Proverbs 5 was written to warn a son about the dangers of an adulterous woman. Daughters needed no warnings about topics like this in the ancient world because their autonomy was determined by the men in their family. I suppose they might be warned away from becoming an adulterous woman, but I bet this chapter worked double-duty on that account.
As I read through the chapter this morning, I wondered if our modern daughters, who are now self-determining, could benefit from a contrasted warning? How many women have been trapped in abusive relationships because they were never given warning signs? Let us consider how to prepare our children to resist the allure of evil men (and women) by educating them that such evil, like abusive relationships, exist. Teach them how to spot one and how to resist.
I changed a few words in bold, but the passage is from NIV. Proverbs 5:
My daughter, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight, 2 that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. 3 For the lips of the abusive man drip honey, and his speech is smoother than oil; 4 but in the end he is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. 5 His feet go down to death; his steps lead straight to the grave. 6 He gives no thought to the way of life; his paths wander aimlessly, but he does not know it.
7 Now then, my daughters, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. 8 Keep to a path far from him, do not go near the door of his house, 9 lest you lose your honor to others and your dignity to one who is cruel, 10 lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another. 11 At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.
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
The mystery of the three persons of our One God is conceivable in love. Love is impossible in solitude. Love must include others. As mothers, we understand this love that creates, shares and adores. That bears life. That births newness. This is mother-love, an idea that the Hebrew Bible uses to describe our Creator, who wants a family that enjoys each other forever.
I struggle to write this because of what I do not know. I do not know SO MUCH. And what if I write wrongly? And yet I cannot GO wrong with Love. And love is where this story starts. And love is what a mother knows. Not because she is a great scholar. Not because she is more worthy. But because that is what she IS. A mother IS love.
In Hebrew, the word translated compassion or tender mercy is racham. And do you know what other meaning that word has- in fact its first literal meaning? Womb. That lump of tissue only women who conceive utilize and KNOW. The womb. Mother love. Compassion. Forgiving, merciful, tenacious, overlooking, self-denying, unfailing, eternal love.
And God is rachum – compassionate. A feeling founded in the womb.
God is the ultimate womb that birthed the cosmos. He knows about mother-love.
Here the story starts. With God as love. And here our connection as moms begins. For love is not singular. It is not solitary. It is not alone. It is not an island. Love conceives ideas and dreams and it grows to include a family to adore. Mother love – that creates and adores. That bears life. That births newness. That nourishes and feeds innocence. It protects. It fights tooth and nail. It does whatever is necessary for the little ones it formed, and fed and nested for. For the babes she pushed out in agony or had cut from her very flesh as independent lives – living souls formed from her cells; shared her blood, fed on her flesh. Love must include others.
This is racham – womb –mother love.
This is a hint of who our God, who is neither he nor she – is. The “I am.” The mother of all the living souls in the universe. Who wanted a family.
And I sit before this magnificent love and am afraid I’ll get it wrong, or you’ll misunderstand and think God is not what is. Because God IS everything you dreamed of and more. I don’t even know what more.
“ What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, ‘Give us meat; we want meat.’ I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people. If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.”
In my head, his tantrum sounds just like the one I had this morning with my three children. Moses felt the stress of a mother*, who constantly cares for her children only to have them complain about the ONE THING they don’t have. And he lost it.
Oh Moses, I so get you.
*Or father, or nanny, or any full time caregiver of children.
Self-centered : They naturally believe their needs and wants should come first. Resilient : They are able to recover quickly from setbacks. (ie: irrepressible) Full of energy : They keep going, and going, and going.
They need all these qualities to grow up, which is hard work!
These qualities make them:
Valuable: They have great importance and usefulness to me.
Vulnerable: They are open to harm (physically and emotionally) and easily persuaded.
Imperfect: They are lacking. They have faults and make mistakes.
Dependent: They rely on me and trust me to support them physically, emotionally and financially.
Immature: They are not fully developed.
