24 October 2006

God as a Woman (Isaiah 49:15)

The Bible likens the Lord to many different things in order to illustrate his relationship with us. In those comparisons, the Lord is usually represented in a masculine form: bridegroom, king, husband, warrior, father, tradesman. (Each of these is used often enough that I don't feel that they need citations.)

As far as I know, there are only two* scriptures that cast the Lord in a feminine form:

"Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." (Isaiah 49:15)
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37)
Nevermind any speculation on what this might mean concerning the nature of God, Heavenly Mother, etc. I want to point out three things:

  1. In both cases, the relationship is Mother:Child, with the Lord in the dominant role.
  2. Both use very tender imagery, but illustrate two different aspects of our relationship with God.
  3. The comparisons are beautiful.


* The following is an addition after posting made in response to Julie M. Smith's comment:

Deuteronomy 32:11:
"As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:"
The problem with this example is that the eagle in many translations is neuter; ie. "its wings" instead of "her wings." (My Israeli friend confirms that the Hebrew reads as either "him" or "it.") Perhaps KJV translators erroneously assumed that an eagle hen is abandoned by the cock and alone must care for the young?

Deuteronomy 32:18:
"Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee."
I read this as a masculine reference. Compare Isaiah 51:1-2, where Abraham is a rock and Sarah is a quarry.

Job 38:29:
"Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?"
Thanks for the addition.

Psalms 22:9-10:
"But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly."
The way I read this verse, the speaker (David?) is referring to his actual mother, not comparing God to a woman. He is saying, "I have had faith in you since the day I was born."

Psalms 91:4:
"He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler."
This is an example of God as a bird, but not as a hen. It reads "his feathers."

Isaiah 42:14:
"I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once."
Good example. Thanks!

Isaiah 66:9:
"Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God."
I am intrigued by this one. Is the LORD giving birth or is he acting as midwife? The verse on its own reads as the former, but the context points to the latter. Either way, it is a female role.

Isaiah 66:13:
"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
Beautiful! Thanks for the addition.


Julie M. Smith said...

There's a lot more than just two scriptures that do this: Deuteronomy 32:11–12, 18; Job 38:28–29; Psalms 22:10–11, 91:4; and Isaiah 42:14, 49:15, 66:9, 13. That's only OT and it is only a partial list.

I'm not entirely convinced that the nursing mother scripture you quote casts the Lord as a woman as much as it compares the Lord to a woman, which isn't quite the same thing.

Alter-Ben said...

Hey Julie, that depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is. it is a pretty direct and striking metaphor, metaphor though it be. It not only compares God to a woman; it compares God to a breast-feeding woman! Definitely worth a blog post. Thanks for the additional references, Julie.

BrianJ said...

Alter-Ben: Thanks for stopping by.

Julie: Thanks for the references. I'd be happy to read any more you may come up with. As for those you listed, please see my edited post for a response (sorry to respond that way, but adding links Blogger's comments is a chore).

Regarding the word "cast": we may be using this differently. I am using it as a director might; ie. "For today's metaphor, God will be 'cast' in the role of a hen."

Eric Nielson said...

Very interesting thoughts. Thank you.

BrianJ said...

After rereading Julie's comment I better see her point about casting versus comparing. Sorry I missed it (shouldn't be blogging so late at night....)

Julie M. Smith said...

Much of the commentary on the verses added to the original post is based on the KJV, which misreads the Hebrew. I'm sorry I can't discuss each one, but I have to teach a class soon. In case I don't get back to it, this site explains why the references I listed contain female images of God:


BrianJ said...

Julie: Thanks for the link to the article. It's a much better list of verses than what I started with. I would encourage anyone to read it (though I think her interpretation of Deuteronomy 32:11-12 is ornithological fantasy). I would correct one thing you wrote: I don't base my study on the KJV.

Robert C. said...

Great question/discussion. What about the "as a hen I will gather thee" passages?

BrianJ said...

Robert: the hen passage was part of the original post.