El Shaddai

The Lord said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:1–2).

- Job 38–42

One of the most well-known names for the Lord, El Shaddai, is the subject for our study today. Typically, this term is translated into English as “God Almighty,” and it is found in Job more than any other book in Scripture.

The Bible frequently borrows Semitic words from the surrounding culture of its day and invests them with new meaning. Therefore, tracing the use of the term in pagan contexts can help us understand why certain terms are used and not others. In this case, there is a lot of debate over the name El Shaddai. Some believe it originally meant something like “the thunderer,” reflecting paganism’s frequent identification of weather patterns with specific gods. Given what Scripture tells us about the Lord, it is not surprising this title would be used to describe His power. Of course, the Bible differs with paganism in affirming that God is not to be identified with the created order. He rules over creation and is not Himself subject to it (Gen. 1).

Perhaps a better root meaning of El Shaddai, though not opposed to the one suggested, is “the overpowerer.” This calls attention to the Lord’s sovereign might to do whatever He purposes to do (Ex. 15:6; Matt. 19:26). The qualification, “whatever He purposes to do,” is important, for the orthodox doctrine of omnipotence does not mean that God would do everything and anything. For example, He cannot tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13), nor does He do anything that would violate one of His other attributes. God’s knowledge is not limited in any way, for instance, because that would violate His omniscience (Isa. 46:8–10; 1 John 3:20). Finally, the Lord’s strength is perfect, it can neither be augmented nor diminished (James 1:16–17), and no one can stop Him from accomplishing His will (Ps. 115:3).

As we have said, the name El Shaddai is found in Job more than any other book of Scripture. This is not unexpected since Job himself gets a particularly clear revelation of God’s power (Job 38–42). Though he spends most of the book seeking to question Him, God’s display of wisdom and power forces Job to be silent (Job 40:3–5). Such is the response of all who know His greatness.

Coram Deo

Nothing can thwart God’s sovereign purposes. Even when setbacks occur, they are only a part of what the Lord will use to bring about His ultimate ends. El Shaddai cannot be defeated and will save all those who trust in Him. Do you look for mighty displays of the Lord’s power in your life? Do you trust Him to overcome what may be insurmountable obstacles for you? Be confident and thankful today that He will certainly accomplish His will.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 2:1–4
Hab. 3:1–16
Eph. 3:20–21
Rev. 19:11–21

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