El Shaddai

By Mike Coldagelli

In the first chapter of his Gospel, John introduces us to another name for Christ. John calls him the Word. The Word was in the beginning (at creation). He was with God and he was God. The Word was active in every aspect of creation, visible and invisible. The Word is unique. Jesus Christ is the Word.

John writes in verse 18:

No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18 NIV)

God, the One and Only, the unique and only Son (In Greek monogenes, an only son), is at the Father’s side and reveals the Father to us. The Son makes the Father known. Without the Son, the Father cannot be known.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27 ESV)

El Shaddai

No one has ever seen the Father. But the Son has made Him known. John’s claim in verse 18 is categorical. Who then, appears to men in the Old Testament?

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Genesis 17:1)

The Lord appeared to Abram. Abram saw the Lord. The Lord said to Abram, “I am God Almighty.” How do we reconcile John’s statement, “No-one has ever seen God,” with Abram seeing God Almighty (El Shaddai)? Is El Shaddai John’s “God the One and Only”? Did Abram see Christ, the Son, before his incarnation? Did Abram see the Word?

The Word of the Lord

In Genesis 15:1 the word of the Lord comes to Abram in a vision.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1 NIV)

Is the word of the Lord in this verse audible or visual? It comes in a vision. Is the word an audible message or a messenger, a person that can be seen? Does the “word of the Lord” in this verse have anything to do with the Word in the first chapter of John?

The visual nature of this encounter is strengthened in verse 4.

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him… (Genesis 15:4 ESV)

The word, “behold”, connotes the seeing or observing of something remarkable. There is a tendency in the study of this verse to think that an audible word came into Abram’s mind, but that interpretation contradicts the usage of “behold.” If this “word of the Lord” is a messenger and not a message, is he the person identified as God Almighty (El Shaddai) in Genesis 17?

The Angel of the Lord

Genesis 16 adds another appearance to consider. After Hagar had run away because of harsh treatment from Sarai, she is found in the wilderness by the angel of the Lord. The angel speaks with Hagar.

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” (Genesis 16:9-10 ESV)

The prophecy of Hagar’s offspring must be understood in conjunction with the prophecy in Genesis 15:5. Both are actually about Abram’s offspring by Sarai and by Hagar. Are “the word of the Lord” and “the angel of the Lord” one and the same? The pivotal verse, for our purposes, in chapter 16 is verse 13.

So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:13 ESV)

Most translations do not capture the essence of this verse. The remarkable thing is not that God sees Hagar. It is that Hagar sees God. The NET translated this verse as follows:

So Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me,”  for she said, “Here I have seen one who sees me!” (Genesis 16:13 NET)

The NASB is correct in Hagar’s astonishment at seeing God and continuing to be alive. Similarly, Gideon (Judges 6) and Manoah and his wife (Judges 13) experience fear and the expectation of death at their realization that they have seen the angel of the Lord.

Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” (Genesis 16:13 NASB)

The note for this verse in the NET Bible explains that in the Hebrew, “God of my seeing” may be understood either as objective (“who sees me,” as in the translation) or subjective (“whom I see”). This is the God that Hagar sees.

So there are three divine appearances in Genesis 15, 16, and 17. The person portrayed in each has a different appellation, but all are seen. Are they all the same person? A case can be made that El Shaddai is the the angel of the Lord.

Balaam’s Vision

Balak, the king of Moab, feared the people of Israel because of their number and victories over surrounding nations. Balak summoned the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. At first God tells Balaam not to go to Balak. Then God instructs him to go. On his journey Balaam is confronted by the angel of the Lord.

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. (Numbers 22:31-32 ESV)

The angel of the Lord sends Balaam on his way to Balak with these instructions.

