vanLuik: El Shaddai
A Bit to Read
Rev MH vanLuik, for many years minister of the sister church in Chilliwack, pursued studies in Regent College in Vancouver even while he did the work of Minister of the Word in his congregation. With his course of study now complete, Rev vanLuik has traveled from his present congregation (Brampton) back to the Valley to receive his degree as Master of Theology at a ceremony in Vancouver tomorrow evening. A word of sincere congratulations is in order for our brother and his family. The congregation of Chilliwack too should be commended for the support and encouragement they’ve given their (previous) minister in this endeavor. I’d like to honor the occasion by writing a brief review on the thesis Rev vanLuik submitted “in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of master of theology” (as the title page of the book has it). The 200 page book received the title, “(El) Shaddai: a Focused Exegetical Study”.
In the Bible several names are used for the Lord God. The more common ones are the Hebrew terms Elohim, which appears in our English Bibles simply as ‘God’; Yahweh, which comes back in our Bibles as ‘LORD’ in upper case letters (this is typically known as God’s covenant name); and Adonai, which is rendered with the English word ‘Lord’ in lower case letters (and means Master or Owner). These three names are used often in the Old Testament, and are very well known to anyone familiar with the Bible.
There are also a number of names seldom used. One of these is El Shaddai, or sometimes Shaddai by itself. This name typically comes back in English translations as ‘God Almighty’. The problem, though, is that nobody seems to know what the word Shaddai actually means. Relatively little has been written about the term precisely because of the confusion about what the term means. I found on my shelves a brief study on the term by K Schilder, who marvels that very learned men can come to radically contrasting conclusions on the meaning and significance of the term.1 Schilder is happy to stay with Calvin’s understanding that the term catches the notion that God has sufficient power to care for His people.2 Even so, Schilder makes the comment that the context wherein the name El Shaddai is used must ultimately determine what the Lord wanted to convey when He called Himself by the name El Shaddai. And see: this is precisely what Rev vanLuik has provided in his thesis.
The Holy Spirit uses the name Shaddai, with or without El, 48 times in the Old Testament, two-thirds of them in the book of Job, half dozen in Genesis, and a scattered smattering elsewhere. Rev vanLuik has examined the wider context of each usage of the word, and then come to his own conclusions about the meaning of the name El Shaddai.
1 Schilder, Kompendium Dogmatiek, II, pg 63.
2 Calvin, Commentary on Genesis 17:1.
The Ruler is Judge
His conclusion? He opens his concluding chapter with these words, “I believe that when God reveals himself as (El) Shaddai he reveals himself as the sovereign ruler of the universe who acts as the judge of all the earth” (page 190). The ‘sovereign ruler’ part of this quote is consistent with the age-long accepted understanding of the name. The reference to God being the judge of all the earth is the new element Rev vanLuik has uncovered. As one reads through the many pages of his thesis, one can learn the reasons why the element of judging receives a place in Rev vanLuik’s understanding of the name El Shaddai. I shall not go into details on the point, but mention only that Rev vanLuik’s exegesis of the 48 passages leads him inevitably to this conclusion.
I appreciate Rev vanLuik’s approach. Other scholars have dug into the writings of nations surrounding Israel, and then parachuted their conclusions into the Bible. Rev vanLuik has attempted to read the Bible as the Lord has given it to us, a book-from-heaven that needs to be read and understood first and foremost from within itself. That fact demands that one read a passage within the context in which it’s written – first the wider paragraph or chapter, then the subsection of the book, then the entire book itself, then the Bible as a whole, and only in last instance in the context of the culture and nations of the time.
As a result of this approach, Rev vanLuik has enriched our understanding of God’s revelation. That the God who relates to sinners through His covenant is almighty is comforting indeed. But surely there is more to say about the Creator than that He is mighty to work all things for good. This mighty God is also the judge of all the earth, able to give to each sinner what each deserves; indeed, He comes to judge the living and the dead. This reality gives incentive to all God’s people-by-covenant (as we all are) to serve this God uprightly – lest in the judgment He disown us to our condemnation. More, God’s identity as the almighty Judge forms a warning to those who deny God’s identity; all must one day stand before the Judge of all the earth and give an account of their deeds. For those children of God who today suffer on account of their faith, this identity of God gives great encouragement, for (as the church echoes Scripture in Article 37 of the Belgic Confession) “the thought of the judgment … is a great joy and comfort to the righteous and elect. For then … their innocence will be known to all and they will see the terrible vengeance that God will bring upon the wicked who persecuted, oppressed, and tormented them in this world.”
One question arises from this all. Rev vanLuik correctly notes that El Shaddai has traditionally been translated with the phrase ‘God Almighty’. Given the deeper understanding Rev vanLuik has uncovered for the term, I would have loved to read a re-evaluation of that translation, and even a suggestion that catches something of the notion of God being also the Judge. Synod Smithers re-appointed Rev vanLuik to serve on the Committee for Bible Translation. With his expertise on the name El Shaddai, maybe our brother can assist in coming to a better translation for this name of our God.
Rev vanLuik is to be commended for his diligent work. He has taken research further, explored new ground, and helped us understand better who our God is. Such study is so very necessary!
25 April 2008