El-Shaddai

By Phillip G. Kayser · Genesis 17 · 11/28/2021

For some of my communion meditations I have started looking at the names of God. And we have covered three so far. If the Lord’s Table is renewing covenant with God, then it behooves us to know who this God is. And His names reveal a lot about Him.

In the first meditation I pointed out that there are two names that form the foundation for most of God's other names - Yehowah and Elohim. We have looked at the meaning of both in the past. Yehowah refers to the self-existent God who humbles Himself to come into covenant with us. And there are a lot of names paired with Yehowah or Yah.

But the second foundational name is Elohim. Elohim occurs over 3000 times in either its full form of Elohim or the shortened form of El. The full name showcases the fact that even before there was a world or any creatures, God always existed with awesome power (that's the El part) and with inter-Trinitarian fellowship (that's the im part, which speaks of plurality). The El part of this word is paired with other names over 60 times to connect His awesome power with some other attribute.

But today’s name is a little odd because He pairs one name for power (El) with another name for power (Shaddai). El-Shaddai. And I want you to turn with me to Genesis 17 where we have the first occurance of this name. The name occurs 31 times in the book of Job and 17 times in the rest of the Bible. Let’s read this. Genesis 17:1.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God [the Hebrew is El-Shaddai. “I am El Shaddai”];’ walk before Me and be blameless.

Now we have already seen that the word El means “power” or “might.” And Shaddai is another term for power. If you read books on the names of God you will see all kinds of silly explanations invented by liberals. This name does not mean mountain god, hurler of lightning, demon, breast or God of the udder. It means Almighty. So it is a double reinforcement of God’s power. But its not so much God’s creative power. El shows that. Rather, it refers to the God who controls creation and makes it serve His every desire. And so Shaddai can refer to destructive power or it can refer to God’s blessings through creation. After ruling out many other creative definitions of this name, one commentator said this:

“God Almighty or Almighty God… is a very satisfactory translation. … El Shadday designates ‘the God who compels nature to do what is contrary to itself and subdues it to bow and minister to grace.’” God is promising to give Abram a son at a time when it is impossible for either Abram or Sarah. But for the God Almighty nothing is impossible. All of creation instantly obeys God. (Leupold, p. 512-513).

And so El-Shaddai is a reference to God’s miraculous workings and miraculous blessings on behalf of His people as well as His ordinary control of nature to bring forth judgment or blessing. He was Almighty God for Abram’s impossibilities. He continues to be Almighty God for our impossibilities. Abram and Sarah were way past child-rearing age, yet God assured them that He was in control and promised in verse 2, "I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly." That is miraculous enough. But in verse 4 He says, "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations." And God goes on to promise other impossible things – like inheriting the land of Canaan and eventually being a blessing to every nation. God Almighty covenanting with man.

So Leupold says, El Shaddai designates the God who compels nature to do His will and to bless or curse man. This is the same God who covenants with you in the Lord’s Table this morning. According to 1 Corinthians 11, you eat either for cursing or for blessing. It’s impossible to covenant with El-Shaddai and not experience His Almighty power in one of those two ways. And of course He loves to pour forth His blessings. But if we eat in rebellion , it will do the opposite.

But let’s look at the impossible blessings promised. We many times doubt God’s promises because (like Abram and Sarah) nature seems contrary to those promises. We have a hard time believing that His grace can truly conquer our sinful nature. We have a hard time believing His promises for healing, or His promises for nations becoming Christian nations. And so we try to lower the expectations of God’s revealed will (through bad eschatology or bad ethics) or we try to do God’s will through our own strength. When Abram tried to do that he produced Ishmael and the muslims. Instead, we need to look to El-Shaddai who not only commands you, but enables you to walk in His commandments. The God who moment by moment upholds all things by the Word of His power is mighty enough to carry out all the blessings and curses which are found in this sacrament. Let’s put our trust in El-Shaddai as Abram did and find the impossible made possible in God Almighty. Amen.