THERE is a theme beloved of an earlier generation in the Truth which has become sadly neglected in recent times, yet is basic to our unique understanding of the unity of God and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the theme of God-manifestation, or as some would prefer it, of God-representation, of how God has revealed Himself in His Creation, in His mighty acts and in His representatives-in short, of His great purpose with man to be consummated when God is "all in all".
There are several reasons why the subject, in itself of great beauty and exciting to wonder and awe, has figured less prominently in modern expositions. For one thing, its fundamental importance has been lost sight of because of a mistaken impression that it is "all a matter of Hebrew and Greek", and therefore very difficult to understand. when we take Scripture with Scripture, however, it is quite straightforward to comprehend, and in any case there are many pieces of Hebrew or Greek which we all take in our stride, such as''. . . and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins"; or, ". . . and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matt. 1:21,23).
Secondly, it must be confessed that certain questions relating to our sublime theme have become matters of controversy and contention. It is well known that the covenant name of God in most English versions of the Bible is concealed behind the word LORD or, more rarely, GOD printed in capital and small capital letters.
Occasionally in the Authorised Version it is spelt out as JEHOVAH or in shortened but really more emphatic form as JAH. See for example Isaiah 12:2; Psalms 83:18; 68:4, to mention but a few passages. It is usually assumed that the correct form of the Name is Yahweh, although there is no certainty as to how it should be pronounced. For many centuries the Jews have had a superstitious aversion from pronouncing it at all, and in any case there are at least three current methods of pronouncing Hebrew – the Ashkenazi, Sephardic and modern Israeli pronunciations, in which the vowel sounds are subject to considerable variation.
Using the Name
Some brethren never use the Name of Yahweh today, either because they are unaware of its significance or believe its use should be avoided; some follow the long-standing Christadelphian practice, illustrated in our earliest hymns and writings, of using it whenever it seems appropriate in exposition; and yet others follow a relatively recent trend amongst us of always using it in prayer or substituting it wherever LORD appears in the English Versions. It is this last characteristic which produces contention and sometimes, where it has been introduced into ecclesias (especially latterly in Britain) and has been persisted in contrary to the wishes of the ecclesia as a whole, has led to the setting up of separate assemblies which have subsequently had very little contact with each other.
In the firm belief that the true understanding of the Name should be a unifying and not a divisive force among brethren, our present purpose is to recall attention to the lofty teaching of Scripture about it, without direct reference to earlier writers, although acknowledging with gratitude the insight they have afforded us, and with only such reference to Hebrew and Greek as will confirm or cast further light on what we have already discovered.
In general we shall follow the practice of the Authorised Version in using LORD for the Divine Name, except where the Anglicised Hebrew form of Jehovah, or Yahweh, seems necessary to the exposition. This is not because we have no personal conviction that Yahweh is the more probable form of the Name, whatever its exact pronunciation. Nor do we avoid the use of the Name altogether, as though following a Jewish tradition assumed to be based upon the Third Commandment. IL is simply that the Christadelphian tradition of following the Authorised Version in principle still seems highly satisfactory in a Scriptural discussion of the meaning of the Name rather than of its form or pronunciation.
GOD Himself said to Moses:
"I am the LORD: and I appeared unto Abraham, and unto Isaac, and unto Jacob by the name of God Almighty. but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them." (Exodus 6:2-3)
This passage is of critical importance for our understanding. It reveals to us the sense of the word "know", which we shall meet frequently in connection with God's Name: "they that know thy name will put their trust in thee" (Psalm 9:10). It cannot mean that Abraham did not know that Yahweh was a name of God, for on more than one occasion he "called upon the name of the LORD" (Gen. 12:8; 13:4); nor is it the first time the Name appears in the record on the lips of other men and women, for example Eve in Genesis 4.1.
All this cannot be explained simply by the fact that Moses wrote the record after the Name was revealed to him at the Bush. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew the Name, although the full meaning of Yahweh was to be a matter of future revelation. This concept of the Scripture word "to know" is crucial, therefore, since it is a matter of understanding and response, not of academic knowledge.
The heathen nations around Israel knew that her God was named Yahweh, just as the higher critics know it today. But for both critics and heathen He was the tribal God of the Hebrews, rather than the great Creator of all, who had bound Himself in covenant to the people of whom He said: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2).
"I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Gen. 17:1). What did Abraham understand by that? He of course would have had a better understanding than we of the meaning of the words El Shaddai, which the Revised Version margin tells us are the Hebrew for "God Almighty", and we too shall gain something by considering the actual words later. The context tells us much, however: the Almighty can do everything and therefore Abram, as he then was, had every reason to trust Him when He continued, "and I will make my covenant between me and thee and multiply thee exceedingly".
Here were grounds for faith and obedience. Nothing, not even the gift of a son to a man ninety years old and nine or the giving back from the dead of a son offered in obedient sacrifice, was impossible to Him who was all Power and Might. This, the first enunciation of El Shaddai in Scripture, was of great importance to Abram, especially in view of the rest of the chapter-the covenant, the change of name to Abraham, in itself a promise of the future, the institution of circumcision as the seal of the covenant and the promise of the birth of Isaac. And Abraham "believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6).
