Scripture: Genesis 43:14; Psalm 131:2-3
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai] . . . I have made you a father of many nations I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” — Genesis 17:1, Genesis 17:5-6
And may God Almighty [El Shaddai] grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. — Genesis 43:14
Because of your father’s God [the el], who helps you, because of the Almighty [Shaddai], who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb. — Genesis 49:25
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me ” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will never forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands. — Isaiah 49:14-16
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me O Israel, put your hope in the Lord. — Psalm 131:2-3
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. — Matthew 23:37
In somewhat the same way as God is bigger than any and all of the names we can name Him, He is also bigger than the images our minds conjure of a single gender. Scripture, in showing us facets of who God is, sometimes portrays God in terms we associate with the feminine gender.
The Hebrew name El Shaddai comes as close to capturing this aspect of God as does any of His names. The traditional translations of Scripture have consistently rendered this name “Almighty.” But to appreciate its full flavor, it will be helpful to examine its Hebrew roots.1 El is a shortened form of Elohim. It sets forth the might, the strength, and the excellence of God. Shad is the Hebrew word for “breast.” Shaddai pictures God’s fullness or bounty, His tenderness, His generosity, His desire to nurture us and make us fruitful. In one name, God’s attributes of might and tenderness are brought together!
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, El Shaddai appeared to him and said, “I have made you a father” (Genesis 17:5). Speaking in strictly human terms, it takes a woman to go to a man and say, “I’m going to make you a father!” Sometimes this announcement comes as a shock. Often the shocking aspect of this news is mingled with a great deal of joy and thanksgiving, along with some apprehension. Certainly all of these emotions were present as El Shaddai’s announcement was received.
You will be very fruitful — nations and kings will come from you. — Genesis 17:6, paraphrase
It was Elohim Shaddai who gave birth to the nation of Israel. The prophet Isaiah described the birthing process thus:
Like a woman in childbirth I cry out, I gasp and pant. — Isaiah 42:14
Jacob is full of anxiety as he is about to send his beloved son Benjamin off to Egypt in response to the whimsical demand of the ruler who dispensed food.
May [El Shaddai] grant you mercy before the man,” he cries. — Genesis 43:14
Later, as Jacob is pronouncing God’s blessing on his son Joseph, he says,
Because of the El and the Shaddai, may you have blessings of the breast and the womb. — Genesis 49:25, paraphrase
Isaiah, in describing the love of God, says it is greater than that of a nursing mother. A unique bonding occurs as the mother holds her child close to her breast. She is the source of all the infant needs for nourishment as she holds the child close to the warmth of her body, within the sound of her heartbeat and secure in the safety of her arms.
A further dimension to this picture is added by the psalmist in Psalm 131. The psalmist feels like a weaned child. “Why am I being deprived of what, from my point of view, seems so good and so right?” he may have been asking himself. “This is what I need, God. Why can’t I have it?”
Have you ever asked God these sorts of questions?
God, who, like a mother, knows that the growing child must move beyond breast milk, still holds the child close enough to hear the divine heartbeat, allowing the child the warmth and security of being held tightly in divine arms.
Children’s questions may still be unanswered. But their souls are stilled and quieted “like a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2), because they know, without any doubt, who is holding them!
El Shaddai, almighty, tender God, hold us close to Your heart today.
This ancient name shows God simultaneously mighty and tender. Imagine God’s firm, loving hand on your back right now, leading you with intention and ultimate goodwill. Lean into God’s strength and kindness. How does that make you feel?
- Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 32–34.
Excerpted with permission from All the Glorious Names by Mary Foxwell Loeks, copyright Mary Foxwell Loeks.
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What do you think about God being neither male nor female, but having the glorious attributes of both? Does the thought of God being like a loving mother comfort you? Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily