Genesis 17:1 “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.’”
In the Hebrew, “God Almighty” is “El Shaddai.” You may be familiar with it already. The names by which our Lord chooses to identify himself are always meaningful. This one is no exception. It tells us that there are no limits to what our God can do. He never overextends himself on his promises, like the person who was a little too optimistic and took on more credit card debt than he will ever be able to pay. God will never have to declare bankruptcy on his promises because he is “God Almighty.” No matter how much he promises, no matter how impossible those promises appear to keep, he is always good for the whole thing.
That name offered Abram a needed rebuke. El Shaddai’s next words to him were “walk before me and be blameless.” “Blameless” did not mean that God expected Abram never to sin again. It did confront Abram’s present sin. At the root of the Hebrew word behind “blameless” is a command to be “whole,” or “complete.” In essence, God was telling Abram to live his whole life trusting in God’s promises, faithful to God’s word. He was not to waver between trust and mistrust. He was not to look for his needs in other sources besides the Lord. He and Sarai had done just that when they concocted a plan to use Hagar as a surrogate mother. They were going to help the Lord give them a son. El Shaddai, God Almighty, didn’t need human help to keep the promises he had made.
More than a rebuke, however, God used the name El Shaddai to bolster Abram’s failing faith. “I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers” (Genesis 17:2). The covenant had already been made: a son, more descendants than the stars in the sky, a blessing for the nations. Now God came to confirm it. He wants Abram to know that he has both the power and the intention of keeping his promise.
God has a name, he has many names, to help us when our faith is failing. Are we ever tempted with this thought? “Maybe God can’t. Maybe I need to take matters into my own hands.” No, he is still El Shaddai, God Almighty. He needs no help from us to make his promises come true. Salvation history shows him humbling powerful nations, dividing large bodies of water, even stopping the earth’s rotation. He made sure that, when the time was right, he could clothe himself in a little baby’s body, enter our world in an unknown little family, and save us from our sins. El Shaddai has the power to do all of that. He will not come up short on giving us this day our daily bread, or helping us through the temptation of the moment.
For New Testament believers, God has revealed another name even more vital for our failing faith. Jesus (Ye’shua in Hebrew) means, “The Lord saves.” His name is a sermon, not so much on God’s power, but on God’s love. It promises us that Abram’s greatest descendant is the same God who became one of us, died for our sin, and rose from the dead. John Newton’s hymn sings, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away all fear.” More than any other, “Jesus” is the name God has given to inspire our faith when it is failing.