(Genesis 17: 1-5 and Luke 1: 26-38)
During the summer months we’ve been following a short series focussed on the ‘Names of God – Glimpses of His Character’.
Through the Bible, we find a whole range of names that are given to God. And each one reveals something about God – what he is like – his character.
As we begin to understand God’s names it helps us to understand what God is like, and what he can do in our lives.
So far, we’ve considered God as our Creator, the one who creates and sustains all things, bringing new life and creativity to our lives today. We’ve looked at Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides in all sorts of amazing, significant ways. We’ve seen that God is a Holy God and a God of glory – a God who is present with us today by His Spirit. And we’ve seen that God alone can save us and rescue, through his Son Jesus Christ.
Today, we return to Genesis, to a name that is used for God in chapter 17. We see it in the first verse – it appears in our modern translations as God Almighty, but in the original Hebrew language this would read El Shaddai. El Shaddai.
Now let’s get a little bit of the context here behind the introduction of this name.
The story begins several chapters earlier, in chapter 12, when God first speaks to Abram. God tells Abram to pack up all his things, and to take his wife Sarai and travel to a far-off land. This was a place Abram had never been before. He was supposed to leave the security of all that he knew – home, business, family friends, everything – so that God could make a great nation of him. His descendants would multiply from generation to generation to generation until all the world would be blessed because of his people.
And we’re told Abram believed God and stepped out in faith to follow Him. In chapter 13 God tells Abram to get up and walk around the land of Canaan. He promises that everything Abram sees will soon belong to him.
But by chapter 15, nearly 10 years have passed since God first called Abram. Abram still does not have a child, and he begins to doubt and question God. Surely God has got this wrong, he must need our help, thinks Abram.
By chapter 16, Abram is now 86 years old! Abram and Sarai are convinced that God has got it wrong… and so they come up with their own plan to bail God out of his predicament. Abram sleeps with Hagar, a slave-girl of Sarai’s and she conceives and has a son Ishmael. Hurrah – a son. But no, this is no good – this is not God’s plan.
Well time moves on, and by chapter 17 we are told that Abram is now 99 years old and Sarai older still. They still have no child together.
But God again appears to Abram, he reiterates the promise – (you see God never breaks his promises) and he tells Abram ‘I am God Almighty… or rather, I am El Shaddai.’
‘Walk before me’, say God to Abram, ‘and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you and will make you exceedingly numerous.’
Abram falls to his face, and again God speaks, this time changing Abram’s name to Abraham – which means ancestor of a multitude.
Now this name El Shaddai is significant. It is in two parts.
The first part El is taken from God’s personal name – and it means power and strength – great might.
However it not used on its own, it’s always combined with a second part… we saw it used as Elohim – the creator God. It is also used as El Gibhor – the God who is strong and mighty. Or El Tzur – God our Rock.
Here El is combined with Shaddai – now Shaddai can also mean mighty – like a mountain, full of grandeur, strength and stability… so, on one level El Shaddai could mean mighty, mighty… or perhaps powerful and mighty… there is certainly a stress on God’s great, mighty, awesome power… his grandeur.
But Shaddai can also mean ‘breast’. As in a mother who patiently and lovingly nourishes, provides and satisfies a young, suckling, infant child.
You see a parent is the source of everything of their child needs. A parent comforts a child when it cries, cares for an infant when it is sick, provides sustenance when they are hungry and protection when the child is in danger.
So here, in Chapter 17 when God speaks to Abram and says look I am El Shaddai – the name is loaded with meaning…
- God is saying look I am powerful, mighty, strong and awesome.
- And I am God – the one who will nourish you, provide for you, sustain you, care for you, protect you, comfort you, do whatever is needed, provide whatever resource is required.
I am El Shaddai. I am the God who can do the impossible.
Even now, says God to Abram, I can provide you with an heir… even though the situation seems impossible, I can do it.
You will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
Now all the way through scripture we can see that God is the God of the impossible… That time and time again God works in the most amazing of ways to nourish his people, to provide for their needs and to make the impossible, possible!
Luke 1: 26-38
Our second reading today – a reading which we tend to read only in Advent and around Christmas tells us the remarkable, extraordinary story of Jesus’ miraculous conception, and of John the Baptist’s natural conception even though Elizabeth was considered well past child-bearing age.
Here in no un-certain terms we are reminded that nothing is impossible for God. That God is God Almighty – El Shaddai.
And in this declaration to Mary we told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, the power of the Most High overshadow, and a child will be born – the Son of God – the One who will reveal in more depth, power and majesty the glory of God himself.
God Almighty – El Shaddai.
And so, this name El – Shaddai reveals a God is powerful and mighty yes, but it also reveals a God whose heart is to nourish, provide and satisfy his children.
A God whose stores are inexhaustible, whose power is irrepressible and who has immeasurable resources and blessing to share through history, and with us today.
What an awesome God we have… Able to overcome any obstacle, to supply for any deficiency.
This is wonderful news for us frail humans who often struggle along and find roadblock after roadblock bleak and insurmountable.
But sometimes, this knowledge is dangerous.
Sometimes, there is a risk that we can think of El Shaddai as a kind of cosmic Santa. He watches all year, and if I am not too bad of a person, I can ask him for whatever I want.
But God did not come to Abraham and say, ‘I am El Shaddai, look what I can do for you.’
Rather God said, ‘I am the mighty One to provide and nourish, come and follow me’.
You see El Shaddai is the truly all-sufficient one, ready to pour out His blessing on women and men.
But there are some conditions:
El Shaddai desires that we live in his presence, that we walk before Him. That we live our lives in his sight. This is just what he says to Abram…come walk with me…be in a covenantal relationship with me…I will be with you, and you with me.
Then we need to recognise God for who He is… not as our benefactor, not as a genie in a bottle, but as YHWH, El-Shaddai, God Almighty.
And as El Shaddai God loves us, he wants to bless us, yes, yes, yes – but he will not be slighted. There is a call to be sincere in our faith… to walk blamelessly.
Now we know we cannot be perfect, but we are called to walk with God, to aim for holiness, to strive for all that is good, pleasing and true. To walk with integrity – not lurking in the shadows. To trust God completely – no half-hearted measures – no turning back.
Abram – now Abraham got it – he bowed – in fact he fell to the floor – he surrendered to God Almighty – El Shaddai.
And returning once more to the story of Mary and the miraculous conception of Jesus, I think she got the conditions also….
In Mary’s response, we see her humble attitude… ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.’
So, for us today, may we be like Abraham – like Mary – may we learn to be happy, content, and satisfied ready to allow God Almighty, El Shaddai to do his thing… that we would rely on Him alone for peace, hope, joy, comfort, security, strength and salvation.
That we might trust in Him as El Shaddai – that we might know He can, and will, satisfy our needs – He can do the impossible – but we must walk with Him in honesty, trust, obedience and truth.