What’s in a name: El Shaddai

In this series, we are considering a number of names used for God throughout the Bible, and exploring what they reveal about his character and qualities.

In this article we turn to the name by which God first revealed himself to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob): ‘El Shaddai’ (Exod 6:3).

The Hebrew word ‘shaddai’ expresses the idea of plenty, causing some to translate this name ‘the all-sufficient one’ or ‘the all-bountiful one’. These names are helpful because they remind us that not only does God bless his people, but he does so abundantly; he’s one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).

Although ‘the all-sufficient one’, is an appropriate name for our sovereign God, ‘El Shaddai’ is more commonly translated in our Bibles as ‘God Almighty’:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lordappeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless”. (Gen 17:1)

This translation more helpfully draws out a key concept that is connected to ‘shaddai’, which theologians refer to as God’s omnipotence. To be omnipotent means to have virtually unlimited authority or influence—hence ‘almighty’ is a particularly accurate rendering!

God’s omnipotence means there are no limits on his ability to act. In humanity this kind of power would be terrifying—after all, history clearly teaches that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yet with God, it’s quite a different matter. In God’s case, his absolute power is paired with limitless goodness, justice and love. We see this clearly in the many uses of this name in the Old Testament that speak of God’s blessing:

And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. (Gen 35:11)

We see it, too, in the frequent use of this name of God in the book of Revelation, where his goodness and justice are on view—for example, look at Revelation 15:3:

“Great and marvellous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty,
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.”

Of course, God’s almighty power is displayed at many key junctions throughout the Bible—although never so clearly as in his ultimate demonstration of power over sin and death in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Cor 1:17).  This crazy, death-defying display of authority, gives us confidence that God really does have the power to do what he has promised he will, both now and into the future.

By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. (1 Cor 6:14)

Do you believe this? Do I?

I think a sure-fire way to tell how seriously we’re taking God’s omnipotence, is to consider our prayer lives. If we really believe that God is in control of everything, it will drive us to our knees as we ask for his provision and help in any and every situation. When we skip prayer because we’re busy or distracted, we’re really saying that we don’t believe in El Shaddai, the one who alone has allthe power.

Why don’t you take a moment now—like, right this second!—to thank God for his all-sufficient and abundant provision for you, and ask him, as the all-powerful God, to help you to be more faithful in trusting him through prayer?