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The Name of God: El-Shaddai – God Almighty

October 23, 2011
Sermon:  The Name of God:  El-Shaddai – God Almighty
Text:  Psalm 84

 Responsive Reading:

 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home and the swallow a nest for herself,
a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 Hear our prayer, O LORD God Almighty;
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
O LORD Almighty, blessed are those who trust in you.

 

We continue our series entitled The Name of God, focusing today on El-Shaddai, which means God Almighty.

Yesterday, Clare and I attended our forty-fifth class reunion at Furman University.  We had a good time at dinner, fellowshipping with friends we have known for forty-nine years, friends who were all in the freshman class together at Furman.

Class reunions generally change every five years.  Early on, conversations focus on jobs people have, promotions they have received, and their spouse and children.  Now, those same people chat about their numerous surgeries and joint replacements.  Another topic of discussion is deceased family members and friends.

It was my responsibility, not only for this year’s reunion but also for the one previously, to read the names of our classmates who were deceased.  That job has to be the worst one.  Of course, you know that I tried to jolly it up a bit.  I joked, “If I call your name and you are here, please see our class representative.  He would like to know that you are still above ground with us.  If you hear your name called and you are here, we would like to give you the prize for having come the furthest to get to the reunion.  We will not even ask where you came from.”

Some day our class reunion will not be on this side but at another place, a place some of our classmates have already gone.  At that reunion, we will not talk about surgeries or grief experiences.  We will have a reunion filled with joy and gladness.”

I would like us to re-visit one line from Psalm 84:  “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs.”  You probably are not familiar with the word “Baca,” which is used in this verse.  I do not know whether Baca was a real place.  It is not really clear, but we know that the word means the valley of weeping, the valley of sorrow, maybe the valley of bitterness.  This passage, identified as a psalm of ascent, was a pilgrimage psalm.  Even the word “pilgrimage” is used here.  As the people traveled up to the temple mount, they remembered that they had been through the Valley of Baca.

On the way to church this morning, I heard a country song with the words, “There is a river of tears winding through life.”  That line is so true.  A river of sorrow certainly winds throughout life.  You do not have to go to a class reunion to experience that sadness.  In day-to-day life you see many occasions in which people are trapped in the Valley of Baca.  Do you see here that this valley, a place of tears, becomes a place of springs?  It becomes a place of hope.  Why?  The presence of the Lord God Almighty offers hope.

The Hebrew name used for God Almighty in this psalm and in many other Scriptures is translated El-Shaddai.  The term is identified explicitly with the patriarchs of ancient Israel – with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  El-Shaddai appears almost exclusively in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.  It does appear a few times in the Psalms and Prophets and thirty-one times in the book of Job.  Scholars tend to date the book of Job as being very early.  They even sometimes consider Job to be one of the patriarchs because he knew God as El-Shaddai.

I want us to look at several passages of Scripture that refer to God as El-Shaddai.

Genesis 17:1-2:

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty (El-Shaddai); walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

The first characteristic we see about El-Shaddai is that He is the God of covenant.  He is the God that wants to enter into a relationship with His people, which He does here with Abraham.

Many people believe the term El-Shaddai also means God of the mountains because God reveals His majesty and splendor in the high places of the earth.  I can tell you from personal experience that whenever I travel through the Smoky Mountains, whenever I drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and even on those rare occasions when I have seen much taller mountains like Kilimanjaro or the Swiss Alps, I have witnessed the majesty of God.

Perhaps the term also refers to Israel’s encampment at the base of Mount Sinai.  Remember that there, Moses went up to the mountain and received the Ten Commandments.  There, God is seen as inhabiting the holy mountain.  I suppose it is somewhat like a Hebrew concept of Mount Olympus, where whole cadres of gods lived.  In this case, however, the mountain is home to only one God, the one God of Israel, El-Shaddai.  This divine name, first used in Genesis 17, means that God is a God of covenant and a God of the mountains.

Genesis 28:1-4:

1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty (El-Shaddai) bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.”

Genesis 35 contains, as Paul Harvey would say, the “rest of the story” offered in Genesis 28.  Jacob has been in the land of Paddan Aram twenty years.  He has taken wives and now has a large family and many heads of livestock.  Beginning at Verse 9, we see what happens when Jacob returns.

9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.
11 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. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

In the two passages of Genesis 28 and Genesis 35, you see that God promises Jacob that he will be fruitful, that he will be the father of a nation.  Some, William F. Albright among them, say that the name Shaddai comes from a name closely related to mountain, that Shaddai comes from the Hebrew word meaning a woman’s breasts.  It is an important derivative, one that will play an important part in our understanding of how God manifests Himself to us.  Have you ever been to Jackson Hole and seen the Grand Tetons in Wyoming?  French explorers or maybe Native Americans named those mountains.  I can only imagine that these lonely explorers were having a pretty rough time.  They saw those mountains and thought of women’s breasts.

Is this information just an aside?  No.  This information is important because God gives His people the blessing that we will be fruitful.  God wants to provide for us.  He wants to be the source of our sustenance and our nourishment.

In Exodus 6, God affirms that He is the God of the Patriarchs – El-Shaddai, but He goes further.

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”
2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, (El-Shaddai) but by my name the LORD(Yahweh) I did not make myself fully known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

Here the name El-Shaddai has a sense of being close to God, but not as intimate as the name Yahweh suggests.

We also see another attribute of God:  He will protect His people from the hand of the pharaoh.  The name Shaddai can possibly come from the word for destroy.  In fact, some say – and many people who do not want to hear this – that God is the destroyer.  Isaiah writes in Chapter 13, Verse 6:  “Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.”  This passage means that God is mighty, mighty to save; but He is also mighty to defend, mighty to protect.

