Monday, May 11, 2020

Old Testament Use of Parental Metaphors & Imagery For God

God As Father

1. Moses

Deuteronomy 32:6 Do you thus requite Yahweh, foolish people and unwise? Isn’t he your father who has bought (or created) you? He has made you, and established you. (Note vv. 11-12, 18 in same chapter.)

2. Isaiah

63:16 For you are our Father, though Abraham doesn’t know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us: you, Yahweh, are our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is your name.

64:8 But now, Yahweh, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you our potter; and we all are the work of your hand.

(The context of these passages is that although God is Israel's Father, he didn't appear to be acting like one. The prophet begs Yahweh to come to Israel's aid and act like the Father he is.)

3. Jeremiah

3:4 Will you not from this time cry to me, ‘My Father, you are the guide of my youth?’

3:19 “But I said, ‘How I would put you among the children, and give you a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the armies of the nations!’ and I said, ‘You shall call me “My Father,” and shall not turn away from following me.’

31:9 They shall come with weeping; and with petitions will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

(The point of Jeremiah's uses is that God desired to be Israel and Judah's Father but they made a mockery of this. Even so he looked to a future day when his fatherhood would prevail.)

4. Malachi

1:6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, then where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? Says Yahweh of Armies to you, priests, who despise my name. You say, ‘How have we despised your name?’

2:10 Don’t we all have one father? Hasn’t one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

(The point of Malachi's uses is that Israel's behavior contradicts the fact that God is their Father.)

5. Remaining References to God as “a Father” (Not necessarily our Father.)

A. David's Seed

1 Chronicles 7:13 “I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor.” (cf 2 Samuel 7:14; Hebrews 1:5)

Psalm 2:7 “I will tell of the decree. Yahweh said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your father.’ ”

Psalm 89:26 “He will call to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation!’ ”

Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

B. God acting as a father to others, or likened to a father:

Deuteronomy 1:31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how that Yahweh your God carried you, as a father (lit. man) carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.

Psalm 27:10 “When my father and my mother forsake me, then Yahweh will take me up.”

Psalm 68:5 “A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.”

Psalm 103:13 “Like a father has compassion on his children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him.”

God As Mother

1. Moses


1:27 God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai*—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. (NLT) 

*El-Shaddai is used 9 times by Moses; 48 times in OT.  "Almighty God. In Hebrew El (the Strong One) Shaddai (the Breasted One). Abraham now learns that God is not only El, the mighty Creator Who can do wonders, but the One Who cares for him as a mother would, for He is the All-sufficient One. As mothers do, El Shaddai reproves Abraham for obeying someone else...." (Footnote at Genesis 17:1, Pilgrim Edition of the Bible, 1948)

Cf. 1 Peter 2:2-3: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”


11:11-12 “Moses said to Yahweh, 'Why have you treated with your servant so badly? Why haven’t I found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Have I conceived all this people? Have I brought them forth, that you should tell me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which you swore to their fathers?’”

TNIV Study Bible footnote: “The implication is that the Lord conceived the people of Israel” and “was their nurse.)”


32:11-12 “As an eagle that stirs up her nest, that flutters over her young, he spread abroad his wings, he took them, he bore them on his feathers. Yahweh alone led him. There was no foreign god with him.”

32:18 “You ignored the Rock who gave you birth; (or begot you) you forgot the God who brought you forth.” (HCSB)

Psalm 90

90:2 “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

See comments about “brought forth” under Solomon, below.

2. Job

38:8-9  “Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth from the womb, when I made clouds its garment,  and wrapped it in thick darkness...?”

38:29 “Out of whose womb came the ice? The gray frost of the sky, who has given birth to it?”

These are part of a list of questions to which God alone is the answer. Compare this idea of God having a womb to Paul saying God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being because we are God's offspring. (Acts 17:28-29)

3. David

Psalm 131:1-3  “Lord, my heart is not proud; I don't look down on others. I don't do great things, and I can't do miracles. But I am calm and quiet, like a baby with its mother. I am at peace, like a baby with its mother. People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord now and forever.” (NCV)

Compare verse 2 in NLT: “like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Also note Psalm 34:8 and 1 Peter 2:2-3 (above).

4. Solomon

Proverbs 8:22-25  “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth....”

The TNIV Study Bible Footnote says: “brought... forth. The Hebrew for this verb is also used in Ge 4:1: 14:19,22 ('Creator'); Dt 32:6 ('Creator').”

The first occurrence of “brought forth” was when Eve gave birth to Cain and proclaimed, “I have brought forth a man-child with the help of Yahweh” (Genesis 4:1). The Hebrew verb is clearly that act of a woman giving birth and it is used frequently of God bringing things into being (creating). See for example: Job 38:8-9,29; Psalm 90:2 (above). It is frequently used in parallelisms as a synonym for giving birth (e.g., Job 15:7). The word is often also translated as “Creator” (see Genesis 14:19,22; Deuteronomy 32:6).

5. Isaiah

49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you! (Note context of vv. 13-16)

66:12-13 “For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; then you will be nursed, you will be carried on her hip and trotted [lovingly bounced up and down] on her [God's maternal] knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Amplified)

6. Sidebar: The NT & God's Maternity

The purpose of the above survey is to note key examples of parental images of God in the OT. It has by no means been exhaustive, as many other OT and NT passages can certainly be cited. It should be sufficient, however, to show that the OT clearly presents God as both paternal and maternal.

The few NT passages interspersed in the notes above are but a sampling with regards to the NT's support of God's maternal nature, in addition to his paternal nature.  For example, Jesus may have had God's maternal nature in mind when he speaks of things like being “born again” and “born of the Spirit.” Note for instance the discussion in John 3:1-8, where Jesus says: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' ” If there's one thing mothers do that fathers don't, its give birth! Note therefore how Nicodemus even wonders if all this means he must reenter his mother's womb! Likewise, 1 John repeatedly uses the phrase “born of God.”

We have already noted above Paul and Peter's imagery of God's womb and breast milk—a strong metaphor for God's Word!

Since the purpose of the above study has been to focus on the OT understanding of God's parental nature, a more extensive list and treatment of NT examples will have to wait for another study.

Observations & Explanations:

1. God is prior to male/female distinctions, as he existed before gendered species were created.

2. Both male and female, father and mother, find their definitions and examples in him.

3. The more masculine a man is and the more feminine a woman is, the more the each reflect their Creator!

4. God is not “like” a father or mother; fathers and mothers are to be like God as imitators and image bearers!

5. Why then does the Bible seem to favor and emphasize the masculine/Father side of God?

a. The Bible tells us that when sin entered the world equality between the man and woman was disrupted. Male domination was one result.

b. Christ came to reverse the effects of Humanity's Fall and restore our original equality as partners before God. To do that he had to demonstrate and model how the dominant was to change in the new order or redemption—kingdom values. Had he come as a woman the strong and powerful would not have identified with his example of servanthood and submission.

c. God chooses to make Fatherhood and masculine imagery a primary metaphor in order to challenge those who have become powerful in the Fall to imitate things like his goodness, justice, mercy, compassion and grace.

Study Guide:  © Copyright 2009 David R. Leigh. All rights reserved. Used by permission.