4.1.3 Mother: Nurturer and Defender
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 4.1.3
Mother: Nurturer & Defender
Scripture doesn’t spend a lot of time telling mothers what they’re supposed to be like, for throughout history, they’ve always tended to do what comes naturally—nurturing, comforting, consoling, defending, and confronting their offspring. So mothers (who do these things because of the way God “wired” them) are recruited to teach us about certain facets of God’s personality as He takes up residence within us. The point is, Yahweh, in His persona as the Holy Spirit, does all of those things for us.
This is a somewhat different picture from the “Father’s” role, that of provider, authority, teacher, protector, and disciplinarian—though they’re certainly compatible and complementary. The Father mostly deals with the world outside the family; the Mother, meanwhile, looks inward, dealing with her children’s hearts. Children, in fact, can be said to define parental success. Notwithstanding the fact that they have their own choices to make in this world, children are more likely to “turn out well” if their parents have raised them “in the nurture and admonition of Yahweh,” nurture being the mother’s forte, and admonition being more in the father’s wheelhouse. It is clear that God intended both parents to be actively involved in their children’s development, though in slightly different ways, for together they form a picture of Yahweh. You can see with one eye—but you gain priceless perspective with two.
From the day we are born, we may not know our fathers, but our mothers are the center of our lives—or at least, that’s what God intended and nature confirmed. (One of my adopted daughters was discovered discarded in a Madras trash dump as a newborn. But I don’t think that’s quite normal.) The care and concern our mothers (typically) show us is a reflection of God’s own devotion and benevolence toward the whole human race. So Isaiah writes, “For thus says Yahweh: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her [Zion] like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you. And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:12-13)
God has pictured Himself here as our Mother (technically, Israel’s—His usual symbolic microcosm of humanity), using imagery that reaches far beyond basic physical well-being. Being “dandled on one’s knees” is an indication of mutual delight, but not between equals. Mothers are capable and proficient, while their children are helpless and dependent. But even though they have very little in common—even though they’re not “peers”—they still enjoy each other’s company, for they share a bond of love, just as we do (or at least can) with Yahweh.
It may come as an epiphany to some, but God wants to take care of us. Because He defines right and wrong, religion often portrays Him as a stern, judgmental tyrant. But the fact is, He actually likes us, even though we’re like children—we’re incapable, incompetent, and vulnerable, can’t properly express ourselves, feed, clothe, or bathe ourselves, and sometimes we smell funny. In other words, He loves us in spite of our flaws and inadequacies—not because we’re so all-fired talented or righteous in our own right. Just like a mother does.
Before we go much further, I should reiterate something I covered in an earlier volume. God’s use of gender designations describing Himself should not be made to “walk on all fours”—that is, be taken too literally or held too tightly. Typically, we think of Yahweh as “male,” and scripture uses masculine pronouns to describe “Him.” But if we put the horse before the cart where it belongs, we’d see that our sexes are His invention, designed purposely to reflect His attributes. They’re not a physical description of God’s actual gender. (“He” is, after all, Spiritual in nature, not biological.)
On the contrary, we have been made male and female because God wants us to comprehend “His” whole nature, both the paternal and maternal sides of it. So when we see Him as our “Heavenly Father,” He is stressing His authority, ownership, or provision. But when “He” depicts “Himself” as our Mother (as in the passage we just reviewed), we are to understand that the attributes we associate with the best maternal instincts—nurturing, comforting, confronting, etc.—are part of “His” nature as well. Let us not forget: though He presents Himself to us through many symbols and manifestations, Yahweh our God is One.
So for the rest of this study, we would be well advised to take the gender labels we see in our English-language scriptures with a grain of salt. God’s self-characterizations in this area are, as with so many other symbolic devices, there only to inform us of the underlying nature of “His” deity. For that matter, we will soon find that the masculine pronouns used to describe the Holy Spirit in the Greek scriptures are often translated improperly: they are actually neutral in the original texts—devoid of any gender designation or connotation. So let us receive the Word in the spirit of natural understanding, endeavoring not to get hung up on technicalities precipitated by the inadequacies of human language and traditional modes of expression where God’s “gender” is concerned.
As if to make my point for me, Yahshua compared himself to a mother hen as He agonized over fate of His people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh!’” (Matthew 23:37-39, quoting Psalm 118:26) Though His compassion went unrequited (for the moment), He earnestly wanted to shelter Israel from her own folly—along with the rest of us.
