WHEW, I’ve been out of the bloggosphere for too long with school and kiddos and fundraising and traveling. Well, it’s Mother’s Day and I am DYING to preach and speak to mothers about so many things, so many essential and necessary things that too few mothers will ever hear. But I’ll content myself with sending out this paper I just finished for a class on the nature of God. I chose the Mother-heart of God. It’s short, per the requirements of the class, and there is an abundance of scriptures I was barely able to touch, but I think the message is the same.
The Mother Heart of God
The nature of God transcends human understanding in so many aspects. He is the Creator, the caregiver of the earth and the first teacher of mankind. How are we to come to know him except that he make himself knowable to us? Just as Biblical revelation is made relevant to us in our unique culture and circumstances, so does God use the familiar to communicate his character and great love. From the Torah to the Prophets, God appears as a mother who experiences the birth of her children, the hopes and frustrations of nurturing, the pain of rebellion and the anguish and necessity of a second delivery, a new birth.
The Old Testament image of the mother heart of God is one of nurturing, of birth and delivery and hope. In the book of Genesis 1, Elohim gives birth to the universe and to his image bearers, living beings in his likeness, his children. He tenderly forms man from the dust of the ground and places them in a garden (Gen 2:7-8), an Ancient Near Eastern symbol of fertility and abundance.3 Isaiah 44:2 says, “Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you.” The prophet goes on to describe the beauty of this mother-child relationship, the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon her children and grandchildren, (44:3), and comfort as the mother-heart assures the people not to fear, (44:8). As a mother delivers her child and teaches it, so the Lord delivered the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt, (Ex 12:33), and gave them the Law to guide them and teach them how to raise their own children, (Deut 6:4-7). The prophet Hosea recalls the Lord’s tenderness in this way, “Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms…I led them with the cords of man, with the bonds of love,” (Hos 11:3-4). This affectionate relationship of life and joy contrasts sharply to the bloody and demanding worship of Mesopotamian fertility gods, to whom humanity were slaves.4 Yet the Children of God chose these other gods instead of their own Creator, causing his mother heart much sorrow and grief.
“You neglected the Rock who begot you [Israel], and forgot the God who gave you birth,” (Deut 32:18). God’s frustration, anger and grief at the sin and rebellion of his children is unmistakable. In Genesis 6 the Lord grieved that he had made mankind and he grieves again for the sins of Israel, suffering with them in their disobedience, “In all their affliction he was afflicted…they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit,” (Isaiah 63:8-9). Any loving mother whose child has been disobedient struggles with the desire to forgive and forget and the necessity of instruction in that which is right. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God also experiences this struggle of mother-hood, that he finally could not keep silent and, groaning like a woman in labor, will utterly put to shame his children for their idolatry, (Isaiah 42:14 &17). God had warned them in the wilderness, of the consequences of disobedience, (Deut 28:64-65), and though he waited and watched for hundreds of years, the mother God could not put off discipline any longer. In 740 BC Israel fell to the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser (EOT, 242), and Judah was carried into exile by the Babylonians in 605 BC and again in 587 BC, (EOT, 246). But God’s mother-heart does not give up on her children. Just like he did in Exodus 3:7-8 the LORD saw the affliction of his people in exile and sent the prophet Jeremiah to give them hope with this promise, that they would find him again and he would bring them back, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,” (Jer 29:11&14).
One of the Hebrew verbs for delivery and deliverance in the context of the Exodus is Natsal, which means “to snatch” or to take away, with some force and rapidity, (Strongs, H5337). Likening the Exodus of Israel to birth through delivery, this verb seems to imply a birth that is less natural and more like a cesarean birth where the child has to be plucked forcefully from the womb in order to save it. Like the events surrounding the Exodus, a cesarean birth is surrounded by emotions of pain and fear, (Ex 11:6). This is remarkable when it is considered that this is the kind of birth that God agrees to not once, but twice in order to deliver his people, (Isaiah 46:3-4). Though they had sinned and rebelled and broken the covenant, the ever enduring and longsuffering Mother would not forget them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child…? I will not forget you, you are inscribed on my hands,” Isaiah 49:15-16. A cesarean birth is not only more traumatic and dangerous, but, if successful, also brings a rejoicing more akin to salvation and redemption than that of a natural birth. If the cut is not made the child may not survive, and if it is, the child who may have been lost is redeemed into a new birth. “I brought you out of the Land of Egypt,” God says in Leviticus 11:45, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Hundreds of years later the Mother-heart has still not forgotten, “Return to me that I may return to you!” (Zech 1:3 and Mal 3:7).
The emotion and passion of the Mother-heart of God is unmistakable in the course of scripture and the history of humanity. He has been with us from the beginning to the end, and his promises of hope and deliverance, from a mother to her children, are ones that can be counted on as steadfast and sure. Hundreds of years later a Son was sent to a mother, who would give birth, nurture and teach a man who was no ordinary man. Jesus did not sin, but he was a little boy once, and I can only imagine what love and intimacy God and Mary must have shared as he grew to be the Deliverer.
3 Dr. McDowell, Catherine. “Lecture on Symbolism in the Old Testament.” (presentation, Residency Week at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, March 23-25, 2015.
4 Unknown. “Enuma Elish.” In Readings from the Ancient Near East, by Bill T. Arnold, & Bryan E. Beyer, 43. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group: Baker Academic, 2002.