I’m learning from the recent posts at Under Much Grace to value the inherent character and traits of childhood. When I say value, I mean that these traits have worth in the function of raising a child to be an adult; that there is merit to allowing the child to experience the trait; and that it is important not to steal these traits of childhood from them. They are vital tools on the road to independence. When I say I’m learning, I mean, I have not valued these traits, but I am beginning to understand their importance to the raising of healthy adults. I am changing.
“It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Luke 17:1-2
I read the following sentiment on a Christian mom’s blog recently.
Parents (especially mothers) are under spiritual attack because it is their responsibility to raise godly children. One way to protect ourselves from spiritual attack is to monitor or safeguard our children from evil influences. She listed the following influence on children: media, mom’s behavior, mom’s words and mom’s visible Bible study. The way she worded her statements disturbed me. She said it was “because of the children” we should aim at restricting what we watch, listen to, do, say and study. These are ways we can guard our family from the devil’s attacks.
Her post was intended as an encouragement, but as I read it, I felt that old enemy of guilt starting to lay siege to my heart.
“Oh crap! My children are doomed!”
They are plugged in way too much….too much Nintendo DS… too many TV shows… too much time on Wizards 101… and should she even be playing that??! We need to read together more, play more board games. Heck, I should just PLAY with them (ugh). I need to stop yelling re actively, and start shaping pro actively. Did I just ignore them for 2 hours straight?
I began to plan ways to pick up the pace on the race to adolescence. What more can I do to provide the perfectly safe and good environment so that my kids will turn out right? ITS UP TO ME, RIGHT?!
When I get freaked out how bad a mother I am, I meditate on three things:
God loves my kids more than I do. He can be trusted with their days, their environment and their heart.
I am a bad mother. But, I’m a redeemed one. Stay humble. Love Him.
God wants heart change, not behavioral change alone. Change my heart, O Lord. Theirs too! (Matthew 12:33-35 and Matthew 15:8-19)
Hannah understood her son was a gift to her for a short time. He ultimately belonged to God.
Hannah knew how to pray. Read 1 Samuel 1: “I prayed for this child…So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”
Consider the environment she was sending her son into. Read the last part of 1 Samuel 2.
Consider WHO guided Samuel’s heart. Read chapter 3.
Samuel grew up away from his godly mother (but not from her prayers!)… in the presence of “scoundrels,” yet God had special plans for him. GOD wooed Samuel. God will woo my children too.
And with this childhood, Samuel learned this lesson:“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 6:7. Even though he lived in the TEMPLE and was surrounded by those dedicated to the Lord’s service, he knew it isn’t the outward show, it’s the heart God sees.
I doubt I’ll escape the guilty feelings about my selfish mothering. I still stress out when I think of them not choosing to follow God when they grow up. I can’t resist laziness. But, God loves them more than I do. I trust Him with their hearts.
I have a friend who wishes her children were leaders. She doesn’t like that they follow, instead of getting others to follow them. I questioned her on this. What is wrong with following? Unless its into sin, of course.
A few years ago, I had a similar conversation with another friend who was discouraged that she couldn’t figure out how to lead. She felt pressure to take a leadership role, felt inadequate for the task, and poorly prepared to step up. She wanted to know how to lead? She felt judged for NOT leading. As a result, I tried to piece together a few posts about what I saw in the Bible about leadership. (see below) But frankly, the passages I used can also be applied to general good character. They aren’t taken from commands to exercise authority or exert influence over others. The more I think about it, the more I question. Where does the Bible say Christians must be leaders?
Christian leaders should rule differently than the world.
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” Luke 22
2. Christians should not desire to have power over others.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil 2
This phrase “value others above yourselves” means to let others lead or to exercise authority over you. I believe some are gifted as leaders and others aren’t. Yet, I believe every Christian has the ability to be humble and serve through the power of the Spirit. In this manner, they are the greatest in the kingdom. Leading others, or ruling as the world defines it by seeking power, should not be the ambition for those seeking to be like Jesus.
What do you think?
Did I miss something? Is leadership a mark of godliness? Should a Christian be content to follow?
If you’re interested, here my posts on leadership: