When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord [YHWH] appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:1-2)
The verses above are the first time this name or title for God appears in the Scriptures. It is given in the context of a covenant God makes with Abram. Sources consulted for this article suggested three possible meanings of the name “Shaddai.”
The Lexham Bible Dictionary suggests: “The origin and likely meaning of the Hebrew words remains uncertain, but the most widely accepted etymological connection is to an Akkadian word for ‘mountain’ (Sadu).” The implications of this would be strength and steadfastness.
Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible asserts, “More acceptable is the suggestion that Shaddai is a composite term of sha (‘the one who’) and dai (‘is sufficient’).”
Tony Evans supports the theory that “the name Shaddai comes from the root word shad, which literally means ‘breast.’” He refers to two passages in Isaiah where God is revealed as the source of “the nourishment needed to sustain life” (60:15-16; 66:10-11).
Jesus gave two beautiful pictures that would fit the idea of Shaddai being based on shad (breast)—the source of nourishment. Remember when He met the woman at the well, He offered her the Living Water (John 4). In John 6, Jesus feeds 5,000-plus people with only a few loaves and fishes. But He says that He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35)! He is the water and the bread we need to have eternal life.
This name is typically transliterated in English Bibles as “God Almighty.” But Nathan Stone reminds us that “the idea of all might and all power is abundantly expressed the term God or El.” So essentially when we call Him God Almighty we are calling Him “Almighty Almighty!”
Clearly any one of the suggestions above fit what we know of the God who called Himself El Shaddai. Note a few of the verses where the name appears:
Genesis 28:3 – May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.
Exodus 6:3 – I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by my name the Lord [YHWH] I did not make myself fully known to them.
Psalm 91:1-2 – Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High [Elyon] will rest in the shadow of the Almighty [Shaddai]. I will say of the Lord [YHWH], “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God [Elohim], in whom I trust.
God is referred to as Shaddai more than 30 times in the book of Job. But significantly, more than half of those references are in the speeches of Job’s “friends,” who, if you recall, were trying to convince him he was suffering because his own sins had called down the wrath of the Almighty. A few examples:
Eliphaz in Job 5:17 – Blessed is the one whom God [Eloah] corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty [Shaddai].
Bildad in Job 8:3,5-6 – Does God [El] pervert justice? Does the Almighty [Shaddai] pervert what is right?… seek God [El] earnestly and plead with the Almighty [Shaddai],…
Eliphaz in Job 22:3,17,23-26 – What pleasure would it give the Almighty [Shaddai] if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?… They said to God [El], “Leave us alone! What can the Almighty [Shaddai] do to us?”… If you return to the Almighty [Shaddai], you will be restored: If you remove wickedness far from your tent, and assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines, then the Almighty [Shaddai] will be your gold, the choicest silver for you. Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty [Shaddai] and will lift up your face to God [El Eloah].
Even Job says in 23:16, “God has made my heart faint; the Almighty [Shaddai] has terrified me.”
For a moment let’s go back to the context in which God revealed this name. God was establishing a covenant with Abram—a promise that He—El Shaddai—would provide a son to Abram and would “greatly increase his number,” even though he (Abram) was far past the time when he could expect to father a child. And God did provide. Abundantly.
One final thought. In the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible we read, “L. Berkhof (Systematic Theology) points out that whereas God as El Shaddai is indeed presented as the all-powerful One who overpowers nature, the name, where it occurs in the Bible, does not present God as an object of fear or terror, but rather as a source of blessing and comfort.”
What does the name El Shaddai mean for you? El-Shaddai is the God who:
- “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20)
- enables me to do “all [things] through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)
- “will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19)
Can you trust El Shaddai, or must you cower before Him as Job’s friends suggested? “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High [Elyon] will rest in the shadow of the Almighty [Shaddai]. I will say of the Lord [YHWH], “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God [Elohim], in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)