Question: A while back, my daughter and I visited a local church and [they] gave an altar call for people who had some special need. My daughter, who had been looking for work nearer to home, went up and asked for prayer. The pastor's wife laid hands on her, and during her prayer asked "the many-breasted god" to clear the path for her. [My daughter] was shocked, and as we left told me about the incident and asked where in the Bible God was referred to in such a way. I told her frankly that the only reference to a many-breasted "god" came from pagan sources. A short time later, we went to hear an evangelist speak, and during the music and praise time, there it was again! He praised the many names of God and then added the phrase "the many-breasted god," which greatly saddened us. My question is, have you ever heard of this particular thing?
Response: To focus on the literal meaning of the Hebrew word shad ("breast") as the root for the name El Shaddai is a shallow interpretation at best. Our concept of God cannot be limited by one attribute lest we miss the fullness of meaning. "Shad" literally means "breast," which speaks of "sustenance." But "Shaddai" should not be limited to this one meaning. The attributes of God are complementary, so the compound name "El-Shaddai" presents much more meaning than the feminine allusion that political correctness would demand.
"El Shaddai" is often translated as "the Almighty God." This title speaks of strength, and while some would explain El Shaddai to mean "the many-breasted God," it is very correct in context to translate it "the mighty-breasted God." Again, this speaks of the strength of God, a very masculine image. Other linguists have noted that the Akkadian (ancient Semitic language) word Sadu means "mountain," which suggests strength and power and contributes to the overall meaning.
Recent efforts to "feminize" God have influenced writers, including the author of the heretical book, The Shack (See TBC, 8/09). We are created in the image of God (Gn 1:26), but too many try to create God in the image of man. If it is wrong to portray the Father as an old man with a long, white beard, it is just as wrong to portray Him as a red or yellow, black or white man, woman, or child. None of these images sufficiently brings us closer to a fuller understanding of the Godhead.
Consider how often the Scriptures present metaphorical images, such as the agrarian references to God as a mother hen brooding over a nest or gathering her chicks. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Mt 23:37), or Psalm:91:3-4, indicating that God shall cover us with His feathers. No one would reasonably consider God to be a mother hen, but we can understand the image of a mother hen caring for her chicks.
In John:13:23, we see John "leaning on Jesus' bosom." This is hardly a feminine image or limited to the nursing image some would promote. God has consistently identified Himself as the "Father" in Scripture, and that is where our understanding must begin.