El Shaddai—The All Sufficient God
God reveals Himself by many names throughout the scriptures for the purpose of expressing a quality of His character that is vital for us to know. One, in particular, stands out to me lately in reference to the miracle of the five loaves and two fish as told in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-16, and John 6:5-14)—signifying a lesson that applies to every sphere of our life.
"El Shaddai" the "All-Sufficient One" is the name that reminds me of the Lord concerning this event.
In the reading of this miracle, I get the sense that the disciples felt a bit overwhelmed about the expectation of . . .
. . . “You give them something to eat.” (Mark and Luke)
That is, you feed 5000 men. This number did not include women and children. Could it be suggested that there were over 10,000 people to feed altogether?
Let us also keep in mind the disciples were already tired and hungry and looking to get away from the needs and expectations of the crowd.
"And He (Jesus) said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat"
— Mark 6:31
Bring What Little You Have To Jesus
The disciple's response hints about the inadequacy they might have felt concerning the command and I think it is reflective of our own perceptions of the needs of those around us at times and what our role and responsibility are in fulfilling them.
“We have here only five loaves and two fish.” (Matthew)
“Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?” (Mark)
“We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” (Luke)
“Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little. One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”(John)
The disciples attempt to make it clear to Jesus that His request was a bit ridiculous considering the phenomenal cost of feeding a crowd of that size or trying to make five loaves and two fish stretch for 10,000 people.
I must admit it is the same ridiculousness I feel concerning the world around me. When I look around at the problems and needs whether they are global or within my own church or family I feel largely inadequate and the needs that come about seem to be insurmountable and overwhelming causing me to ask, "What could I possibly do to make a difference" or "What do I have to offer of any significance to any of these situations"? Humanly speaking it is just never enough. "it is not sufficient" I come up short every time.
The four statements in the four Gospels reveal, as was studied in Part one of the "Monarch Butterfly" series that their perceptions of the problem were focused only on the natural created world and realm of possibilities. The disciples suggested a solution...
"Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food"(Matthew)
I must also admit this may have been my suggestion as well. In fact, it is the very thing I do suggest during an overwhelming crisis or need. "Just send them away - I am tired, hungry, and have needs of my own"
Jesus second instruction to them is to go and find out how much they do have:
He (Jesus) said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see. (Mark)
The disciples do as instructed and John records that they found five loaves of barley and two fish from a boy's lunch. What they had to offer wasn't even theirs. Again I recognize this parallel from my own life. After careful examination (Go and see) I discover I don't really have anything substantial or significant to offer either.
Jesus third instruction is the answer to this whole dilemma and lays the foundation for the all-sufficient one "El Shaddai"
"He (Jesus) said, “Bring them (loaves and fishes) here to Me.” (Matthew)
Bringing what we have to Him is what we must do.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:16
Alexander Maclaren wisely explains...
Christ's preparation for making our poor resources adequate for anything is to drive home into our hearts the consciousness of their insufficiency. We need, first of all, to be brought to this, 'All that I have is this wretched little stock; and what is that measured against the work that I have to do, and the claims upon me?' Only when we are brought to that can His great power pour itself into us and fill us with rejoicing and overcoming strength. The old mystics used to say, and they said truly: 'You must be emptied of yourself before you can be filled by God.' And the first thing for any man to learn, in preparation for receiving a mightier power than his own into his opening heart, is to know that all his own strength is utter and absolute weakness.
One title given to this story is the feeding of the five thousand based upon the Biblical accounts of how many people were fed. It is noteworthy that there were five loaves. Numbers in scripture are many times telling of the central theme of the text and can add depth and insight to the scriptural lesson. The number five in Scripture is representative of grace.
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
— II Corinthians 12:9
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work
— II Corinthians 9:8
It is so interesting and confirming that these two verses pair up grace and sufficiency just as the number five and God's provision do with this story. Grace can be seen here as in concert with God's strength, sufficiency, and goodness.
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God
— II Corinthians 3:5
It is obvious from my experience that I have no sufficiency of my own and this above verse states that I can quit trying to conjure it up on my own. Whatever I have to offer comes from God's grace.
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge
— I Corinthians 1:4-5
Grace is something that requires total dependence on God's goodness and confidence that He sees us favorably and that it is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
And says John in the true translation: 'So the men sat down, therefore Jesus took the loaves.' Sit you down where He bids you, and your mouths will not be long empty. Do the things He tells you, and you will get the food that you need. Our business is to obey and to wait, and His business is, when we are seated, to open His hand and let the mercy drop. So much for the preparations for this great miracle.
