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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Hebrew Names of God #1: El Shaddai

El Shaddai is probably the most well-known name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because of Michael Card’s song El Shaddai popularized by Amy Grant in her 1982 album Age to Age. The song equates El Shaddai with HaShem (YHWH) by recounting His plan of redemption mentioning Abraham, Moses and Messiah Yeshua. To see this connection, let’s turn to the first place in Scripture where the name El Shaddai appears, Genesis 17:1-2.

“When Abram was 99 years old, ADONAI appeared to Abram, and He said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai. Continually walk before Me and you will be blameless. My heart’s desire is to make My covenant between Me and you, and then I will multiply you exceedingly much.’” Genesis 17:1-2 TLV

Notice that ADONAI (the circumlocution for YHWH in the TLV Bible) introduced Himself to Abram as El Shaddai, and announced His intention to bless Abram and make him fruitful. It is as El Shaddai that HaShem revealed Himself to and was known by the Patriarchs. In Genesis El Shaddai blesses the patriarchs with fertility and promises to make them numerous: the words spoken to Abram are decreed to Jacob (Genesis 35:11), and when Isaac blessed Jacob, he asked El Shaddai to make Jacob fruitful (28:3). HaShem told Moses, that He was known to the Patriarchs by the name El Shaddai (Exodus 6:3).

God of the Mountain

The source and origin of the name El Shaddai is obscure, the closest parallel comes from the Akkadian cognate Shadu, meaning mountain; thus rendering a translation of “God of the mountain.” Mountains in ancient cultures were seen as the dwelling places of the gods and represented their thrones. As a result, mountains represented the god’s sovereignty and kingship because they sat upon the mountain which was their throne. In the Tanakh, the covenant was given to Israel from a mount Horeb in Sinai, and He rules from Mount Zion. There is another inference made through wordplay. In Hebrew word for mountain is har, not shad, which means breast. We can see the word play most clearly in Jacob’s deathbed blessing of Joseph (Genesis 49:22-26) where he says that (El) Shaddai will bless him (Joseph) with “blessings of the breast and womb” (v. 25). The wordplay here between breast (shad) and Shaddai, emphasizes fertility and HaShem’s complete sovereignty to grant life.

The Sovereign King

Outside of the Book of Genesis the name El Shaddai often appears minus the compound element “El” “God”. For example, the name Shaddai appears in Balaam’s third and fourth oracles when blessing Israel (Numbers 24:4, 16), and Naomi addresses HaShem as Shaddai when she indicts Him for unfaithfulness by taking the lives of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20–21). In Ps 68:14, Isa 13:6, and Joel 1:15 Shaddai judges His enemies through warfare, but in Ps 91:1 Shaddai is depicted as the protector of His people. In the Book of Job the name Shaddai occurs 31 times. Here Job and his “friends” assume that Shaddai is the sovereign king (11:7; 37:23a) who is the source of life (33:4b), is responsible for maintaining justice (8:3; 34:10–12; 37:23b), and provides abundant blessings, including children (22:17–18; 29:4–6) whom he also disciplines, punishes, and destroys (5:17; 6:4; 21:20; 23:16).

Thus we see that El Shaddai is the sovereign King and Judge of the world who grants life and takes it away, blesses and protects, provides and disciplines, and maintains justice. El Shaddai is the name by which HaShem introduced Himself to the Patriarchs, and through which He reveals Himself as the sovereign God. •

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