Names of God: El Shaddai (Our Sufficiency)

This Tuesday, we will be working through Chapter 3 “Jehovah” and Chapter 4 “El Shaddai” of Joanne Ellison’s book His Great Name

The second name we are looking at this week is the more ancient name, El Shaddai.  The etymology of this name is unknown, but the possibilities are intriguing. Ellison brings out many of these possibilities. The Rabbinic interpretation of this word is “Sufficiency.”  The Hebrew ”-dai” means “enough” and therefore God is “Enough” or “Sufficient.”

Another possibility is a combination of “shad” meaning “breast” and “ay-im” meaning “pair.” So that a literal translation would be the “God of Two Breasts” which conceptually would be the God of Fertility.  The word “El Shaddai” appears six times in Genesis and always in the context of having children. In Genesis 17, El Shaddai promises Abraham that he will become the father of many nations. In Genesis 28:3, Isaac blesses Jacob saying: “May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile, and increase the number of your descendants so that you will become a community of people.”  In Genesis. 35:11, this same blessing is given directly by El Shaddai to Jacob. In Genesis 43, Jacob blesses Judah when he sends him to Egypt with Benjamin to get grain by saying: “May El Shaddai make him merciful to you so that he will send your other brother and Benjamin home with you.” In Genesis 48:3, Jacob recounts El Shaddai’s blessing on him to be fruitful and multiply. And finally, in Genesis 49:25, Jacob gives his final blessing to Joseph by saying: “by the God (Elohim) of your father who will help you, by God Almighty (El Shaddai) who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.” In each of these uses, El Shaddai is associated with human fertility.

A final possibility for the etymology and translation of this name is given to us by the Septuagint.  The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible dating to about the 3rd century B.C.  The Septuagint translates “El Shaddai” as “God Almighty.”  This translation comes from the use of “Shaddai” in the later Biblical period of the prophets.  The prophets wrote more than a millennium after the Patriarchs.  In the prophets “Shaddai” (without the “El”) was a remote destructive aspect of God. Both Joel and Isaiah write: ”Cry loudly, for the day of Yahweh is near. It will come like destruction from Shaddai” Isa. 13:6 Joel 1:15. Psalm 68 speaks of Shaddai scattering an opposing army.  “Shaddai” is mentioned 31 times in Job, and always in the context of the source of Job’s punishment and the mystery of his suffering.  Job summarizes his predicament of being punished for an unknown transgression by saying “Shaddai is great in power but cannot be found.” Job 37:23.  The English translations of the Old Testament preserve the Septuagint by using “God Almighty” as the translation for this name of God. 

The understanding that Fertility and Destruction are joined in the same aspect of God is not unusual. In the Ancient Near East (Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamia, etc.), the goddess Anat was both a goddess of fertility and war.  And later, the Roman god Mars oversaw both war and agricultural fertility.  But we also see these two characteristics joined in nature – the same grizzly sow or lioness that gives birth to her cubs and tenderly cares for them will destroy anything that threatens them.  Think about how this understanding is reflective of God, not only in the name “El Shaddai”, but particularly in the Incarnation.

Dinner is at 6.  The menu this week is pasta e fagioli. Discussion about 6:45. (We will stick with Ellison’s book and not go this in-depth into the names.) Hope to see you here.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High (El Elyon),
  abides under the shadow of the Almighty (Shaddai)
He shall say to the Lord (Jehovah), “You are my refuge and my stronghold,
   my God (Elohim) in whom I put my trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2

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