Could the Septuagint witnessing be useful to understand the correct meaning of שׁדי ('Shaddai')?
Now, I present an amount of examples of LXX’s renditions of the term שׁדי (sometimes those ancient translators rendered it with a Greek corresponding term, other times with an expression, or, in some instances, this Hebrew term remains untranslated at all. Finally, in one instance this term is only transliterated [not ‘translated’]):
θεός, ‘God’ = Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25; Exo 6:3; Num 24:4, 16.
θεου του ουρανου, ‘God of the Heaven’ = Psa 91:1.
(ο) ικανος, ‘(Who) Being Fit, Competent, Proficient’ (as in Xenophon, Plato, Isocrates, and others) = Rut 1:20; Job 6:4 (same context of Job 6:14); 40:2; Eze 1:24.
παντοκράτωρ, ‘Almighty, The Dominator of Universe’ = Job 5:17; 8:5 (same context of Job 8:3); 11:7; 15:25; 22:17, 25 (same context of Job 22:23); 27:11 (same context of Job 27:10); 32:8; 33:4.
κυριος, ‘Lord’ = Job 6:14 (same context of Job 6:4); 13:3; 21:20; 22:23, 26 (same context of Job 22:17); 31:35.
ο τα παντα ποιησας, ‘The One Making All Things’ = Job 8:3 (same context of Job 8:5).
υλωδης λιαν, ‘flush exceedingly’ [ABP]; ‘very fruitful’ [Brenton]; ‘Blooming (One), Florid (One), Prosperous (One)’ [Starfield] = Job 29:5.
υψιστος, ‘The Highest, The Supreme’ = Job 31:2.
επουρανιος, ‘Heavenly One’ [ABP] = Psa 68:15 (14).
σαδδαι, a mere transliteration of the Hebrew term = Eze 10:5.
- untranslated - = Job 27:10 (same context of Job 27:11); 37:23.
Now, are we able – treasuring these LXX’s renderings - to draw some hints about the real meaning of שׁדי ? ‘No’ and ‘Yes’.
‘No’, because it is evident that the LXX’s translators had no complete view of the full semantic value of the Hebrew term (the frequent and generic renditions like θεός, κυριος, and alike, are completely useless to comprehend its semantic value).
‘Yes’, because it seems that a shard of meaning was maintained in at least LXX’s one instance. Indeed, the expression υλωδης λιαν (in Job 29:5) make us to conclude that שׁדי could has - at least - something to do with the idea of ‘to bloom’, ‘to be florid’, ‘to be prosperous’.
Having considered the above renderings of the LXX’s translators, we may ask if the Hebrew text – instead - could offer us some major hints about this divine title.
Well, I think that some occurrence of שׁדי – in MT - are really enlighting, offering us a clue to the real meaning of this quite obscure term. Let discover how.
First of all, the same Hebrew term שׁדי, šdi may mean ‘breasts’, as in Gen 49:25, Psa 22:9 (10), Son 8:1, and Eze 23:21, and this rendering – too - has surely something to do with the idea of ‘to bloom’, ‘to be florid’, ‘to be prosperous’, isn’t it?
Umberto Cassuto (A Commentary on the Book of Exodus; bold is mine): “With the name […] ‘Shaddai’ […] the Israelites were wont to associate the idea of the Divinity who rules over nature and bestows upone mankind fertility, as we can see from every verse in the Pentateuch, in which this name occurs; for example, Gen. XVII 1-2: ‘I am El Shaddai… and I will multiply you exceedingly’; ibid. XXVIII 3 ‘And El Shaddai bless you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you’; ibid. XXXV 11: ‘I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply: a nation and a company of nations shall be of you’; see further ibid. XLVIII 3-4; XLIX 25 […].” (p. 78)
Further, also the text of Genesis 49 makes light to this regard. It is traditionally known as ‘The Jacob’s Blessings to His Sons’, and was wrote in a Hebrew poetic style.
Lingering over the ‘blessings’ reserved to Joseph (verses 22-26) we can observe that also this passage revolves itself around the idea of real blessings, fruitfulness, prosperity, and alike (I speak here of ‘real’ blessings because Jacob’s declarations towards – for example – his sons Simeon and Levi were more execrations that ‘blessings’, as traditionally the term brk is translated by many).
For example, on verse 22 we find twice the expression bn prt, that means – literally - ‘son of fruitfulness’. After, the second time Jacob did add the supplement words oli oin, that is, ‘near (or, ‘on’) a spring’. Again, we find (vs. 26) another word related to this idea, taut, that is linked with the concept of ‘fullness, satiety’ (see – for an example - Psa 78:30, tautm, ‘what they [Israelites] craved [to fill their belly]’).
And, finally, we arrive to vs. 25 (I’ve italicized here two pivotal terms):
מאל אביך ויעזרך ואת שׁדי ויברכך ברכת שׁמים מעל ברכת תהום רבצת תחת ברכת שׁדים ורחם
Even if one doesn’t be familiar with Hebrew language he will able to grasp the (graphical) similarity between the two underlined terms (šdi [‘Shaddai’] and šdim). As for me, I think it is not due to chance that these two words were spoken by Jacob in the same micro-context of his ‘blessings’.
The term šdim must be concept-related with šdi [‘Shaddai’]. And, indeed, šdim is related with the idea of ‘to be bloom’, ‘to be florid’, ‘to be prosperous’. Its meaning? ‘Breasts’ again (in this very verse in a conceptual couple with רחם, ‘womb’). What a beautiful and graphical synthesis of all these ‘prosperity-related’ terms!
