Home History of Hymns: "El Shaddai"

History of Hymns: "El Shaddai"

"El Shaddai"
Michael Card and John Thompson
UM Hymnal, No. 123

Michael Card

El Shaddai (God Almighty)
El Elyon (the Most High God)
na Adonai (O Lord)
Erkahmka (We will love you)
(Translation of Hebrew words)

Naming God is one of the primary tasks of Christian hymns throughout history. Hymn writers continues to search for names and metaphors to express the inexpressible.

“El Shaddai,” composed in 1982, returns to Hebrew names for God in an attempt to understand God’s nature and the relationship between the divine and humanity.

Michael Card (b. 1957) was born in Madison, Tenn. A significant recording artist of contemporary Christian music for almost 30 years, he has over 19 No. 1 hit songs. He has received several awards including the Moody Monthly Award for songwriter and artist of the year (1983) and Dove Awards for “Praise and Worship Album of the Year” (1987, 1993), “Songwriter of the Year” (1983) and “Children’s Music Album of the Year” (1994).

More recently Mr. Card received an honorary doctorate in religious education from Philadelphia Biblical University (2009).

With over 32 recordings, Mr. Card has sold more than 4,000,000 albums. He has also written at least 19 inspirational and children’s books, several of which have won recognition, and hosts In the Studio with Michael Card, a weekly radio show that is carried in virtually every state, Canada and the Caribbean.

He received bachelors and masters degrees from Western Kentucky University and was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1997.

The son of a doctor and grandson of a Baptist minister, Mr. Card began his recording career in 1981. A touring artist and a traveler, he values relationships as a source of learning. “The bulk of what I’ve learned whether academically, musically or personally is through interacting with other people, which is why I think community is so important to our growth as Christians,” he says on his website at www.michaelcard.com.

Little information is known about John Thompson, who owns the copyright for “El Shaddai” and co-authored the song.

Biblical scholar J. Hampton Keathley III has described the context of the song:

“El Shaddai: God Almighty. The derivation is uncertain. Some think it stresses God’s loving supply and comfort; others His power as the Almighty one standing on a mountain and who corrects and chastens (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Ex. 6:31; Ps. 91:1, 2).

“El Elyon: The Most High God. Stresses God’s strength, sovereignty and supremacy (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 9:2; Dan. 7:18, 22, 25).

“El Olam: The Everlasting God. Emphasizes God’s unchangeableness and is connected with His inexhaustibleness (Gen. 16:13).

“Yahweh (YHWH): Comes from a verb which means “to exist, be.” This, plus its usage, shows that this name stresses God as the independent and self-existent God of revelation and redemption (Gen. 4:3; Ex. 6:3 (cf. 3:14); 3:12).

The UM Hymnal contains only the refrain for the sake of space. The stanzas discuss God’s faithful acts as told in the biblical witness, including Abraham and Isaac, the parting of the waters during the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt (stanza one) and the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of Christ’s mission (stanza two).

“El Shaddai” received the Dove Song of the Year Award in 1983. This song, along with “Love Crucified Arose” and “Emmanuel,” are Mr. Card’s most prominent contributions as a hymn writer.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.