God as “father” in the Old Testament

As Christians, we sometimes tend to think that the idea of God being “Our Father” is a New Testament concept.  However, the fatherhood of God is an idea firmly rooted in the Old Testament.*

In order to see this idea, one has to go between the lectionary readings for the day.  The Old Testament reading was Jeremiah 31.1-7 and the responsive reading was roughly Jeremiah 31.10-13.  Yet if one reads between these passage (i.e. verses 8-9) we see in verse 9b: “For I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn” (NRSV).

This phraseology is found here, but it is not limited to this one verse.  Two other very important examples, though not the only ones, are Jeremiah 3.19 “I (the Lord) thought how I would set you among my children, and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful heritage of all the nations.  And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me” (NRSV) and Hosea 11.1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (NRSV).

It is clear from these verses and others that the fatherhood of God is an Old Testament idea.  We should not then be surprised that Jesus picks up on and uses this imagery when he teaches his disciples to pray.

There is a lesson to be learned from all of this besides the obvious that we should approach God as a father who loves us and takes care of us.  We sometimes have a tendency to overlook or be afraid of the Old Testament.  Yet Jesus was a Jew.  And, he was thoroughly steeped in the Hebrew scriptures.  If we hope to understand much of what he taught his disciples and what those teachings mean for us, we have to seek to understand the Old Testament, which lies at the background of much of what he taught about God.

* “Father” is not the only parental imagery used of God in the Old Testament.  There is also motherly imagery used in places like Deuteronomy 32.18 and Isaiah 66.13.

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About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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