And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” (Numbers 22:35 ESV)

Balaam saw the angel of the Lord and spoke with him, just as Hagar had. In numbers 23 and 24 Balaam gives four oracles which the angel of the Lord gave him to speak. Balaam sees the angel of the Lord and hears his words. In his third oracle Balaam describes himself as “him who hears the words of God (El) and sees the vision of the Almighty (Shaddai).

the oracle of him who hears the words of God,

    who sees the vision of the Almighty,

    falling down with his eyes uncovered (Numbers 24:4 ESV)

In other words Balaam is saying that he saw and spoke with El Shaddai. In verse 16, in the fourth, oracle Balaam repeats this affirmation.

the oracle of him who hears the words of God,

    and knows the knowledge of the Most High,

who sees the vision of the Almighty,

    falling down with his eyes uncovered (Numbers 24:16 ESV)

In this verse Balaam introduces the phrase “the knowledge of the Most High.” Where does this leave us? First, Hagar sees the angel of the Lord (Genesis 16). Second, Abram sees El Shaddai, God Almighty (Genesis 17). Third, Moses writes that Balaam spoke with and saw the angel of the Lord (Numbers 22). Fourth, Balaam, speaking as the angel of the Lord instructed him, says that he heard and saw El Shaddai (Numbers 24).

Let’s now return to John 1:18.

No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18 NIV)

We know that “God the One and Only” makes the Father known. And we must understand that no one has ever seen the Father. Balaam knows the knowledge of the Most High, the Father, because the angel of the Lord, El Shaddai, the God who is seen, has made the Most High known. Christ, the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32), has made the Father, the Most High, known.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:8-11 ESV)

Jesus is seen by men in the Old Testament and in his New Testament incarnation. He has been revealing the Father, the Most High, from the time of creation. Jesus is God Almighty. Jesus is El Shaddai. If Abraham knew El Shaddai, he knew Christ. His faith in El Shaddai is his faith in Christ. Abraham’s belief, which is counted onto him as righteousness, was in the the same person as our belief which is counted onto us as righteousness.

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. (Exodus 6:2-3 ESV)

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:56-58 NASB)

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew El Shaddai. Jesus, in John 8:56-58, reveals that he is the El Shaddai that appeared to them.

Etymology

One of the proposed origins for the name Shaddai is the Hebrew word, shadad. Shadad means to overpower, destroy, or conquer. It translates in most Bible versions to “almighty.” This seems the strongest explanation for the character quality revealed in the name.

Another line of thinking derives from the Hebrew word, šad, which means breast. The thinking in this instance is that Shaddai refers to sufficiency or provision. El Shaddai would refer to the providing nature of El.

There are other less prominent explanations, but the idea of the name representing power and might to destroy is reinforced shortly after the name is introduced in Genesis 17:1. El Shaddai destroys Sodom and the cities of the plain in Genesis 18 and 19.

El Gibbor

One of the names of the “given son” of Isaiah 9:6 is El Gibbor, translated “Mighty God.” A more literal translation would be “God, The Mighty Man.” This name stands in sharp contrast to another of the given son’s names, Prince of Peace. The war aspect in one name stands against the peace aspect of the other. Furthermore the idea of a mighty God-man is a refinement on El Shaddai. Most Biblical references to God use Elohiym, the plural form. But the names El Shaddai and El Gibbor use the singular El. These two titles then, in my opinion, separate El Shaddai and El Gibbor out from other persons in the Godhead. This person will be active with regard to peace and war.

Emphasis in the modern American church is on Christ’s peace activity. And this is not a misplaced emphasis for it is the essence of the Gospel. However, in this age, we must understand that “peace” to be between God and man, and not between man and man. We also must understand that the sacrifice on the cross was a destructive act, an act of shadad.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:14-16 ESV)

The given son of Isaiah 9:6 destroys the devil by taking on flesh and blood and dying for the children of Abraham. This identification of those saved from the devil as Abraham’s children (sperma or seed) also identifies Abraham’s El Shaddai with the El Gibbor, the mighty God-man, that went to the cross. Satan held the power of death, but now the risen Christ holds that power. In Revelation 1:18 Christ says of himself.

I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:18 ESV)

Through Christ’s sacrificial act of death on a cross he enters Satan’s kingdom and plunders it. In regard to casting out demons Jesus says:

Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:29 ESV)

Christ binds the strongman. He overpowers (shadad) him. He is mighty to save (Isaiah 63:1, Zephaniah 3:17). He performs redemption by destroying the adversary.

