Genesis 49:25 reads “Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb” (King James Version)
Jacob is on his deathbed blessing Joseph and his other sons. Interestingly, he uses the name for God that is sometimes translated by Jewish scholars as “the many breasted one“. Now, the name “El Shaddai”, is not typically translated that way. Typically Christians translate El Shaddai as “God Almighty”. In Genesis 17, God identifies himself as El Shaddai and promises to make Abraham the father of many nations. In his blessing of Joseph, Abraham calls on that name of God. Conventionally, these blessings are made using the covenant name for God and referencing God’s unbounded powers of provision.
Which, when you think about the potential metaphor of ‘the many breasted one’, kinda makes sense doesn’t it? Breasts are the sole provision for all babies in Jacob’s time. No one survives that is not fed from a breast, and breast milk flows to feed baby after baby both when mothers are feeding sequential children and in tandem. Frequently, God refers to himself caring for us the way a mother cares for her children. And although contemporary Christians get a little touchy with any suggestion of God with a feminine tone, women were created in the image of God just as men were. God shares similarities with women too. And when El Shaddai cares for us faltering earthlings, He nourishes and sustains, quiets and comforts us. He builds us up, strengthens us, and gets us through the day. That is what milk does for a baby. I need to sit down with someone who knows Hebrew better than I do to more fully understand the meaning of the name El Shaddai, but several authors suggest that the name is derived straight from the word for breast. (Here, here, here.)
So Jacob is calling down a blessing for Joshua, and references the blessings of womb and breast from El Shaddai. The blessings of womb and breast are life. Nourishment. Comfort. Protection. Love. The reference to breastfeeding is tender, and powerful, and a beautiful phrase to speak as one’s last words to his son. What a powerful way to call attention to the full circle of life, by issuing a last blessing that calls back on the blessings of giving life.