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Have you ever conceived of God as mother? Moses did.

Tonight my paternalistic view of God was challenged in the Book of Numbers. Just as a hungry baby turns to his mother, so did the sojourning Israelite.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has a special gift for opening eyes to biblical texts that might otherwise have a soporific effect on the contemporary reader. The passage below is from An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, my “go to” book whenever I am reading the Hebrew Scriptures:

Numbers 11:4-25 reports on Israel’s hunger in the wilderness and the response of sustenance. In verses 4-6, Israel is presented in a needy, demanding posture of complaint. Moses then intercedes with YHWH on Israel’s behalf (vv. 10-15), and verses 16-25 report on the organized way in which YHWH responds to the crisis of hunger. The narrative is of particular interest because of the speech (prayer) of Moses on behalf of hungry Israel. In addition to demonstrating the courage and effectiveness of Moses vis-à-vis YHWH, the particular, defiant charge of Moses against YHWH in verse 12 merits attention:

Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling child,” to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?

In Moses’ own denial of responsibility, it is clearly understood that it is YHWH, not Moses, who conceived, birthed, carried, and gave suckle to Israel. It is remarkable that this rhetoric employs maternal imagery, and so implies YHWH to be a mothering God. One may conclude that such extremity of expression is evoked and required by the extremity of the hunger crisis and the threat that that crisis poses to Mosaic leadership.

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