The Trinity and gender issues (Deut 32:17)

It is argued by many that God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we are not at liberty to tamper with divine revelation simply in order to satisfy our liturgical needs or to bow to cultural pressures. Maternal images of the Godhead do occur in Scripture, Num 11:11-12; Deut 32:18; Isa 42:14; 46:3-4; 66:7-9; Hos 11:3f; 13:8; Mt 23:37; Lk 13:20f; 15:8-10. Are these sufficiently numerous or weighty for us to demand that liturgical language be either inclusive or gender-free? Some inclusive revisions of the liturgy refer to the Trinity as ‘Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier’; or as ‘God, Word, and Spirit’. But these are at once more specific (and therefore more limited) and more abstract than the usual definition of the Trinity. There may be more mileage in language about God which uses more mix of both maternal and paternal images and metaphors.

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Deut 32:1 Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

Deut 32:2 Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.

Deut 32:3 I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!

Deut 32:4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

Deut 32:5 They have acted corruptly towards him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation.

Deut 32:6 Is this the way you repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?

Deut 32:7 Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.

Deut 32:8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.

The Most HighElyon, used only here in Deut.  Used elsewhere (Gen 14:18-22; Num 24:16) in connection with God’s sovereignty over the world’s nations.  The next verses uses God’s covenant name of Yahweh.

‘In the Old Testament the term Elyon is usually used as an epithet for Yahweh (see comments on Gen 14:17–24). There is no convincing evidence thus far of Elyon as the name of a deity in the ancient Near East, but it is fairly common as an epithet for various gods, particularly El and Baal, the principal gods in the Canaanite pantheon.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

‘Verses 8-9 take the origins of Israel right back to the divine allocation of nations and locate the election of Israel in the creative sovereignty of God over all mankind…Verse 8…embodies a universal, providential understanding of God in relation to the nations of humanity at large, while verse 9 expresses the particular elective-redemptive relationship of God to Israel…There is no possibility that Yahweh is simply one of the “sos of the gods” to whom nations are allocated.  The point is that the one and only God, know to Israel as Yahweh, is the same Most High God who is sovereign among the nations of humanity…This universal framework becomes the primary grounds for the judgement of the nations later in the song.’ (Wright)

According to the number of the sons of Israel – The LXX has ‘of the sons of God’, and a Qumran fragment agrees with this.  If this reflects the original text, then it possibly reflects belief, widespread in the ANE, in a council of gods, each of whom was allocated to a different nation.  Within this picture, the council is presided over by the Most High God who is none other than Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel.

Although, in a sense, the reading ‘the sons of Israel’ is the easier, it suffers from the disadvantages of not making much sense!  (What would it mean for the boundaries of the nations to be set up ‘according to the number of the sons of Israel’?  It would seem that the compilers of the Masoretic Text altered the original in order to present an ‘easier’ view of God.

Heiser (I Dare You Not To Bore Me With The Bible) concludes:-

‘God, of course, doesn’t need to be protected by a zealous scribe or anyone else. Israel’s doctrine was that Yahweh was unique and above all other divine beings (Pss 29:1; 89:5–7). In a severe judgment, the nations at Babel were disinherited by Yahweh and given over to the administration of other gods (Deut 4:19–20; 32:8), whose actions would be judged by the God of Israel (Psa 82:1, 6). This paved the way for God to create a new people, Israel, in the very next chapter of Genesis. And ironically, it was through Abraham’s seed that the disinherited nations would be reclaimed (Gen 12:1–3).’

It is gratuitous, and quite against the whole tenor of OT belief, to regard (so John Loftus, God or Godless? p22) the presiding god (El, or Elyon) as equivalent to the chief god of the Canaanites, who allocated Israel to Yahweh to rule over.

Deut 32:9 For the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.

Deut 32:10 In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

Deut 32:11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.

Deut 32:12 The LORD alone led him; no foreign god was with him.

Deut 32:13 He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag,

Deut 32:14 with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest grains of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape.

Deut 32:15 Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Saviour.

Deut 32:16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols.

Deut 32:17 They sacrificed to demons, which are not God—gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear.

Deut 32:18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.

According to JB, both parts of the verse present male imagery: ‘You forget the Rock who begot you, unmindful now of the God who fathered you.’
NRSV, on the other hand, translates both parts in female terms: ‘You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.’

The NIV is probably correct in allowing this verse to simultaneously assert that the Lord was Israel’s Father and Mother.  See Isa 42:14; 49:15; 66:13; Psa 131:1ff; Mt 23:37.

‘The combination of roles makes the point even more strongly. To dishonor or disobey one’s human father and mother was a covenant offense that carried the death penalty. What then did Israel deserve for this treatment of the father-mother God? The answer follows directly.’ (Wright)

Deut 32:19 The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters.

Deut 32:20 “I will hide my face from them,” he said, “and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.

Deut 32:21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.

Deut 32:22 For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.

Deut 32:23 “I will heap calamities upon them and expend my arrows against them.

Deut 32:24 I will send wasting famine against them, consuming pestilence and deadly plague; I will send against them the fangs of wild beasts, the venom of vipers that glide in the dust.

Deut 32:25 In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign. Young men and young women will perish, infants and grey-haired men.

Deut 32:26 I said I would scatter them and blot out their memory from mankind,

Deut 32:27 but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy, lest the adversary misunderstand and say, ‘Our hand has triumphed; the LORD has not done all this.’”

Deut 32:28 They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them.

Deut 32:29 If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!

Deut 32:30 How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, unless the LORD had given them up?

Deut 32:31 For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede.

Deut 32:32 Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah. Their grapes are filled with poison, and their clusters with bitterness.

Deut 32:33 Their wine is the venom of serpents, the deadly poison of cobras.

Deut 32:34 “Have I not kept this in reserve and sealed it in my vaults?

Deut 32:35 It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”

Deut 32:36 The LORD will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no-one is left, slave or free.

Deut 32:37 He will say: “Now where are their gods, the rock they took refuge in,

Deut 32:38 the gods who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offerings? Let them rise up to help you! Let them give you shelter!

Deut 32:39 “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no-one can deliver out of my hand.

Deut 32:40 I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live for ever,

Deut 32:41 when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.

Deut 32:42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders.”

Deut 32:43 Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.

Source: Heiser

‘Notice that Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Dead Sea Scrolls has three poetic pairings. Since it’s a poetic section, the symmetry is not only important, it’s expected. The Masoretic Text reading has removed or altered parts of two of the pairings. The first, as in Deuteronomy 32:8, eliminates references to other divine beings (“sons of God” in 32:8; “heavenly ones” and “gods” in 32:43). At some point, a scribe thought this reference to other gods was theologically offensive. The first line of the final pairing was removed because someone hating God was also offensive.’ (Heiser, I Dare You Not To Bore Me With The Bible)

Deut 32:44 Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people.

Deut 32:45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel,

Deut 32:46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.

Deut 32:47 They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

Deut 32:48 On that same day the LORD told Moses,

Deut 32:49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession.

Deut 32:50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.

Deut 32:51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites.

Deut 32:52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

 

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