“I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless.” Genesis 17:1 (JPS commentary on Genesis)
El Shaddai – Certainly you realize that God’s personal name, revealed in Exodus 4, has been vocally lost. Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey are the consonants of that name, but the actual vocalization of this name disappeared in the Jewish reticence to speak the divine name. But this isn’t the only name of God that we have lost along the way. El Shaddai is another lost name, not because we don’t know how to pronounce it but because we don’t really know what it means or where it came from.
El Shaddai appears nine times in the Torah. Twenty-eight of the remaining thirty occurrences are in poetic texts like Job and Psalms. In fact, all of the true prose occurrences are found only in Genesis. Thus, God can say to Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai” (Exodus 6:3), but now God will be known by the divine name YHWH. What this means is that the name El Shaddai is not only very, very old, it is also connected to an ancient tradition and source that we no longer understand. Abraham knew the meaning of this name. So did his son and grandson. But today we can only guess at its meaning. Check a dozen different translations of this passage and you are likely to get at least a half-dozen different renderings. Modern scholarship sometimes connects this name with the Akkadian word for “mountain,” but even that is conjecture. The hard truth is that we have a text that is so old we no longer know what the word really means.
Does this make you uncomfortable? Do you feel somehow less familiar with the great God of Israel, the Holy One, the Almighty if you recognize that some things about Him have been lost? I do. I want to know all about Him. I want to know what Abraham knew. I want to hear Him speak to me, proclaiming His name so that I might honor it. But it is not to be. Just like you, I am thousands of years removed from God’s revelation to Abraham and there is no way to go back and recapture what Abraham knew.
That’s why the name of the One who restores my understanding of YHWH is so important to me. His name I know. It is Yeshua. When He says that all I need to know about the Father has been exhibited in Him, I feel a little relief. The great God of Abraham is not lost in the murky past. Yeshua proclaims Him. I don’t have to fret because I don’t know what Abraham knew. In fact, I am perhaps more fortunate than Abraham because I have the fuller revelation. Someday you and I will be able to sit with Abraham and ask him, “Father Abraham, tell me about El Shaddai.” That will be a wonderful conversation. Then he will ask, “Now, tell me about Yeshua,” and we will both rejoice.
Topical Index: El Shaddai, Genesis 17:1, Exodus 6:3, Abraham, Yeshua