me rest in You El-Shaddai, even when my dreams are, by the laws of nature, like a hearth in summer emptied of wood and swept clean.

You are all-powerful to produce all that I might need. You know my needs better than I do. You are completely capable to tenderly nurture and supply each one. You sustain me and all aspects of my life. I am powerless. You are mightily all-sufficient.

Thank you. Help me rest in You- confident in your bountiful supply.

I need You.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

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