God the Almighty (El Shaddai)

Genesis 17:1

February 20, 2005 | Brian Bill

A week ago yesterday I was overwhelmed by an ocean of orange as Beth and I were invited to the Wisconsin/Illinois game.  I was decked out in a red hat with a big white “W” emblazoned on it and wore a Bucky Badger shirt.  As I looked around Assembly Hall I only saw about five others wearing the colors of heaven, and one was my wife!  The worst part of the whole experience wasn’t the ugly orange, or even the looks I got from the other fans, it was hearing a never ending mantra from one end of the stadium to the other.  It would start on one side with the crowd spelling out the word I-L-L.  This was followed by the fans around me shouting back, “So Am I.”  Actually, I think they were trying to say, I-N-I, but it sure sounded like “So Am I.”  I know I felt ill when the Badgers bombed out at the end of the game.

We hear slogans and phrases all the time.  And some of them even sound spiritual.  

  • Money is the root of all evil.  Actually, 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the “…Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”
  • God wants you to be happy.  I hear this one a lot.  It’s often used for justification to get out of something that is right or to start doing something that is wrong.  God never says he wants us to be “happy.”  His heart is for us to be “holy” as stated in 1 Peter 1:15: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”
  • God helps those who help themselves.  This one is quoted a lot and is sometimes even attributed to the Bible.  It’s not only extra-biblical, it’s also unbiblical. In fact, Jeremiah 17:5 says, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD” and Proverbs 28:26 states: “He who trusts in himself is a fool…”

Over time our mantras can become meaningless and our spiritual slogans can leave us feeling empty.  As we come to the sixth name in our series, “What God Goes By,” we will see God as El Shaddai at the moment we realize that we are not happy and when we admit we are helpless.  Let me suggest a phrase to focus on: When we are empty, God is enough!  This is similar to what John Piper often says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

The different names of God are like a multifaceted diamond.  Each one reveals more about His beautiful character and tremendous worth.  As we unpack these names we can’t help but revere Him more devotedly and rejoice in Him more deeply.

Elohim Creator

Adonai Lord

Jehovah Shalom God our Peace

Jehovah Jireh God our Provider

Yahweh God the Covenant Keeper

The first part of this compound name El is the word for God and means “mighty and powerful.”  We see this in Psalm 68:35: “You are awesome, O God [El], in your sanctuary; the God [El] of Israel gives power and strength to his people.”  While there is some difference of opinion regarding the primary meaning of Shaddai, and it is often translated as Almighty because it can also stand for a mighty mountain.  The word actually has a more tender definition.  The root shad is connected to the nurturing relationship a mother has with her infant child and signifies one who “nourishes and satisfies.”  

When the two words are put together, El Shaddai means the “One mighty to nourish and satisfy.”  God pours out His provision because He is all-powerful.  The ancient rabbis referred to Him as the “all-sufficient One.”  The early church made sure this name was right out front in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”  When we admit our insufficiency, the Almighty is sufficient to meet all our needs.  When we are empty, God is enough!

The Demonstration of El Shaddai

We’re going to look at how three individuals came face-to-face with El Shaddai when they were at the end of their ropes.  All three were empty in some way before they discovered that God alone is enough.

1. Abraham was burdened (Genesis 17:1). 

This name for God is used 48 times in the Old Testament.  The first instance of El Shaddai is found in Genesis 17:1: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]; walk before me and be blameless.’” We’ve dug into Abraham’s life several times during this series so we won’t spend much time on him this morning but I do want to point out that he must have been carrying a pretty heavy burden for quite some time.  God had made several promises to him – of land, descendants, and blessings – and yet, he waited a long time before they came to pass.  When it appeared that God wasn’t going to come through, Abraham even tried to take things into his own hands.  Thirteen years later, God speaks to him again, and this time reveals himself as El Shaddai.

