God had something in mind when He created the heavens and the earth. What was it? Scripture gives us three major metaphors for God’s eternal purpose; the family, the bride, and the garden/temple/city. But what do they mean? How do we know that these things are what God wanted? Let’s look a little closer at the metaphor of the family. It took some time in developing, but by New Testament times, it was well established in the Jewish mindset.
The earliest direct reference I can find to God being Father is from the poetry of David, who is one of the main types or symbols of Christ in the Old Testament:
God in His holy dwelling is a father of the fatherless and a champion of widows. (Psa 68:5 HCSB)
In the passage below, Ethan the Ezrahite describes the covenant God had made with David (and prophetically foresees the Messiah.)
He will call to Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the rock of my salvation.’ I will also make him My firstborn, greatest of the kings of the earth. I will always preserve My faithful love for him, and My covenant with him will endure. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as heaven lasts. (Psa 89:26-29 HCSB)
David describes a father as compassionate, and uses this as an example for God’s treatment of those who fear Him:
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. (Psa 103:13 HCSB)
This is a radically different concept of God from the self-serving Pagan gods that the nations surrounding Israel worshiped. The God who cares, who does not need placating, whose motive is the duty and love of a father toward His children. But Isaiah is the first to clearly state that God is not only like a father; He is the Father:
For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6 HCSB)
I find it interesting that the prophet seems to be speaking of Jesus here, and yet he calls Him “Eternal Father” or “Father of Eternity,” depending on your translation. Jesus never claimed to be the Father, and yet He is the exact image of the Father. (Col 1:15) Isaiah elaborates later in his career:
Yet You are our Father, even though Abraham does not know us and Israel doesn’t recognize us. You, Yahweh, are our Father; from ancient times, Your name is our Redeemer. (Isa 63:16 HCSB)
Yet LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we all are the work of Your hands. (Isa 64:8 HCSB)
Was Isaiah among the first to see God in this way? Perhaps he was only the first to state it so plainly on the record. By Jeremiah’s time at any rate, God complains that the people call Him “Father,” yet do every evil thing they can think of. (Jer 3:4-5) But God will not give up on His offspring, Israel:
I thought: How I long to make you My sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of all the nations. I thought: You will call Me, my Father, and never turn away from Me.
However, as a woman may betray her lover, so you have betrayed Me, house of Israel. This is the LORD’s declaration. A sound is heard on the barren heights, the children of Israel weeping and begging for mercy, for they have perverted their way; they have forgotten the LORD their God. Return, you faithless children. I will heal your unfaithfulness.
“Here we are, coming to You, for You are the LORD our God. (Jer 3:19-22 HCSB)
Like many human fathers, God has mercy on His straying children and longs to bring them back. Unlike human fathers, however, God is mighty to save and fully capable of restoring His wayfaring daughters and sons. He has the time and He has the ability. What He has said, He will do. God is referred to as Father directly and indirectly in a number of other Old Testament scriptures. This laid the foundation for Jesus to declare God as His Father in a far more radical way.
Next time . . .