— Alexander Maclaren
"El Shaddai" occurs 48 times in the Old Testament predominantly in Genesis and Job. It seems odd that Job, who lost everything and was in such desperate need, would identify God as "All-Sufficient" Why might this be?
"To realize God's sufficiency we must realize our own insufficiency"
Although Job was a pretty good guy his sufficiency rested in God's provision and not his own righteousness. I find it useful to remember that God owes me nothing. That is what makes His grace so deeply precious.
I really like the break down look at the Hebrew name El Shaddai as it relates to His power and provision.
El Shaddai—The God Who Is Enough
The first part of this name "El" in Hebrew means mighty strong and prominent and powerful. "Elohim" is the plural version of the word "El" We can think of a powerful prominent God who created all things.
‘Ah, Lord GOD (El)! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.
— Jeremiah 32:17
Feeding 10,000 people with five loaves and two fish is not too difficult for Him. Whatever trial and circumstance, whatever personality or problem confronts us, it is not too difficult for Him. He created all things and by Him, all things are sustained.
The Son was there before anything was made.
And all things continue because of him
—Colossians 1;17 ERV
The pictographs for "El Shaddai" are especially helpful and confirming.
The first letter or "El" is an Aleph being a picture of an ox and expresses the idea of something strong and leading. It is also the first letter of the Aleph-Bet indicating what is first and supreme.
The second letter is a "Lamed" and is a picture of a shepherds staff giving the idea of authority.
Therefore El (God) is supremely strong and powerful and has all authority over every situation and circumstance.
"Shaddai" is an interesting word as well
This is somewhat of a compound word. "Shad" meaning breasts and
"dai" according to Gesenius meaning sufficient, large enough quantity, abundance, plenty.
the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus
— I Timothy 1:14
The symbolism of breasts in this context has to do with feeding and nourishing. Breast milk is an entirely sufficient means to provide everything a baby needs, nutritionally. Breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein as well as antibodies that help the baby's immune system fight off illness-causing agents.
Baby formula cannot duplicate these precious qualities. Just like there is no other substitute that can satisfy us completely but God himself.
Most references to El Shaddai in the Old Testament are a reference to God make a provision and blessing just as depicted by a baby's perfect food.
An interesting thing about breastfeeding is that whatever the baby needs the breasts will make. There is always enough. which communicates the idea of abundance and plenty. In every situation that we are not enough or do not have enough, we are called to depend on Him. That is what grace is. Dependence on His sufficiency.
In viewing the all-powerful all authoritative father like the sufficiency of God we can also see a maternal type of love, nurture, and provision.
Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.
— Isaiah 49:15
For thus says the LORD:
“ Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried, And be dandled on her knees.
— Isaiah 66:12
This conclusion from Matthew 11 sums up well God's grace and what that looks like practically speaking.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28
This brings great comfort to my soul. As I write this lesson it is as much for myself to learn as anyone as I sit in the middle of great conflicts swirling all about me and find myself insufficient for even the simplest of tasks concerning any one of them. I take great comfort at His invitation to bring what I have, which is much of nothing, and trust that He is the God who is enough and that His grace is sufficient for me and for every one of these situations.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
— Psalm 42:11
He is our Father and our Mother, He is our Lord, and our God, He is our faithful friend and our brother, He is our refuge and our fortress, our high tower and deliverer,.....He is everything we need and He is the God who is enough.
A Few Parting Quotes
"There is never a time you're not in His thoughts, never a time without grace, never a time when He turns away from any need you face.
There is never a time you're not in His heart, never a time without love, never a time when you're not blessed with good things from above!
— Roy Lessin "Always Loved"
"the divine Spirit can give you, in your want, a greater plenty than the rich have in their abundance"
"You know not what joys may be stored up for you in the cottage around which grace will plant the roses of content"
"True strength is found in understanding our weakness and Christ's sufficiency" — Nelson Study Bible notes
“Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup, uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better, I'd have come running with a bucket.”
— Nancy Spiegelberg
Sources and Credits
Questions & Answers
What is the meaning of “The many breasted God”?
It appears that some sources have tried to connect this concept of "shad" meaning breast in reference to God's name with other pagan deities. The Hebrew translation does not include the word "many" it simply uses a word that, at its root, means breast. It is understood that this is not referencing a physical characteristic of God, but it is meant to be symbolic in terms of function.Helpful 3
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