Abraham had given up all hope of having a son with his wife Sarah, but it was at the point of his insufficiency that he discovered the sufficiency of Almighty God.  God is able to do much more than is humanly possible.  This is stated clearly in Genesis 18:14 when God declares: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Jeremiah captures the unlimited power of the Almighty when he writes in Jeremiah 32:17: “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you.”  Do you feel burdened today?  Have you been relying upon your own efforts only to sink to your knees or fall on your face?  Have you been struggling with patience?  If so, get to know El Shaddai, and as Abraham was instructed, “Walk before Him” wholeheartedly.  When Abraham realized his emptiness He rejoiced that God was enough, and that literally changed the trajectory of his life.

2. Naomi was bitter (Ruth 1:20-21). 

Abraham was burdened and Naomi was bitter.  We read in Ruth 1:1 that because there was a bad famine in Bethlehem, an Israelite named Elimelech took his wife Naomi and their two sons to live in the country of Moab.  Their two sons married Moabite women, one who was named Orpah, and the other Ruth.  During their stay in Moab, Naomi’s husband died and then about ten years later, both of her sons also die.  As a result, Naomi, Orpah and Ruth are now widows.  Widows in the ancient world had no social status and no economic means to survive.  This would especially be true for Naomi, since she was an Israelite living in a foreign country.  

Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law to leave her and go back home.  Orpah decides to leave but Ruth determines to stay with Naomi.  Both of them then make the long journey back to Bethlehem, where Naomi is recognized by some of the women who ask out loud in verse 19: “Can this be Naomi?”  My guess is that she looked a lot different from the day she left.  Her face was probably weathered, her shoulders were slumped and her eyes were no doubt filled with the pain of losing a husband and two sons.

Notice how Naomi responds to their question in verses 20-21: “’Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them.  ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty [Shaddai] has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty [Shaddai] has brought misfortune upon me.’” The name “Naomi” means pleasant; and “Mara” means bitter.  Naomi recognizes that her problems come from the Lord.  Four times in these two verses she attributes her affliction to the Almighty:

The Almighty has made my life very bitter.

The Lord has brought me back empty.

The Lord has afflicted me.

The Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.

This is similar to another godly woman’s response when she was not able to have children.  In 1 Samuel 1, the phrase: “And the Lord had closed her womb” is repeated twice.  This is one of the hardest lessons we will ever learn.  Our problems are given to us by the Lord Himself.  It is God who is behind the circumstances of life.  We’d rather blame it all on Satan, or on someone else.  But it is God who allows good things and bad things to come into our lives.  God is in charge and as such we should remember Ecclesiastes 7:14: “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.”

She was bitter but got better because when she was empty she came to the place of knowing that God is enough!

Some of you have had to face the bewildering loss of a spouse, a child, or a parent.  I can’t identify with your pain, but God can.  Perhaps you feel like Naomi did when she wanted her name changed to Mara because you feel marred by what has happened to you.  As painful as what you are experiencing is, don’t lose sight of the fact that Naomi’s emptiness eventually allowed her to adore the Almighty.  She was bitter but got better because when she was empty she came to the place of knowing that God is enough!  Naomi was willing to entrust her pain and bitterness to El Shaddai, believing that He would come through for her, even if all her questions remained unanswered.  Somehow God was providentially weaving His purposes through her problems and her pain.

In the midst of her bitterness, she continued to walk with God, even when her two sons married Moabites.  She worshiped the true God when the entire culture bowed to Baal.  She made the most of her situation by teaching Ruth about God.  She had the courage to return to her land and later boldly told Ruth to make a marriage proposal to Boaz.  She launched her matchmaking arrangement but she also knew how to be patient and wait on the Lord as she said in 3:18, “Be patient, my daughter, until we see what happens.”  

She submitted to God’s sovereign plan and eventually had the joy of nurturing a baby boy named Obed, who became the grandfather of King David.  Imagine that scene from Ruth 4:16: “Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap, and cared for him.”  That’s a picture of how El Shaddai can meet us at our point of bitterness and make us better.  He is the powerful God who nourishes and satisfies His children, but not until they admit their emptiness.  It’s when we are empty that we can see that God is enough!