We note then that God is Power and Might, but not an impersonal force. "God talked with him", and invited Abraham, on the basis of the righteousness which is by faith, to share a personal relationship with Him. God was his shield and his exceeding great reward (15:1). Modern translations miss the point here, when they render it "thy reward shall be exceeding great", true though that was. It was the fellowship with God, the fact that He was not ashamed to be called Abraham's God (Heb. 11:16), which was the reward for faithful obedience. The inheritance was one of the blessings which flowed from such a relationship with the Possessor of heaven and earth.
So to be the friend of El Shaddai meant fruitfulness, blessing and the everlasting possession of a land, with the promise that the Creator would also be Abraham's Sustainer (Gen. 17:4-8).
What God had been for Abraham He was for his son Isaac also, who in his turn committed Jacob to the keeping of El Shaddai. For as Jacob prepared to leave home to avoid Esau's wrath, Isaac said:
"And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham." (Genesis 28:3-4)
Remarkable also is the fact that though Jacob did not "know" Yahweh, it was by that name that God introduced Himself to Jacob as he slept: "I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father and the God of Isaac" (v.13). Anticipating for a moment our study of the meaning of Yahweh, we shall see that God was in effect declaring that He would be for Jacob also what He had been for his ancestors, and this in a prophetic dream which looked far into the future, to the day when we shall see "heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51).
The Blessing of Fruitfulness
The next time the title El Shaddai appears in Scripture God uses it Himself in addressing Jacob immediately after the formal confirmation, as it were, of the change of name from Jacob to Israel which the angel had announced at Peniel:
"And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him." (Genesis 35:11-13)
The incident reaffirms and renews what had been done at Bethel before: Jacob set up the pillar again and once more named the place Bethel, and we note that yet again the blessing of fruitfulness is repeated and the covenant with Abraham and Isaac confirmed to Jacob.
To these incidents Jacob refers in later life (48:3-4), when the blessing of El Shaddai is to be passed on through Joseph's sons, with a notable insistence on Jacob's part that Ephraim, the fruitful one, is to have the ascendancy over Manasseh. It is not the solemn word El, however, but the more frequent Elohim which is used in the actual blessing of the two sons. The fulness of the blessing is reserved for Joseph in the next chapter. When Jacob blesses all his sons, he clearly gives the birthright and all that it entailed to his beloved (1 Chron. 5:1-2). The great beauty and the comprehensive meaning of the name of El Shaddai can only be realised by pondering the full details of this blessing, which is the last time that the name is taken upon the lips of a patriarch:
"Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: the archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with the blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: the blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shalt be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren." (Genesis 49:22-26)
Jacob's Experience of God
El Shaddai, therefore, had revealed Himself in Jacob's experience, and he knew Him to be a God of fruitfulness, of blessing and of mercy (see Gen. 43:14), as He had been known to Jacob's fathers. The full name appears no more in Scripture, except in our opening passage from Exodus 6:3 and in Ezekiel 10:5. This underlines the connection we have made with blessing, fruitfulness and power to create and sustain as seen in God's dealings with those to whom the promises were made in the first place. In the passage from the prophet we learn that the voice of the Creator and Sustainer is also the voice of judgement. This is entirely consistent with what we shall discover about the attributes of God as revealed in the memorial name of Yahweh. Judgement, destruction even, is the counterpart of mercy and blessing and the prerogative of the One who alone can create and make alive.
The uses of the name Shaddai by itself strengthen our understanding of this important principle. Because of His greatness and His majesty God must judge evil and destroy the evil-doer. The wonder of His mercy and grace to those who fear Him, though they are "but dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27), becomes even greater when we remember this.
In Numbers 24:4-9 Balaam's words indicate that the title Shaddai indicates God's power and blessing, whereas verses 15-19 introduce Him as the destroyer of His enemies. Likewise in Ruth l:20-21, it was the Almighty who had dealt bitterly with Naomi, who had gone forth full and returned home empty. Both Shaddai and Yahweh occur in these verses.
Throughout the Book of Job, apart from the Prologue and Epilogue, Shaddai is the regular term referring to God, in passages too numerous to mention, and the title exactly suits the theme of the discourses. They deal with the wrath of God, His life-giving power, His visiting of men for their iniquity, His chastening hand and His capacity to defend those who put their trust in Him.
Both the destructive and the protective power of God figure in the Psalms: "The Almighty scattered kings" (68:14), but "he that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (91:1).
Finally, both Isaiah (13:6) and Joel (1:15) speak of the coming day of the LORD as "a destruction from the Almighty".
Several derivations of the word Shaddai have been offered us by Hebrew scholars, but we have preferred to examine it in its Scriptural context and in the experiences of the men of old. Nevertheless it is plain that those who derive it from a word meaning "to be powerful", or from the word for "breasts", implying fruitfulness, or from a verb meaning "to destroy", all have Scriptural support. To worship and serve the Creator as the giver of "life and breath and all things" brings blessing and fruitfulness; to worship and serve the thing created (Rom. 1:25) leads to barrenness and destruction; those who lusted after evil things "were destroyed of the destroyer" (I Cor. 10:6-10)
It was as the God of covenant and faithfulness and mercy, then that El Shaddai was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To those who are prepared, upon the basis of the promises received, to cleanse themselves from "all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God . . . I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 7:1; 6:18).