Jesus as Destroyer

The very concept of Jesus as a destroyer seems harsh, even contradictory. But in Psalm 2 the term “anointed” (mashiyach) or Christ is applied to God’s Son who will break and smash nations (Psalm 2:9). This same anointed one will strike down kings, execute judgment on the nations, and fill valleys with corpses (Psalm 110:5-6). In the ESV and NET translations of Jude, Jesus is identified as an Old Testament savior and destroyer.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 5 ESV)

In light of Jude 5, 1 Corinthians 10:6-10 becomes clear.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10 ESV)

The “Destroyer” of verse 10 is Christ who was put to the test in verse 9. He is not an unknown destroying angel as many commentaries assert. The destroyer of the sexually immoral in Israel is the same destroyer (El Shaddai) of the sexually immoral in Sodom. And Jude in verse 7 makes the connection between those destroyed in Israel and those destroyed in Sodom. They were both destroyed by Jesus, El Shaddai.

just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7 ESV)

The Arm of the Lord

The “Arm of the Lord” has been interpreted in various ways. I would like to bring out a combination of two interpretations in support for Jesus as El Shaddai. I will use three cites from Isaiah. The first is Isaiah 53:1.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 ESV)

Who would have believed what we  just heard? When was the Lord’s power revealed through him? (Isaiah 53:1 NET)

The NET translators associate the phrase, “the arm of the Lord,” so strongly with God’s power that they change “the arm of the Lord” to “the Lord’s power.” The NET note on this phrase is:

Heb “the arm of the Lord.” The “arm of the Lord” is a metaphor of military power; it pictures the Lord as a warrior who bares his arm, takes up his weapon, and crushes his enemies (cf. 51:9-10; 63:5-6). But Israel had not seen the Lord’s military power at work in the servant.

Is “the arm of the Lord” a metaphor? Or might it be a metonym? If it is a metonym then, a person might be in view. Is “the arm of the Lord” a person through whom all the power of Elohiym is displayed? Is El Shaddai “the arm of the Lord?” We should let the New Testament shed light on the Old in this instance and heed John’s words in Chapter 12 of his Gospel.

While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:36-38 ESV)

John equates belief in Christ to having “the arm of the Lord” revealed. It is Christ that is revealed and in him is all the power and might of God. Isaiah 53 continues from verse 1 in describing a suffering servant in whom the power of God, either to save or destroy, resides. The Septuagint of Isaiah 53:12 shows that the servant will divide the spoils of the mighty. The quality of might is ascribed to the servant. His people (whom he is mighty to save, Isaiah 63:1) are his inheritance. His people are the spoils (the plunder of Matthew 12:29) of war waged on the cross. Verse 12 depicts the working out of the “enmity” of Genesis 3:15 and the “prospering” or “success” of Isaiah 52:13 through the person of the servant.

Therefore he shall inherit many,
 and he shall divide the spoils of the strong (In Hebrew ‛âtsûm or mighty),
    because his soul was given over to death,
    and he was reckoned among the lawless,
    and he bore the sins of many,
    and because of their sins he was given over. (Isaiah 53:12 NET of the Septuagint)

The next verse in Isaiah that I would like to examine is Isaiah 52:10.

The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10 ESV)

The Lord’s holy arm, that is seen by all nations and all the ends of the earth, is Jesus. The Hebrew for salvation in this verse is literally Yeshua. Again we must let the New Testament shed light on the Old.

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:7 ESV)

Isaiah 52:10 is the result of Revelation 1:7. All the tribes of the earth shall see Him. Shall see Jesus, Yeshua. And thus the Lord’s holy arm is revealed before the eyes of all nations and God’s salvation in his Son is seen to the ends of the earth.

The third Isaiah verse is in chapter 40.

Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him. (Isaiah 40:10 ESV)

The ruling arm that possesses might in this verse is the revealed arm of Isaiah 53:1, that is seen by all the ends of the earth in Isaiah 52:10 and Revelation 1:7. He is Jesus. He is El Shaddai, El Gibbor. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Conclusion

Jesus in John 17 prays to his Father.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. (John 17:4-7 ESV)

Jesus manifests the Father’s name. He displays and shows the Father’s attributes, character, and will. The appearing God, the Word, the El Shaddai of Genesis, is the preincarnate Messiah. He has made the Father known (John 1:18) both before and after his incarnation. The Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32) has made the Most High known. The Son’s power, might, and strength are brought forth throughout Scripture. It is the Son that destroys Sodom, Pharaoh, Satan, the beast, and death. He will destroy every rule, authority, and power.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:24-26 ESV)

He has overcome the world. Take heart, for he has conquered the cosmos.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome (conquered) the world (Greek kosmos, universe).” (John 16:33 ESV)