The concept of God Almighty is mentioned three times in the New Testament book of Revelation.   We get the word “omnipotent” from the Greek words used there.  Each time, God is depicted as a destroyer, One who comes with a sword to defeat the enemy.  El-Shaddai has the power to overcome our enemies.  I am not just referring to enemies of flesh and blood.  I am also talking, as the Apostle Paul did, about principalities, about powers and rulers of the earth, about the dark places and the fiery darts of the wicked one.

If you have been inside a Jewish synagogue, a hotel in the city of Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv, or a Jewish home, you may have seen on the doorposts mezuzahs, small elongated boxes.  A mezuzah contains the scroll of an important passage of Scripture called the Shema, a word that means listen or pay attention.  On the outside of the mezuzah is an inscription, sometimes engraved or inscribed with the name Shaddai.  The passage of Scripture, the imperative, inside the box is Deuteronomy 6:3-9:

3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

A Midrash interpretation says that the name Shaddai is an acrostic.  Taking the first letter of the Hebrew phrase “God is the guardian of the doors of Israel” creates the word Shaddai.  That interpretation is the reason why Shaddai is written on the mezuzah.  Here Shaddai is pictured not only as a God of covenant and a God who wants us to love Him, but also as a God who serves as a guardian, protecting even our homes.

The word Shaddai can also be connected to the word “rock,” as in “My God is a rock” (Deuteronomy 32:4).  What does it mean to say that God is a rock? God is a place of protection, something firm on which to stand.  He is the great unshakable, the One on whom we can depend.  In our times of greatest trouble, we can find security in God.  He is a fortress.

Maybe the best place for us to see this interpretation is in Psalm 46:

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
            7 The LORD Almighty (El-Shaddai) is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 

            10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
            11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Shaddai can also mean that God is sufficient, that God is enough.  A teaching says that if we rely on El-Shaddai, we do not need anything else.  This God can meet all of our needs.  Therefore, He is almighty.

Shaddai, some say, comes from the same root word as Shalom.  An ancient Hebrew prayer that is important to me reads, “May it be your will, Lord our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace.”  Here, peace is the emphasis.

If we take the entire group of these attributes together, if we bind all of these qualities, we see that El-Shaddai is a God of covenant, a God who desires a relationship, a God of the mountains, a God who has great might, a God who protects and defends us.  He is also a God who nourishes us, who seeks to sustain us.  He is a God of comfort and a God of peace.  He is the guardian of our homes.  He is a rock, a God on whom we can depend.

Isaiah Chapter 66 offers perhaps the best location where all of these characteristics come together.

10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her.
11 For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
            12 For this is what the LORD says:
 “I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

We so often call God “Father.”  I certainly do repeatedly.  Many of the attributes of God remind us of His paternal nature.  We see in Isaiah 66, however, another side, another view.  Here we see the maternal nature of God, a God who comforts, a God who nourishes, a God who resembles a mother holding a child to her breast.  This concept is not completely foreign to our understanding of God.  In I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul said that introducing new Christians into the faith is like feeding milk to an infant.  Introducing new Christians to the gospel is a nurturing process.

We see in this name El-Shaddai so many different facets of God, so many different ways to understand this God who desires a covenant with us, this God who invites us to be in relationship with Him.  He is certainly a God of blessing and a God of comfort, a God of peace and a God of protection.  He sustains us.  He is powerful enough to do all of that.

I want to show you a gesture that fans of Star Trek probably recognize.  I showed this sign to the choir in the early service and asked, “Do you know what that is?”  One member answered, “That is the Boy Scout sign.”  No, it is not.  Real Star Trek fans know that Mr. Spock made this sign, which means “Live long and prosper.”  It is sometimes called the Vulcan sign, which is the name of his planet.

Leonard Nimoy, who is Jewish, grew up with a grandfather who was an Orthodox Jew.  When Nimoy went to the synagogue with his grandfather, he saw Jewish men wearing their prayer shawls make this sign.  The sign certainly did not originate with the Star Trek series.

What does this gesture mean?  If you look carefully, you can see that it resembles the letter “w.”  In Hebrew, the letter shin is written really fancy, like a “w” in calligraphy.  That letter is the first letter of the word Shaddai.  As Jewish men made this same sign for Shaddai, they would extend the blessing found in Numbers 6:24:

24 “‘The LORD bless you
and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

This sign that so many people recognize from Star Trek came right out of Judaism.  It is a sign for the holy name Shaddai.  It is a sign of blessing, a sign of comfort, a sign of protection, a sign of peace.  It is a sign of a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us.

Michael Card wrote about and recorded the attributes of this God in a song simply called “El-Shaddai.”  When Amy Grant, a Furman student, recorded the song, it became platinum.  It actually was named the Song of the Year in 1983.  Listen to the last verse:

Through the years you have made it clear
That the time of Christ was near.
Though the people could not see
What Messiah ought to be
Your most awesome work was done
Through the frailty of your Son.
I will praise and lift you high, El-Shaddai.     

How can God carry out that great plan?  How can the Almighty God come to us in a way that we can engage Him in a covenant of love?  God did so by sending Jesus, His Son.  This response reminds us of His love and calls our attention to so many of His attributes.  God’s response helps us understand the magnitude of His love, the vastness of His majesty.  It helps us have a way to respond to His invitation, to worship in covenant.

Do you know the great God who has fully revealed Himself in Jesus Christ?  Do you know him as your personal Savior?  If not, could I invite you to accept Christ today?  Acknowledge him as Lord of your life.

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2011

 

 

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