Sunday, June 21, 2009

God as Father

In honor of Father's Day, I've gathered a few examples of the way the Hebrew Bible depicts God metaphorically as a father to Israel. The metaphor places the covenant relationship between YHWH and Israel in terms of the parent-child relationship.

This is often seen in the imagery surrounding the Exodus or in retrospective reflections on the Exodus.
Exodus 4:22-23 (ESV)
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.‘”
When Israel breaks the covenant, Deuteronomy uses the parent-child relationship to affirm that God will punish, and Proverbs instructs them to expect that discipline.
Deut. 8:5 (ESV)
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.

Proverbs 3:11-12 (ESV)
My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
The prophets often decry the sinfulness of Israel in terms of children disobeying their father.
Isaiah 1:2 (ESV)
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.

Amos 3:1-2 (ESV)
Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 2 "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

Malachi 1:6 (ESV)
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?'
After the exile, some repent and hope for future salvation, trusting in God's father-like compassion and promises of redemption.
Psalm 103:13 (ESV)
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

Isaiah 54:7-8 (ESV)
For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,"says the Lord, your Redeemer.

Isaiah 63:16 (ESV)
For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

Isaiah 64:8 (ESV)
But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Jer 31:9 (ESV)
With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
God's redemption of Israel is assured by family ties - the love of a father for his son, just as the punishment of Israel was assured by the infidelity of Israel. The interplay of these metaphors for God's relationship with Israel is fascinating. On the one hand, the idolatry of Israel is depicted as marital infidelity (e.g., Hosea), punishable under the law. On the other hand, the promise of salvation seems rooted in the bonds of love and compassion placed in terms of the parent-child relationship. Perhaps the parent-child metaphor allowed for more reconciliation than that of the unfaithful wife, though I expect that's something of an over-generalization.

To close, an example from Hosea, a reflection back to God's redemption of Israel in the Exodus.
Hosea 11:1 (ESV)
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

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