El Shaddai

“I am el Shaddai.”

(Genesis 17:1)

“El Shaddai” is one of the earliest known descriptions of God. According to the book of Genesis, it’s what God spoke to Abraham in the wilderness: “I am el Shaddai; walk with me in righteousness.”

Scholars have long wrestled with its meaning, but the most prevalent interpretations of “el Shaddai” are something like “God in the mountain” or “God of the wilderness.”

It is generally accepted that “el” translates as “God.” It stems from ancient Hebrew and Canaanite culture, where “el” was the word used to encompass the idea of a greater being or creator.

“Shaddai” is less understood, but most believe it derives from the same early languages and is a hybrid of words like “mountain” and “open field” and “wilderness.”

When studying such ancient language, it’s important to realize words were nowhere near as precise as language we use today. Words in ancient times were very general in nature and usually encompassed a broad range of ideas. For example, scripture sometimes refers to “man,” but the word often means more than just an adult male — it refers to humankind, including women and men, children and adults.

What Abraham heard from God (whether audibly or in his soul we don’t know) was that God is the God of the natural world. Abraham was likely inspired by the glorious landscape before him, as he heard God speak, “I am God of the mountains, God of the fields, God of the wilderness and of all creation unpolluted by human design.”

Don’t we often feel that same thing in our souls, when we escape the trappings of modern life? When we see wide open spaces, expanses of ocean, or a clear night sky brimming with a multitude of stars — we catch a brief glimpse of the awe and abiding love that is God.

What a beautiful and poetic name, “el Shaddai.”

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

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