The Hebrew word chul means whirl, twist, or writhe, and in some contexts “dance.” In certain settings, it takes on the sense of “travail in labor,” describing a woman who writhes to bring forth a child (cf. Isaiah 26:27-28; 45:10; 51:2; 54:1).

The world itself writhes in Yahweh’s presence (1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 96:9; 97:4; 114:7), sometimes because He comes in a “writhing tempest” (Jeremiah 23:19). That this implies not only “quake” but “writhe in labor pains” is evident in Psalm 29:8-9, where the voice of the Lord first causes the wilderness to “quake” and then the deer to “calve.” When the Lord appears, the creation shakes, but it shakes to give birth to something new. When the Creator Father shows up, the “mother” creation goes into labor.

Creation itself is a writhing to give birth (Psalm 90:2; Proverbs 8:24-25), and at the Red Sea the waters writhed at the sight of Yahweh (Psalm 77:16), giving birth to Israel. Sometimes Yahweh Himself writhes to give birth to His people, the Rock who produces not only water but children (Deuteronomy 32:18). When Yahweh is absent, the Psalmist waits in travail until He comes to help (Psalm 37:7). 

And in the New Testament, Paul writhes in labor over the Galatians until Christ is formed in them (Galatians 3:19): Paul shares in Mary’s anguish, laboring to give birth to the body of which Mary’s Son is head.

More on: Bible - OT

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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