3. Job was broken. 

Sometimes we’re burdened because we think God is not going to come through for us.  Other times we’re bitter because things have not worked out like we want.  On occasion, we’re completely broken because everything has been taken from us.  That’s what happened to Job.  Interestingly, of the 48 occurrence of El Shaddai in the Old Testament, 31 of them are found in the Book of Job.

This book begins very simply but with incredible speed as Job’s brokenness comes about very quickly.  The opening verses serve as an introduction and give us three truths about Job (special thanks to Ray Pritchard for these points).

  • He was righteous.  We see this in verse 1: “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”
  • He was rich.  In verse 2-3 we read that “He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants.  He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” 
  • He was religious.  In verses 4-5 we discover that Job “sacrificed a burnt offering” for each of his children and we read that this was his “regular custom.”

By the world’s standards, Job was successful and by God’s standards he was a spiritual man.  And then Satan receives God’s permission to put Job to the test.  Job’s brokenness comes as a result of four big bombshells.  First, his livestock is stolen and his servants are killed.  Second, a fire “from God” destroys his sheep.  Third, his camels are confiscated.  The fourth messenger of misfortune follows quickly on the heels of the other three when all of his children are killed.  In the space of a few minutes, Job lost everything that was dear to him.  It was bad and then it got worse and then it got terrible and then it became unbearable.  This all left him broken…and then his health was taken from him as well.  On top of that, he had to listen to the advice of “friends” who were more like enemies to him.

In verses 20-21, Job’s initial response is to weep: “He got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.”  But he also does something else that is not very common.  When faced with all that had happened, Job also worshipped: “Then he fell to the ground in worship…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” His emptiness caused him to exclaim that God is enough.  In the midst of his pain, he is able to praise God.  He does two things: he weeps and he worships.  But he also does not do something in verse 22: “In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”  He refused to say God was wrong!  What a good corrective for us.  

After leaving chapter one, Job enters another test when he is afflicted with sores and his body begins to break down.  He receives another blow and is broken further when his bride urges him to bail on God in 2:9: “Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”  Job’s response shows that he understands the character of God when he says, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

Don’t miss the significance of why the name El Shaddai is used more in the Book of Job than in any other book.  As we have established, when we are most empty, God is most evident.  Maude Royden has said, “When you have nothing left but God, then you become aware that God is enough.”  Let’s do a brief survey of how El Shaddai is referenced several times in the remainder of this book.

  • Job 5:17: “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” [El Shaddai]  
  • Job 6:4: “The arrows of the Almighty [El Shaddai] are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me.”
  • Job 6:14: “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” [El Shaddai Job is doing a “push-back” here, as he wonders why his friends are so tough on him and so quick to judge.  Have you noticed how when someone is down, others tend to pile on?
  • In Job 13:3, Job tells his buddies that he is going directly to El Shaddai with his concerns, and that he doesn’t need them to needlessly needle him: “But I desire to speak to the Almighty [El Shaddaiand to argue my case with God.” 
  • In Job 22:25, one of his friends seems to finally get it: “Surely you will find delight in the Almighty.” [El Shaddai]  
  • Job wants desperately to hear from God and so he cries out in Job 31:35: “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense-let the Almighty [El Shaddai] answer me.”

Job begged God to answer his questions.  He desperately wanted to know why all these bad things were happening to him.  God answered him, but the answer was not what Job expected.  Instead of giving a direct response, God gave His longest speech in the entire Bible in chapters 38-41.  He asks Job questions like, “Where were you when I established the heavens and the earth?  Can you place the stars in the sky?  Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?  Will the one who contends with the Almighty [El Shaddai] correct Him?”  

Sometimes we blast away at God when we’re broken.  When we come with that kind of attitude God asks the same question to us that he asked Job in Job 40:8: “Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”  Job, after getting a theology lesson, broke down and said in 42:3, 5: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you…therefore I repent in dust and ashes.”  God is in the business of fixing broken people.  He is enough when we don’t have enough.  El Shaddai is more than adequate when we feel totally inadequate.

