Before I started studying Eve and other women of the Bible, one of the things that I was really interested in uncovering was any feminine representations of God. I think that this was because the fact that God is typically spoken about in masculine terms meant that:
- I didn't quite understand how I could be totally "made in His image"
- I didn't always see myself reflected or represented in God or His word
- This made me question my worth, place and purpose (as a woman) within the Kingdom of God
Wanting to reconcile these issues for myself, and others within the Far Above Rubies Collective, I did a 2-part series on scriptures that talked about God in feminine terms a few months ago- most especially as mother (if you missed that you can read them here and here).
In today's devotional, we're going to be taking lessons from El Shaddai on how women reflect the image of God in their bodies. You can listen to this devotional rather than continuing to read, if you prefer, below:
To excerpt from my guidebook, The Ultimate Guide to Eve:
God has many names and they all have meanings in an attempt to capture a certain aspect of His nature. Many of the names for God have been translated from the original Hebrew script that they were written in into English for the Bible. For example El Elyon has been translated as “most high God” (denoting His sovereignty), whereas Jehovah Nissi has been translated as “the Lord is my banner” (denoting the fact that He is our protector). There are many others but the one I want to take the time to explore right now is El Shaddai.
El Shaddai has mostly been translated as “almighty God” or “God almighty” due to its close relation to the Hebrew verb “shadad,” which means to destroy or overpower (as in Genesis 17:1 and Genesis 28:3). However it has most recently come to my attention that the word “shaddai” may be closely related to the word “shad” which is the Hebrew word for “breast(s)”. This means that El Shaddai could also be translated as “the breasted one”.
Speaking from my own experiences of modern western society, the imagery and discourse associated with breasts is either quite crude or damning.
On one hand, breasts have become another tool by which women stand to be critiqued and held to prevailing beauty standards as they are often presented in a highly sexualised manner to fit masculine ideals, with the (maybe not so) subliminal message that bigger is better. This has shaped many women’s ideas about what it means to appear “womanly” and has resulted in many females with misgivings about their own aesthetic, whether this has been a result of natural growth or procedures such as mastectomies for breast cancer survivors.
Given the objectification of the breast, many women continue to face condemnation or else unwanted attention (from men and women alike) for fulfilling what is arguably its most natural use- breast feeding- particularly in public. However, it is with this vantage point that I wish to explore the concept of the alternative meaning of El Shaddai.
Since the first woman (Eve) began having babies, as recorded in Genesis 4, it can be inferred that women have been lactating (producing milk) in response to their children’s nutritional needs. Therefore, the function of breasts has its root in nurturing and nourishment as a result of fertility. God refers to Himself as El Shaddai many times throughout the Old Testament. When taking into consideration where this tends to occur, the idea of Him being the breasted one seems quite feasible.
The first time we see this is with Abram (later renamed Abraham) in Genesis 17:1, when God told him that He will make him “exceedingly fruitful” and the father of many nations. This theme is then repeated with other patriarchs of the faith in subsequent scriptures. For example:
In Genesis 28:3, Isaac prays the following prayer over his son Jacob:
“May El Shaddai bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may be an assembly of peoples…”
In Genesis 35:11, God appears to Jacob at Bethel and states:
“I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body”.
In Genesis 49:25, Jacob prays that El Shaddai will bless his son Joseph with:
“blessings of the breast and of the womb”.
Given that in all these instances God is talking of His desire to see these men become fruitful and multiply, does it not make more sense that He would refer to Himself as the breasted one rather than God almighty? This is not to negate the fact that He is almighty but:
- If a desire for reproduction and perpetuation is being expressed, why would God refer to Himself as a destroyer or overpowering and not in the context of nourishment or fertility?
- If God’s many names depict an aspect of His nature, which aspect would He want to emphasise when speaking of the fruit of the womb?
In Isaiah 49:15, God identifies Himself as the breasted one again by asking:
“can a woman forget her nursing child and not have compassion on the son of her womb?”
He then acknowledges that some do, but He won’t. In this scripture God was speaking of the children of Israel who were a manifestation of the vision that He gave Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the afore-mentioned scriptures regarding His plan to multiply their seed to form a nation. God was the source of their vision, literally giving it to them, and man (these males in collaboration with the females in their lives) was the conduit of His will.
God referred to Himself as a nursing mother to illustrate the fact that He didn’t just allow His vision to be produced through man and then detach Himself, but remained involved; nurtured and took care of it. This is seen most explicitly in the years leading up to, during and after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt given that He allowed them to multiply and then nurtured (protected and provided for) them until they became an established nation, as summarised by David in Psalm 105. Hence one of the many Biblical symbolisms for God’s blessing or provision is milk, as in His promise to the Isrealites of “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; Ezekiel 20:6 and Jeremiah 32:22).
Thus, through God's title of El Shaddai, we see that:
- One of the ways that women display the glory (or nature) of God is in their physical bodies
- God is not just a Father but a Mother, ready to bless, nurture and provide for us when we need it
- Women are reflected and represented in both God and His word
- Women do have a place and purpose within the Kingdom of God, as further detailed in The Ultimate Guide to Eve