The Christmas season–the celebration of Christ’s birth–gives us opportunity to think about human pregnancy and how it pictures something truly magnificent about God. For example, God gave birth to the nation of Israel.
The Song of Moses is the composition that marks the celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from the darkness and slavery of Egypt. This is the story of the conception of a free nation–Israel, a nation born from a group of slaves–the Hebrews in Egypt. Their gestation was 430 years in the “womb” of Egypt. Their exodus marked the birth and birth pangs of a people.
We see the Song of Moses in three passages, including Deuteronomy 32:1-3. Moses’s song includes several fascinating references to the paternal and maternal heart of God.
In verse 6 we see that Israel has acted wickedly towards the Lord, their Father and Creator (all Scripture references in this post are from the NIV): “Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” He made and formed them. (Although the Hebrew word translated “formed” is never used of pregnancy nevertheless we see the linguistic connection between gestation and forming.)
In vs. 10-11 we read: “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.” Note the maternal imagery! God’s behavior is pictured by a mother bird that hovers over (the same word used of the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2) and protects her chicks. We read that the one who is known as the Rock of Israel, like a mother eagle, rescues Israel from danger.
In vs. 15 we read: “Jeshurun [another name for Israel] grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior.” Note that the Rock is the Savior of Israel. But note the indictment: Israel abandoned the God who made him. God did not abandon Israel.
God conceived and brought into being the nation of Israel, he is their Rock, their protector.
Now we come to a most fascinating verse. Here (vs. 18) is imagery at its most powerful: “You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Israel “neglected,” was “unmindful,” “did not pay attention to” the one who fathered them. Israel “forgot,” “ignored,” “overlooked” the One who “gave [them] birth.” How could a child turn his back on a parent in this way? But this is what Israel did.
But now let us look more closely at two other words in this text. Moses identifies God as the Rock who “fathered” Israel. The Hebrew word, yā·lǎḏ, means to “beget,” “impregnate,” or “father” a child. This is the process of conceiving a child. Moses says this is the role of the father.
A leading Hebrew-language resource, The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, notes the following about the term yā·lǎḏ.
In its narrowest sense y¹lad describes the act of a woman in giving birth to a child (e.g. Exo 1:19; 1Kings 3:17-18), but it is sometimes used of the father’s part in becoming a parent (e.g. Gen 4:18; Gen 10:8, 24, 26; Gen 22:23; Gen 25:3; 1Chr 1:10-20, Prov 23:22). It may be used with reference to the whole procedure involved in producing a child (e.g. Gen 38:27-28) or it may even be specifically applied to the pains of a woman prior to the actual birth (e.g. Gen 35:16; Mic 5:3).
The second term to examine is the phrase “who gave birth.” This is the Hebrew word chuwl and means “to writhe in pain [as in childbirth],” “to bear,” “to bring forth.” This is the description of the consummation of pregnancy with the birth of a child. So we find that God “gives birth.”
Keil and Delitzsch, in their classic Commentary on the Old Testament, have this to say about Deuteronomy 32:18:
To bring out still more prominently the base ingratitude of the people, he represents the creation of Israel by Jehovah, the rock of its salvation, under the figure of generation and birth, in which the paternal and maternal love of the Lord to His people had manifested itself. (emphasis added)
It was the Rock who conceived and it was God who gave birth. Israel’s traitorous nature is reflected in that they turned their back on the Lord who “fathered” and “mothered” them.
I would like to conclude this reflection by quoting from Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, speaking at the recent Vatican Humanum, a Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage. To read his statement in its entirety is to see that Chief Rabbi Sacks is suffering from the sacred–secular dichotomy of too many other Jews and Christians. His religiousness occupies one “silo” of his life and naturalistic science the other “silo.” This is seen to some extent in his remarks reflecting on Genesis 1 and 2. But I excerpt him here because he speaks so eloquently about the dignity of women as women – “the mother of all living,” not simply in their dignity but also in their humanity.
If we read the text carefully, we see that until now the first man had given his wife a purely generic name. He called her ishah, woman. Recall what he said when he first saw her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken from man.” For him she was a type, not a person. He gave her a noun, not a name. What is more he defines her as a derivative of himself: something taken from man. She is not yet for him someone other, a person in her own right. She is merely a kind of reflection of himself.
As long as the man thought he was immortal, he ultimately needed no one else. But now he knew he was mortal. He would one day die and return to dust. There was only one way in which something of him would live on after his death. That would be if he had a child. But he could not have a child on his own. For that he needed his wife. She alone could give birth. She alone could mitigate his mortality. And not because she was like him but precisely because she was unlike him. At that moment she ceased to be, for him, a type, and became a person in her own right. And a person has a proper name. That is what he gave her: the name Chavah, “Eve,” meaning, “giver of life.” At that moment, as they were about to leave Eden and face the world as we know it, a place of darkness, Adam gave his wife the first gift of love, a personal name. And at that moment, God responded to them both in love, and made them garments to clothe their nakedness, or as Rabbi Meir put it, “garments of light.”
I’m grateful to my friend Eduardo for prompting in me a new, deeper reflection about the reality that the image of God reflects both His paternal and maternal heart. A woman not only has a common dignity with man; she has a unique dignity in that she can carry, birth, and nurture a child. She has the wonderful and unique ability to gestate and consummate a pregnancy, bringing into the world a child, a unique human being. Both in her being and nature she is like God.
Unto us a child is born!
As we rejoice at the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us also celebrate the role that a humble Galilean teenager played in his birth and in the affirmation of the wonderful role that a mother plays in gestating and consummating life.
 The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1980.
 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, volume I, p 476
Check out these related posts:
The Maternal Dignity of a Pregnant Mom
Divine Conception: What Pregnancy Teaches Us About God
MOM’S Compassion is Like God .. And So Is Dad’s!