Ultimately the only answer God gave to Job was Himself.  It was if El Shaddai said to him, “Job, I am your answer.  Learn who I am.  When you know me, you’ll know how to handle anything.”  Job wasn’t asked to trust a plan but a person — a personal God who is in ultimate control and knows what is best for us.  This has been called the first rule of the Christian life: He is God, and we are not.

The main point of the book of Job is that life is unfair, that bad things do happen.  The one great biblical purpose for trials is to draw you near to God.  The question is not, “Why did this happen to me?”  The deeper question is, “Now that this has happened, will I remain loyal to God?”  The most important battles take place inside of us.  When we’re burdened and bitter and broken, what will we do?

God’s answer to Job is instructive for you and for me.  He basically challenged Job in the only thing he could control: his response.  Blaming God for his brokenness got him nowhere; he needed to decide how he was going to respond.  What was he going to do now?  Was he going to shake his fist at God?  Was he going to get better, or get bitter?  His response was his responsibility.  Likewise, we can’t change our circumstances, but we can change how we respond to them.

Pastor Steve Brown tells about a seminar one of his associate pastors was leading.  During one session, the pastor pointed out that because God is love, no matter how bad things get, Christians should praise Him.  Afterwards, a man came up to him in great agitation. “Dave, I can’t buy what you say about praising God in the midst of evil and hurt.”  Then he went on to say what many people secretly feel, “I do not believe that when you lose someone you love through death, or you have cancer, or you lose your job that you ought to praise God.”  After a moment’s silence, this pastor replied very simply, “What alternative do you propose?”

Our Response

Indeed, what alternatives do we really have?  We can stay burdened and bitter and broken, or we can get better.  Let me suggest three responses that come directly out of the name El Shaddai.

Even when we don’t understand we must still adore Him

1. Fall before Him in reverence. 

When Abram heard from El Shaddai, Genesis 17:3 indicates that he dove for the dirt: “Abram fell facedown…”  This is also what Ezekiel did when he caught a glimpse of the Almighty in Ezekiel 1:28: “I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” Even when we don’t understand we must still adore Him.  When you feel empty express your praise to Him, even if you don’t feel like it.

2. Run to Him as your refuge. 

El Shaddai is powerful and He is also our protector.  This is spelled out in Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” [El Shaddai] The idea here is that we take up lodging under the wings of El Shaddai.  We don’t just visit once in awhile; we live in the shelter He provides.  When He is our residence, we find both rest and refuge.  When her husband was martyred, Elizabeth Elliot was thinking of this passage when she entitled her book, “In the Shadow of the Almighty.”  What alternatives do you really have?   You can try to escape through alcohol or drugs.  You can reach out and have a relationship with someone.  You can throw yourself into your career.  But you will still be burdened, and bitter and broken.  Stop running away from Him and run to Him right now.

3. Trust Him as your rewarder. 

A time is coming when all wrongs will be made right.  The second highest number of times the name Almighty is used is in the Book of Revelation.  Here’s just one example of what Jesus will do from Revelation 19:15: “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’  He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” Larry Crabb suggests that the Book of Revelation helps us to keep believing in Jesus when the evidence makes it difficult.  When your husband neglects you, find your nourishment in El Shaddai.  When you live with unbearable pain, proclaim El Shaddai as your everything.  When you’re all alone and feeling empty, El Shaddai is enough!

Sometimes He allows good dreams to shatter to arouse the better dream of knowing Him.  When we’re burdened and bitter and broken we can finally chose to believe in the sufficiency of El Shaddai.

Are you feeling I-L-L today?  If so, you’re not alone.  Two weeks ago many of you surrendered your possessions and the people in your life to Jehovah Jireh.  It was in your surrendering that you were able to experience God as your provider.  Now it’s time to give your problems to El Shaddai.  Are you ready to do that right now?

A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Anything God has ever done, He can do now.  Anything God has ever done anywhere, He can do here.  Anything God has ever done for anyone, He can do for you.”

Benediction: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.” 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?