When God appeared to Moses in the burning Bush, he introduced himself as “I Am Who I Am.” This meant that He would reveal himself in different forms under different circumstances. For instance, when he appears to Abraham, he introduced himself as Elshaddai. But that was not the only reference to the name – it appears in tens of other locations in scripture.
The word El Shaddai is composed of two words – El and Shaddai. El means a mighty God while Shaddai literally means udder but it is translated to mean all-sufficient. As such, El Shaddai means the Mighty God who has an udder or more precisely, the mighty and all-sufficient God.
Entomology of El Shaddai
The original meaning of El Shaddai (El Shadday, Shadday, or Shaddai) may have been obscured over time. However, we can derive the meaning of the name by considering the etymological linking of the name to other words. One of the common words related to Shaddai is shad which is a noun for udder or breast. The word implies the nurturing, supplying, and nourishing aspects of God.
The name Shaddai is mentioned 48 times in the Bible. In the first 7 mentions, it is preceded by El (Genesis 17:1; 28:3; 35:11, 43:14, 48:3, Exo. 6:3 and Ezekiel 10:5). Shaddai is very common in the book of Job where it occurs a total of 39 times. In these appearances, the name is used to illustrate might, height, nurturing, and sufficiency.
Shaddai may also be related to the verb shaddad. It means to destroy or deal violently/ mightily with. Some of the later mentions of the word in the scripture illustrate this meaning. These include Isaiah 13:6 which is also referenced in Joel 1:15. The verse says “Howl for the day of Jehovah is near! As destruction (shod) from the almighty (shadday),” it will come. Another illustration of shaddad is seen in Job 21:20 which juxtaposes destruction with the almighty.
Let their own eyes see their destruction; let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty. Job 21:20
There are several other uses of Shadday to denote destruction. For instance, it is used with reference to scattering kings (Psalms 68:14) releasing punishment (Job 5:17, 6:4), dealing harshly with others (Ruth 1:20-21) etc.
Shaddai is also translated as Omnipotens in some places in the Vulgate This is mostly seen in the book of Job (e.g. 5:17; 15:25; 23:16; 27:2; 35:13, etc ). However, the New Testament also uses the word almighty in conjunction with Lord or God (e.g. Rev. 1:8; 11:17;15:3,19:6; 21:22, 2 Cor. 6:18, etc.).
Shaddai may also be derived from Akkadian Shadu which literally means mountain or field. The suffix -ay means “of the” so it can translate to the God of the Mountains or the high God. This is however not a common render because Hebrew has a different word for the most high God (Elyon).
El Shaddai in God’s Economy
Of all the meanings of Shaddai (Udder, all-sufficient, high, and almighty), the meaning of udder is arguably the most accurate translation. This is because the meaning is more apparent in most of the places where the name is used in the Bible and it also corresponds to God’s economy. In fact, a better way to look at it is to combine all the meanings to end up with one meaning of a God that is sufficient and supplies.
The prefix El means the strong one or the mighty one while Shaddai means the all-sufficient (udder). As such, we can infer that El Shaddai means the Mighty One who has an udder or the mighty one who has an all-sufficient supply. An udder produces milk and milk is known as a complete food (all-sufficient food) as it contains proteins, water, and minerals, that are needed for the development of children.
When God appeared to Abraham and declared himself as El Shaddai, he was seemingly rebuking Abraham for his reliance on human effort. He was reminding him that he was the all-sufficient God that could provide for anything he needed. He was reminding Abraham not to rely on his own mechanizations but rather to trust in God as his only source.
The concept of El Shaddai is prevalent in the Old Testament but we can also find it in the New Testament. The Greek word that is used for El Shaddai in the New Testament translates to “bountiful supply. ” The word refers to the Holy Spirit in Philippians 1:19 as well as with the different members of the Body in Ephesians 4:16.
Using milk as a metaphor for God’s sustenance is also used in both the Old and New Testaments. The first mention of milk in this regard is when God promised to take Israel into the land of promise – a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8, 17; 13:5, 33:3, etc). Canaan was a land of God’s bountiful supply for his children. The metaphor is also used in the New Testament where milk is likened to the spiritual food of new believers (1 Pet. 2:2-3, heb. 5:”12-13, 1 Cor. 3:2, 1 Thess. 2:7).
There are many notions that can be derived from El Shaddai but the most prolific is the all-sufficient God. This stems from the Hebrew meaning of shad which translates to udder. The udder is used to refer to the only natural complete meal (milk) ad it is a metaphor for God’s complete supply. For instance, when Israel was in the wilderness and in dire need, God not only provided them with drinking water (Exodus 17:1-7) but he also gave them bread and protein (Exodus 16). But Elshaddai also denotes God’s might which may correlate with another Hebrew name of God (Elyon) that means the Most High or The Mighty One.