Jesus taught His disciples to pray to “our Father,” and that has rightly been given a Christological gloss: Jesus and His disciples address a common Father. 

But that form of address is not wholly unprecedented. Twice Isaiah refers to a group that addresses Yahweh as “our Father” (63:16; 64:8). The first is, strangely, followed by the admission that those who call on Father Yahweh are unknown to Abraham and unrecognized by Israel. “Israel” here refers to the original Israel, Jacob, and the current Israel is so defeated and broken that Israel and Abraham would not recognize them as children. Yet, though forsaken by the fathers, Israel can still appeal beyond them to their great Ancestor.

It makes sense for Israel to address Yahweh as “Father,” since Israel the son is the one redeemed from Egypt (Exodus 4:23). Isaiah 63 is packed with exodus allusions - seas divided, the Lord doing wonders, the Lord lending His arm to strengthen the right hand of Moses. In addressing Yahweh as “Father,” Israel calls Yahweh to repeat His redeeming work, to once again take His role as kinsman-redeemer (go’el, related to the verb used in 63:16). The problem is that Father Yahweh is not acting the part of Father. His inner parts are no longer stirred by Israel’s plight; He is lethargic, not the heroic gibbor (mighty man) of old (63:15). In calling on Yahweh as Father, Israel is calling for Him to show His power, vindicate His name, hallow His name, make His reign come on earth as it is in the heavenly places from where He looks (v. 15).

The call to Father Yahweh in 64:8 comes in a similar context: Yahweh recoils from His unclean people, doesn’t respond, hides His face. As Father, Yahweh is also the Potter-creator of Israel, the one who as Israel’s Maker can become her re-Maker. As in chapter 63, the “our Father” is a prayer for the deliverance and restoration of Israel.

In short, praying the Lord’s prayer through Isaiah 63-64 adds some richness to our address to “our Father.” 

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...