In order to grasp the depth of this passage it is important to define some terms. To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God revealed Himself as El-Shaddai. Read this definition of that Hebrew word. I am printing the actual Strong’s Enhanced Dictionary listing so that we do not run the risk of reading too much into the meaning of the word.
7703 [shadad /shaw·dad/] 58 occurrences; AV translates as “spoil” 30 times, “spoiler” 11 times, “waste” eight times, “destroy” twice, “robbers” twice, and translated miscellaneously five times. 1 to deal violently with, despoil, devastate, ruin, destroy, spoil. 1a1 to violently destroy, devastate, despoil, assail. 1a2 devastator, despoiler 1b to be utterly ruined. 1c 1c1 to assault. 1c2 to devastate. 1d to be devastated. 1e to violently destroy. 1f to be devastated.1
7706 [Shadday /shad·dah·ee/] 48 occurrences; AV translates as “Almighty” 48 times. 1 almighty, most powerful. 1a Shaddai, the Almighty (of God).2
El means God. When you put El in front of Shaddai, you get the name of God; El-Shaddai. In other words, God presented himself to Abraham as “God, the mighty, powerful destroyer.” Take a few minutes and meditate on that definition. How do you feel about God in light of His name, El-Shaddai?
Now look at the definition for the word LORD.
I. is given Ex 3:12–15 as the name of the God who revealed Himself to Moses at Horeb, and is explained thus: I shall be with thee (v 12), which is then implied in I shall be the one who will be it v 14a (i.e. with thee v 12) and then compressed into v 14b (i.e. with thee v 12), which then is given in the nominal form He who will be it v 15 (i.e. with thee v 12). Other interpretations are: I am he who I am, i.e. it is no concern of yours; I am, (this is my name), inasmuch as I am; I am who I am, he who is essentially unnameable, inexplicable.3
Yahweh (translated LORD in the NIV) means, the God who is and the God who will be with you. Another way to say it is “the God who is present.”
This was a radical concept to the ancient mind. In the ancient world the concept of God was that of a fierce being who lived on top of a mountain somewhere and was in charge of making the crops grow and would hurl thunder bolts at mortals that displeased him. God was “up there” and “out there.”
At this point we must stop and discuss a fundamental point about the nature of God. God always meets us where we are and then takes us to the place we need to be, in the right timing. I believe that God presented Himself to Abraham as El-Shaddai because that was the default understanding of God that Abraham was raised with back in Ur. In order for Abraham to recognize God as God, God had to use a name that Abraham could grasp. Then God took Abraham one step further into truth; God — the “destroyer” — made a loving promise to bless Abraham’s descendents. That was a radical shift in man’s idea of God. All the other gods of the world couldn’t care less about mortals. The Baals, as they were called, were wrapped up in their own agenda of fornicating with the goddesses and fighting with the underworld. Humans were insignificant “accidents” that were nothing more than pawns in the cosmos. Now, with Abraham, El-Shaddai broke the mold and gave value to the mortal. And yet, he was still “out there” and something to be feared.
In Moses’ encounter we see a new step towards a deeper understanding and a further revelation of the true nature of God. The God who is “out there” now refers to Himself as Yaweh. In so doing He said to Moses, “Moses, I am not just out there or up on some high mountain. I am what I am. I am the giver and sustainer of life. I am present with you. Not only am I with you, I am for you. I am welcoming you to come into my presence and have a relationship with me. I will be your ‘present God’ and you will be my people.” With this pronouncement the old theological paradigm was shattered. God told Moses that He was there for Him, walking with Him, guiding and protecting Him. God was now “in here”.
Meditate on that definition of the ‘present God” for a moment.
So, what’s the point? All of us must pass through these levels of understanding that the people of Israel had to pass. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many of us are stuck in an El-Shaddai perspective of God. God is nothing but a big and powerful destroyer; a force to be feared; a perfection that can never be achieved. He is so far away that we cannot know Him, so He might as well not exist as far as my everyday life is concerned. The truly sad reality is that many of us learned this perception of God through “Christian” religious institutions.
One of the fundamental mile markers on the journey of Spiritual formation that we must pass is to join with Moses and meet the God who is present. Yahweh is the God who made you, who loves you, who wants your best, and who desires to guide and protect you like a loving Father and a caring Shepherd. Just say those words over in your mind…”God is with me” “God is for me, not against me.”
As we study the entire Bible we will see that this “progressive revelation” of the God who is “out there” to the God who is “in here” will culminate in the person of Jesus. Jesus referred to Himself as “I AM.” In other words, Jesus said that His name was Yahweh. In the person of Jesus Christ, the God who is “out there” (El-Shaddai) revealed Himself as Immanuel, God with us, Yahweh, the God who is “in here.”
Where are you today? Is God still “out there”, a cold and meaningless, somewhat scary notion? Or, is God “in here” through the person of Jesus Christ, giving meaning and purpose to your life?
Remember that God is with you today.