Sarah J. Dille concludes her study of Mixing Metaphors: God as Mother and Father in Deutero-Isaiah (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies) with this summary of Isaiah’s use of maternal metaphors for Yahweh (p. 176): ”An appreciation of the commonplaces of the ‘mother’ have shed light on Deutero-Isaiah’s rhetoric about YHWH, particularly ideas about labor (42.14 and 45.10), nursing (49.14-15), and child abandonment (49.14-21). In 45.9-13 the laboring woman image appears in parallel with the begetting father to highlight God as the creator who creates Israel’s future redemption. Only here in Deutero-Isaiah do father and mother images for God appear together. Here the father image and the mother image advance a common message—God’s creative power. Yet the laboring woman suggests something about God that the begetting father cannot. . . .
“Labor is a process that is all-engaging, in which the outcome occurs at its proper time. The image of the laboring woman in 42.9-17 also conveys God’s engagement and creative power. The particular literary form ki-yoledah (‘like one who gives birth’), in interaction with the warrior image is suggestive of siege and warfare. The image of the woman in labor in 42.14 evokes not only the culture’s understanding of labor itself, but the literary conventions of one facing a situation of siege reacting ‘like a woman in labor.’ The mother is one who is intensely engaged, who struggles to overcome the constriction of the womb to free the child, to bring the child forth into the light. Thus, in Isaiah 42, the mother is an image of engagement, struggle, constriction, and then freedom and life. In 49.14-15 YHWH is portrayed in terms of the nursing mother. This image functions quite differently from that of the laboring woman. The most obvious association of the nursing mother is one who cares for her child, feeds, nurtures, and has compassion. A closer examination reveals that in this unit a good mother is one who does not forget. YHWH is not just described in terms of a mother, but YHWH is either the model mother or something better than a mother (in contrast to bad mothers, such as Zion, insofar as YHWH does not forget).”
Among other things, this gives mothers something to meditate on: Yahweh knows your pain.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 2:04 pm
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