The same “hovering mother bird” metaphor is used elsewhere in scripture to describe Yahweh’s nurturing presence. At the beginning of the creation account, we read, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) The image is one of personal involvement, nurturing, affection, and undivided focus on the object of God’s affection. Yahweh used the same basic symbol to picture His protection over the fledgling Israel: “As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so Yahweh alone led [Israel].” (Deuteronomy 32:11-12)
A poignant prophecy concerning the crucifixion of Christ points out that His trust in God (the one thing that sustained Him through His ordeal) was established as far back as His mother’s womb: “I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me. They shoot out the lip [i.e., sneer], they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in Yahweh; let Him rescue Him. Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!’” Yes, and the mocking would have nigh been unbearable had not Yahshua’s unshakable trust in Yahweh been a lifelong reality. Remember: He knew He could have snapped His fingers and summoned legions of angels to make them eat their words, but He held his peace. “But You are He who took Me out of the womb. You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. Be not far from Me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.” (Psalm 22:7-11) God was forced (by His own love, for our sakes) to turn His back on His only begotten Son as He bore our sin on Calvary’s pole. But Mary was there until the very end, wordlessly reminding Him of who He was and why He was there.
Throughout human history (until about a century ago) the unbreakable bond between a mother and her children was first forged at her breasts. A mother’s milk was the perfect (not to mention only) source of nutrition for an infant, thus becoming an apt metaphor for what makes us grow in Christ—the Word of God. So the apostle writes, “Laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (II Peter 2:1-3)
So that same sort of bond can be forged with one who makes the Word available in nurture and love, as Paul points out: “We were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” (I Thessalonians 2:7-8) One surprising aspect of motherhood we often overlook is that since mothers already have so much invested in their children, they consider it but one small step further to put their very lives on the line in their fierce defense. And our God, it appears, is the original “mama grizzly.” Only a fool messes with Yahweh’s “cubs.”
Isaiah points out that Yahweh’s love and devotion is even stronger than a mothers—and that’s saying something. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) The “you” here is Zion again, though the principle applies to all of God’s children. That being said, you should know that the literal restoration and redemption of Israel is by far the most often repeated prophecy in scripture. Amazingly (to me), one major indicator of the prophesied trend toward apostasy in these Last Days is for entire “Christian” denominations to denounce Israel, siding instead with godless “Palestinians” (placed in quotes because they as a people don’t really exist: they have no separate racial identity—they’re merely Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians, Syrians, or Lebanese.) For a so-called “Christian” to presume that God could forget His own “nursing child” Israel in favor of people who hate both of them is a special kind of stupid.
That’s not to say Israel is deserving of Yahweh’s attention and affection. They’re not (nor are we). Jeremiah likens them (in their lost, unrepentant state) to the worst sort of mothers—those who neglect and abandon their own young: “Even the jackals present their breasts to nurse their young; but the daughter of my people is cruel, like ostriches in the wilderness.” (Lamentations 4:3) Ostriches aren’t known for their sagacity. Having laid their eggs, they’re apt to forget all about them and wander off. It’s truly a miracle that they (like Israel) haven’t gone extinct. Jackals, meanwhile, are fierce and violent beasts, and yet they treat their young with the same tender care as any other mammal would be expected to. It’s part of our nature, a nature we inherited from our Creator.
The process of weaning has scriptural significance as well. We are expected to develop and grow in our walk with God: what was “perfect” for our needs at one stage of our spiritual journey must give way to somewhat weightier matters as we mature. The Psalmist reflects upon what it means to be a “weaned child” of God: “Yahweh, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother. Like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2) He has found the “sweet spot” of life. On the one hand, his dependence on his mother is no longer a ball and chain—for either of them. He is no longer compelled by his lack of maturity to express himself through whiney and ambiguous outbursts that mom is expected to “interpret.” He can now simply ask for help—and he does. On the other hand, his newfound relative independence hasn’t turned him into an arrogant sophomoric know-it-all, either. He still relies on mom, and now has some understanding of his Father’s role as well.
In short, the “weaned child” has become confident and secure, knowing his limitations but sensing the liberty he has to explore his world a bit further every day—within the boundaries mom and dad have laid out for him. He trusts his parents, relies on them, appreciates and reciprocates their love for him. He’s not trying to earn their favor, for he realizes he is loved beyond measure already (or, more likely, he merely takes it for granted, since it’s so obvious). But as his own place in the family becomes clear, it urges him to contribute what he can to its overall well-being—if only by picking up his toys and going to bed without complaint when mom says to. It seems to me that our relationship with God would do well to emulate this simple paradigm. We could do worse—and we usually do.