Similarly, also C. I. Scofield, in his Reference Bible Notes (bold is mine): “The qualifying word ‘Shaddai’ is formed from the Hebrew word ‘shad’, ‘the breast’, invariably used in Scripture for a woman’s breast; e.g. Gen 49:25; Job 3:12; Psa 22:9; Son 1:13; Son 4:5; Son 7:3; Son 7:7-8; Son 8:1, 8, 10; Isa 28:9; Eze 16:7. ‘Shaddai’ therefore means primarily ‘the breasted’. God is ‘Shaddai’, because He is the Nourisher, the Strength-giver, and so, in a secondary sense, the Satisfier, who pours himself into believing lives. As a fretful, unsatisfied babe is not only strengthened and nourished from the mother’s breast, but also is quieted, rested, satisfied, so El Shaddai is that name of God which sets Him forth as the Strength-giver and Satisfier of His people. It is on every account to be regretted that ‘Shaddai’ was translated ‘Almighty’.”
THIRD (AND LAST) STEP
The last step that will help us to reach a more probable understanding of the meaning of the divine title of שׁדי is to analyze the passage of Exo 6:3 (bold is mine):
“and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty,
but by My name Jehovah I made Me not known to them.” (JPS)
Now, this God’s reasoning is very useful to help us to reach a conclusion about this topic. How?
Well, any meanings we may apply to the name יהוה (‘Jehovah’, JPS) it has safely related with the concept of ‘to become’ (not ‘to be’, as many today again claim!).
This verb doesn’t carry a static factor on it, never. It carries only a dynamic factor on it. I try now to explain more simply this concept.
Undoubtedly, the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) is linked with the God’s explanation related in Exo 3:14. There, the majority of the Bibles translated the famous Hebrew expression אהיה אשׁר אהיה, included in it, as “I Am that I Am”. But this rendering is incorrect for two reasons: (1) it doesn’t carry a dynamic factor on it, as always the verb הוה/היה does. Furthermore (2) this expression (“I Am that I Am”, “I Am Who I Am”, “I Am That Which I Am”, and so on) isn’t a peculiar and exclusive characteristics of God!
Indeed, everyone of us ‘is that he/she is’. Each one animal, too, if they could speak, would say, ‘I am that I am’. This happens because these translators mistakenly apply – into their Exo 3:14’s translations – a static factor to this Hebrew verb.
Since the Divine Name was ideated by God Himself, are really we correct to conclude that He liked to compose a name for Him, which was possible to be attached also to humans, as well as animals? I don’t think so. Why? Simply because if we apply – as always the TaNaKh does – a dynamic factor to the verb הוה/היה we may – at last – understand the real meaning of the Divine Name, namely, ‘I will become what I (want to) become’.
This synthetic description is – really – a peculiar and exclusive characteristics of God! Indeed, what human are able to state truly this fact? We human are not able ever ‘to know what our life will be tomorrow’ (Jam 4:14). How we may claim or assert ‘I will become what I (want to) become’?
Summing up, we’ve said that (1) any meanings we may apply to the name יהוה (‘Jehovah’, JPS) it has safely related with the concept of ‘to become’, and (2) that this concept must be applied along with a dynamic factor inside it.
All this data force us to conclude that the real and full meaning of the Divine Name is related with omnipotence, at all. In fact, if I am able to say – truly – ‘I will become what I (want to) become’ this means I have every powers to perform what I want. In few words, the Divine Name’s has to related to the expression of Lord Jesus: “With men this is impossible, but with God everything is possible” (Mat 19:26, Weymouth).
Now, and this is the point, since the Divine Name is surely Omnipotence-related this fact triggers the exclusion of meanings of ‘omnipotence’ or ‘all-mightiness’ among the meanings of šdi [‘Shaddai’]. Then, is incorrect to translate šdi [‘Shaddai’] as ‘the Almighty’.
Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary – Exodus (bold is mine): “Although [Shaddai] is usually translated ‘God Almighty’, there are no convincing traditions as to its meaning and little etymological justification for that particular rendering.”
The very phraseology of Exo 6:3 – too – drive us to conclude that ‘Shaddai’ isn’t linked with the concept of omnipotence (I add now a math mark to the two terms at issue [a and b]).
“and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty (a),
but by My name Jehovah (b) I made Me not known to them. ” (JPS)
Here, tackling the issue from a math viewpoint, it is clear that a is a subset, whereas b is a superset. It cannot be otherwise, because God’s talk was about an increasing amount of information (about his personality), from ‘Shaddai’ (a) to ‘Jehovah’ (b).
So, if we wrongly assign to the term a (‘Shaddai’) the primary status of superset, to the second term b (‘Jehovah’) it must be assigned a secondary status (underset). And this is absolutely incorrect, because (1) is the term ‘Jehovah’ to be Omnipotence-related, and because (2) the Exo 6:3 God’s phraseology proceed from a less-information name (šdi [‘Shaddai’]) to a more-information name (יהוה, ‘Jehovah’).
Indeed, the astounding chain of miracles performed by God against the wicked Egyptian Pharaoh, as well as against some rebellious Israelites, did show that the goal of God was to demonstrate his Omnipotence, not only his liberality (an aspect yet known to the previous patriarchs).
NLT Illustrated Bible (bold is mine): “[…] it is possible that they [the pre-mosaic patriarchs] had never seen God’s nature displayed as it was in the Exodus and the Sinai covenant. […] People’s names were intended to reflect their character and nature, not just serve as a label. […] In this case, the patriarchs knew God’s name, but they did not know and experience his nature fully as he revealed himself in the Exodus.” [ft. to Exo 6:2-3]
To conclude all the argument, I think that the more probable meaning of the divine title (šdi [‘Shaddai’]) is:
“The Bestower”, “The Munificent”.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (bold is mine): “[שׁדי, šdi comes] from שדה shadah, ‘to shed’, ‘to pour out’. I am that God who pours out blessings, who gives them richly, abundantly, continually.”