Abraham was reminded that God, or El Shaddai, is both powerful and sufficient to keep His covenant.
After Abraham and Sarah had pursued this illegitimate means of fulfilling the covenant in Genesis 16, God appeared to Abraham and announced that His name was “El Shaddai”—God Almighty (Genesis 17:1). This compound name of God is comprised of the singular “El” from the name “Elohim”—a name that was used of God as the all-powerful creator who in Genesis 1 formed the worlds out of nothing but His mere command.
The second part of the compound name, “Shaddai,” comes from the Hebrew word for breast and is used to picture a nursing mother who has a plentiful supply of milk to meet the hunger of her child (Isaiah 66:10-11). The composite portrait painted by this name is an image of a God who has both the power and the sufficiency to meet the needs of His people. This is the same God who, in response to His exiled people’s similar crisis of faith and confidence in the covenant, had said,
“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
El Shaddai had not forgotten His covenant, but rather His delay was redemptive; it summoned forth both repentance and renewed faith from Abraham as El Shaddai commanded, “Walk before Me, and be blameless.” The text reveals that Abraham, in response to God’s naming of Himself as El Shaddai, assumed a posture of repentance that is the only adequate reply to the Almighty, Sufficient God—Abraham fell down on his face (Genesis 17:1-3).
Abraham’s impatience and his decision to pursue illegitimate means of helping God keep His covenant was ultimately a decision to break fellowship with the God of the covenant. The command to walk with God and be blameless was an invitation to re-enter God’s presence through confession and to reestablish the covenant with Him. A nursing child must be near its mother to receive the provision of her milk. And so Abraham had to learn, as the psalmist did, that “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Shaddai)” (Psalm 91:1). As we learn to accept God’s “patient” timetables and confess our own pursuits of “illegitimate means,” we will also come to know the Almighty, Sufficient God. In so doing, we will come to know that His name is El Shaddai.
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