In two previous posts (see the links below), I discussed the meaning of the divine name El Shaddai. When I wrote my first post, I mentioned that this name for God had inspired a beautiful Christian song by Michael Card titled “El Shaddai.”
This song has been popularized by Amy Grant. The song is known and loved by many Christians and it is sung in Christian churches regularly. The song begins with these words:
El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El Elyon na Adonai
Age to age You’re still the same
By the power of Your name.
El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Erkamka na Adonai
We will praise and lift You high
Although Christians love and sing this song often, few Christians know the meaning of the words “Erkamka na Adonai.” I have asked several Christians if they know the meaning of “Erkamka na Adonai” and I have never found a person who knows the origin and meaning of these words.
In fact, when someone asked the meaning of Erkamka in Yahoo, the answer was: “This is a mixture of Hebrew and gibberish. It means nothing at all.”
After I finished writing my posts on El Shaddai, I decided to write a post on “Erkamka na Adonai” and explain the origin and meaning of these three words. I will begin explaining these words in reverse order.
Before I explain the meaning of these words, it will be necessary to quote the Hebrew text in order to clarify the meaning of Erkamka na Adonai. If you do not see the Hebrew fonts as you read this post or if the words look like gibberish in your computer, you will need to download the Biblical fonts and install them on your computer.
Download the biblical fonts here. If you install the Biblical fonts on your computer, you will always be able to see the Hebrew and Greek letters on your computer screen. You will even be able to print Hebrew and Greek words.
Adonai (Hebrew: אֲדֹנַי):
The word “Adonai” is a title applied to God. The word is translated “Lord” or “My Lord.” In English translations of the Bible, it is necessary to differentiate between the words “Lord” and “LORD.” Every time the word “Lord” is used in the Bible, the Hebrew behind the word is “Adonai.” Every time the word “LORD” is used, the Hebrew behind the word is “YHWH.”
In the post-exilic period, most Jews refused to speak the divine name in public. So, the Masoretes wrote the vowels of Adonai with the consonants for the divine name YHWH. In translation, this hybrid name became “Jehovah” (see my post on “Jehovah” here).
Na (Hebrew: נָּא [nā]):
The Hebrew word nā is a particle of entreaty or exhortation. This means that when the word is used in the text, it carries the idea of “please,” “I pray,” or “now.” A good example of its use is found in Genesis 12:13. Abraham, speaking to Sarah said: “I pray thee” (Genesis 12:13 KJV); “Please” (Genesis 12:13 NAS).
Another good example is found in Psalm 118:25, where the psalmist praying to the Lord said: “We beseech Thee, O LORD, save now” (Psalm 118:25 JPS). The expression “save now” in Hebrew is hôshî‘ânā . The same expression was used by the people of Jerusalem when they welcomed Jesus with these words: “Hosanna” (Mark 11:9), or as the Complete Jewish Bible translates: “Please! Deliver us.”
This word comes from the beginning words of Psalm 18:1. In Hebrew, this verse reads:
אֶרְחָמְךָ֖ יְהוָ֣ה חִזְקִֽי
The transliteration of these Hebrew words into English reads as follows:
‘erḥāmeḵā yhwh ḥizqî
The English Bibles translate the expression as “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Psalm 18:1 ESV).
The Hebrew word for love is רׇחַם ( rāḥam), a words that means “to have mercy,” “to be compassionate.” This is the same root for the word translated “womb” in the English Bible. Psalm 18:1 is the only example in the Hebrew Bible where Yahweh appears as the object of the verb rāḥam. The use of the verb with the meaning of love appears to reflect the influence of Aramaic. For this reason, some authors have proposed different readings, but these proposals have not found acceptance among scholars.
But how did the Hebrew ‘erḥāmeḵā become “Erkamka”? It is possible that when the song was written, the author used the transliteration of the word found in the Strong Concordance. Strong transliterates the word rāḥam as “rakham.” Thus, the word ‘erḥāmeḵā would be translated “erkamka,” by dropping the “h” of “rakham” and by not using the half-vowel “e.”
The word Erkamka as it appears in the song has two problems. The first problem is that the Hebrew letter ח should be translated with a “h” and not a “k.” The second problem is that the second sheva in the Hebrew word is a vocal sheva and not silent, thus there should be a half-vowel (a small “e” after the מ), the “m” of Erkamka.
When asked for the meaning of “Erkamka na Adonai,” Michael Card wrote that the expression means “We will love You, Oh, Lord.”
The ESV translates Psalm 18:1 as follows: “I love you, O LORD.”
The Complete Jewish Bible translates the verse as follows: “I love you, ADONAI.”
The verb ‘erḥāmeḵā is first person. The correct translation is “I love you,”not “we will love you.” The particle “nā” is not in the Hebrew text. So, it is possible that the “nā” was introduced into the song under the influence of the English translation (the “O” in “O LORD”).
What is the lesson Christians should learn from the mistransliteration of Erkamka na Adonai? The lesson is that when trying to discover how to transliterate Hebrew words into English, one must be aware of the problem in using Strong’s Concordance.
Card, Michael, Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1990. Pp. 200, 201.
Posts on El Shaddai:
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary