Sunrise in Giglio Veroli

Sunrise in Giglio Veroli

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

God as the father of Israel

We had a week without the internet here- it is certainly interesting how much we rely on that tool these days. It has been sunny and pretty here these days...

One of the key ideas of adoption that Paul plays with is the idea that Israel itself is an adopted son of God. This comes out in Paul’s marvelous section in Romans 9-11, for our purposes 9:4-5, They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. This seems to be a new idea on the theological frontier and we are left to wonder where Paul might have gathered or received it.

It doesn’t seem to come from the Jewish Bible, but what we do find there is a stream of God being the father of Israel, not adopted, but father none the less. These are some very intimate and powerful verses.

One of the most famous sections comes from Hosea. Here we here God speaking about his son Israel right at the beginning 1:1, When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. There is some discussion as to what it means that God calls Israel out of Egypt. While calling is not adoption, it does seem to speak of a relationship that is beginning. It gets more intimate as God expands on this idea in verses 3 and 4:

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

This powerful text showcases God’s tenderness to his people, as well as the role of a father in Jewish culture. We see a father that loves, calls, heals, feeds, and hugs.

We then find a few other texts scattered around the Torah. First we hear God’s instructions to Moses in Exodus 4:22, Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son. A clear picture and label of Israel as the first born son. An interesting aspect of being firstborn is that it seems to point to other children coming. Clearly though, this is not an adoption image as Israel is seen as born.

Later in Deuteronomy there is another clear image when God says in 32:18 that, You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.
Here we have more emphasis of birth and not adoption, but a clear sense of God as parent and israel as child. The clear morale here, and in Hosea, is that Israel is a child that has forgotten their role as child. They were to respect and obey their parent, and they had forgotten their role. God is the loving father, and the child is no longer showing proper respect. It causes one to wonder if Jesus got part of his prodigal son parable from images like these.

There are other texts about God as a parent are scattered around the Bible, but they are less direct. Some are just not as strong and some are comparisons in the form of similes; God is like the parent who carries a child (Deut 1:31) and a woman who feeds a child (Is 49).

While not a strong or deep stream in the Jewish Bible, there are certainly texts that describe God’s relationship with Israel as a parent, and specifically a father. It is this tradition that Jesus expands upon in his depiction of God as a loving and caring father. Jesus takes the image even further as he refers to God in prayer as father and encourages his disciples to do the same (Lord’s Prayer). What we don’t find though, is any image of Israel as an adopted son. Wherever Paul drew that image, it was not from the Jewish Bible. Next time we will delve into Paul's 4 uses of the greek word for adoption.

1 comment: