El Shaddai and hapax phenomena

A hapax phenomenon is one of my many coined terms, based on hapax legomenon.

A hapax legomenon is a word that appears only once in a given text. Similarly a hapax phenomenon is not simply an event that occurs only once in one’s experience but it is an event which conveys information that if one had not experienced it, one would be none the wiser as no-one else has ever since brought this information across one’s path.

I have already documented on this blog an example of biblical exegesis that I have never heard anyone else explain, such as when did the Gospel first come to Europe?

There are many examples of these, which I hope to document in due course, God willing. I think they begin with the aged Tommy Macrae in Dumbarton who died aged 100 years in 1993, alert to the end and still passing on his pearls of wisdom when I was supplying the pulpit in the 1980s. The summation of a century of collective Reformed knowledge was on tap and it was he who first drew my attention to the lack of infant mortality in the biblical Millennium  Isa 65:20 and that Christ will have the majority of mankind in His kingdom Col 1:18. There are other examples to be related in due order.

On this occasion, I have chosen another hapax phenomenon almost at random to finish the year 2018.

I first came across the Hebrew term Shaddai in the 1970s in John Bunyan’s Holy War, notably in that wonderful scene where the news circulates in Shaddai’s court that He has a purpose of mercy towards Mansoul and He has determined to send His Son Emmanuel on a mission to rescue it from Diabolus.

Since then there were occasional references to El Shaddai, the Hebrew term for ‘God Almighty’, in various sermons and books with the uniform translation ‘God Almighty’. Divinity studies in Hebrew added nothing new to this. Then on 14/4/2013 I experienced another hapax phenomenon, a solitary, passing reference to El Shaddai as meaning ‘all sufficient’.

My ears pricked up, and upon enquiry I was led to The Names of God in Holy Scripture, by Andrew John Jukes, 1888. He pointed to another Hebrew etymology or derivation for Shaddai.

The usual explanation is that it derives from shadad ‘to spoil’, with the concept of ‘might’ even ‘violence’ behind it. However, Wikipedia acknowledges that “the origin and meaning of “Shaddai” are obscure, and a variety of hypotheses have been put forward.” Some translators even assert that God Almighty is not the correct translation.

Of these hypotheses, none seems as satisfying as Andrew Jukes’, who draws attention to the root being shad ‘a breast’, and develops the concept to show that Shaddai refers to God’s bountifulness. One solitary Wikipedia citation seems to have picked up this theme: “The God with Breasts: El Shaddai in the Bible”. History of Religions. 21: 244, by David Biale (1982), professor of Jewish History at University of California, Davis.

I have found one sermon online which summarises in an easily accessible manner the various ideas in El Shaddai, God ‘almighty, nourisher, pouring out blessing, all sufficient, self-sufficient’, more fully developed by Jukes, who acknowledges his prior help from Parkhurst’s Hebrew Lexicon.

El Shaddai is not simply God Almighty but He exercises that might by way of being all bountiful.

This is a good way to finish 2018, by reminding ourselves that God is all mighty and all bountiful.

‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning’ James 1:17.

‘As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem’ Isa 66:13.


17 Feb 2019: Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening for the morning of 17th February comments: “The Lord has been a sure helper to others: his name is Shaddai, God All-sufficient.”

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