Are you my mother? God would say , yes! It is a well-used metaphor throughout the Hebrew Scriptures : God giving birth to Israel. Maternal imagery is used to describe the trust we must have in God and the steadfast tenacity of His love. In the New Testament, Jesus uses the well-loved metaphor of (new) birth to describe how God delivers us into Her* eternal family which is birthed from the love the persons of God share and enjoy with each other. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
*Just for fun, and because the English language is not accommodating with a gender-neutral pronoun for a person, this article will switch the gender of the pronouns describing God to reflect the feminine imagery of God as mother.
God is “like” a mother just as She reveals herself “like” a father. She is the most affectionate mother. You can think of Her as a mother, because Scripture reveals God as having the perfections of both father and mother. (Wade Burleson, Knowing God as Father and Mother. https://vimeo.com/55788482.)
God gives birth.
In Deut 32:18, God describes Herself as “The God who gave you birth.” In Isaiah 46:3, She expands the metaphor and describes Israel as “you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from My womb.” If you remember from Part 1 of this series, the Hebrew word for womb is racham. Racham is also translated less literally as “mercies, compassion or tender love.” The Triune God, who mutually loves each other, extends that tender love even further to Her creation- Her children. God birthed Israel with great affection and tender care.
In Exodus 3:7, God heard Her infant crying in the voices of the slaves of Israel in Egypt, and She was moved with great compassion (racham) to deliver them. Childbirth imagery is pictured through the parting waters of the Red Sea, the provision of food and the weaning of the great nation of Israel. The imagery of God giving birth to Israel helps us to understand the strong emotional attachment God feels for Her children. In Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah, the great orthodox theologian writes, “God did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls His people not merely children, but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection.” Human mothers and even animal mothers forget themselves in their care and protection of their young. It is this mother-love that God says She feels toward Her children.
God provides and nurtures us from Her own self when we are helpless and unable to care for our own needs. This provision is so intrinsic to who God is, it became one of Her many names: El Shaddai. El Shaddai is rooted in the Hebrew word for breasts, and it introduces the imagery of our God who promised Her children a fertile land filled with milk.
In one of my favorite chapters, Numbers 11 (read my articles on this chapter), Moses was stressed out. He asked God, “ What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? … Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother?” Moses charged God as being the Israelites’ true mother. Moses was, at best, a wet nurse. This passage alludes to the nourishment that mothers bring to their infant, milk, and the provision of God in the wilderness. Later in Isaiah, God says to Her children: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15). God is like a nursing mother who bore us from her womb and is filled with compassion for us. There is no chance She will forget or abandon us. As a mother comforts her child, so the Lord will comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13) God uses Jerusalem to describes Herself as giving birth and nursing the nation of Israel after exile. She teaches Israel to walk and bends down to feed them as a young toddler. (Hosea 11 1a, 3-4)
God tenderly loves.
The mother-love of the Triune God is deeply emotional. Yes, God has agape love toward us – love that chooses to act in our best interest regardless of feeling or emotion – but God is also deeply stirred at the thought of Her children whom She birthed and nourished from infancy. This is racham, tender compassion.
As we think of the great compassion of God, we cannot skip over Jesus. When he saw the world’s pain, the suffering and the sick, the hungry and the miserable, the lonely, those in despair over death and bewildered by the sheer agony of a hard life… Jesus was moved with compassion – mother love. Jesus shared the same tender love for humanity as the others in the godhead.
It is God’s merciful compassion that invites us into Her family. In John 3, Jesus describes this invitation as being born again. “You must be re-born from the Spirit of God.” Who gives birth to us? God, our Mother. We are the fruit of Her womb. In birth, a mother gives life by opening herself to the harm of delivery and possible death. Don’t we see that in Jesus, the mother of all those who believe? He died in childbirth, if you will, so that we could be born of God. The Tri-une God labored for us, loved us and delivered us into eternal life. Romans 8:29 calls Jesus the firstborn of many brothers. The Greek word for brothers is literally those who shared the same womb. We are invited into the bosom of God to be reborn as family.
And we come full circle back to the womb. The special place of creating life from love. From the eternal love of God, a community of three, a family is born.
Wil Gafney, Hosea’s Mothering God: Back to Egypt. http://www.wilgafney.com/2013/08/04/hoseas-mothering-god-back-to-egypt/
Wade Burleson, “God Has Chosen to Liken Himself to a Female and We Are the Fruit of His Womb.” http://www.wadeburleson.org/2011/12/god-has-chosen-to-liken-himself-to.html