Some of us never seem to “grow up,” no matter how old we are. The church in Corinth was, as a body, unusually immature, considering how long ago they had received the Good News. So Paul writes, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (I Corinthians 3:1-3) Paul draws a distinction between being carnal and being spiritual, comparing it to a child’s development. “Carnal” is the Greek sarkikos—being driven by one’s base physical desires or animal appetites, a concept that implies weakness, even depravity. The Corinthians, in short, were only one small step removed from the world’s “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking” that Peter mentioned above. The “pure milk of the Word” was said to be the antidote to such things, but there is more to the Christian’s life than merely moving beyond the “living-like-an-animal” stage.
Like infants, carnal Christians want what they want, when they want it, whining and fussing when they don’t immediately get their way. Perhaps they’re laboring under the illusion that “Mom” (the Holy Spirit) doesn’t have anything to do but cater to their every whim. Sorry, kid—it doesn’t work that way. They really like the idea of grace, as long as it comes without any hint of subsequent responsibility. In other words, forgiveness for our sins is great if we aren’t then asked to make any effort to turn away from them. Carnal Christians (if Corinth was any indication) will accept all manner of worldly behavior in their midst, mistaking tolerance for righteousness (a sad but growing trend in our world). Paul points out that this immature attitude leads naturally to “envy, strife, and divisions,” the same sorts of cesspools in which the godless world wallows. Granted, we have to live in the world, but it’s supposed to be easy to tell the difference between the church and a political party, a street gang, or a lynch mob.
The writer to the Hebrews describes the limits of the carnal Christian’s experience. “Leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2) These things, he says, can be understood by even the most immature of Christians. The “repentance from dead works” of which he speaks isn’t so much turning from “the sins that so easily beset us” as it is laying aside the idea that we can work our way into God’s favor—in other words, religion.
“Spiritual” believers, on the other hand, we who are confident and secure “weaned children,” must go on to “perfection.” That is, teleiotés, a state of completeness, of maturity, of culmination—i.e., that which is built on what preceded it, while serving as the foundation of succeeding stages. They don’t begin and end with “cheap grace,” but make an effort to grow and mature in their faith—in the process becoming attuned to the voice of their “heavenly Mother” (so to speak): the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Our first clue that mothers were a significant part of Yahweh’s symbol lexicon was their inclusion, with fathers, in the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which Yahweh your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, cf. Deuteronomy 5:16) And as we saw above, the punishment for violation of this statute in Theocratic Israel was death by stoning. To recap, the command itself was to “honor” her—kabed, literally, “to make something heavy or weighty,” or figuratively, to take our mother seriously, not to take her lightly or flippantly. The antonym, you’ll recall, was used in the parallel “penalty” verse: “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17, cf. Leviticus 20:9) Here, the verb (“to curse”) is qalal, literally meaning to be or make swift or light, hence to treat something or someone as trivial, insignificant, or with contempt. What was true for our father also applied to our mother—both human and divine, for one is God’s picture of the other.
Solomon had a lot to say about treating our mothers with honor and respect. You’ll note that as in the Fifth Commandment, Mother is always seen in the same context as Father in this regard, for they are “one flesh” (as Genesis 2:24 puts it). Let us begin with a couple of references to vision or sight as it relates to honoring one’s mother and father. He says, “The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it.” (Proverbs 30:17) Very colorful, Sol. Carrion birds, I’m told, find the eyeballs of corpses left out in the open a great delicacy, so although the eyes are the organs we use to perceive good and evil in the world, the one who dishonors his parents may not live long enough (whether spiritually or physically) to see the light. This, of course, carries even more weight when we realize that “father and mother” are symbolic euphemisms for Yahweh and His Holy Spirit.
There is an interesting word picture (lost in the English, of course) in this restatement of the principle: “Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out [daak: be extinguished] in deep darkness.” (Proverbs 20:20) Again, spiritual blindness is promised to one who curses (qalal—treats lightly or with contempt) his parents, whether biological or spiritual. The word translated “deep” here (“obscure” in some translations) is ishon, meaning the apple (i.e., the pupil) of one’s eye, the “lamp or light of life” that can be “darkened” via cursing one’s parents. But Ishon is derived from iysh—a man, male, husband, champion, or even mankind. The –on suffix makes a Hebrew noun take on a conceptual shade of meaning. (For example, Sabbat is the literal seventh day, Saturday, while Sabbaton represents the idea of the Sabbath rest.) So ishon reflects the human condition, for better or worse. In addition to being the apple of God’s eye (e.g. Psalm 17:8) man can also personify “the approach of darkness or time of twilight” (Baker & Carpenter), depending upon whether or not we honor our father and mother. The choice is ours, as always.
Solomon has a lot to say on the subject: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” (Proverbs 10:1) We should be reminded that the reverence for Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10). But the point of this verse is the reaction of the father or mother to a wise (or foolish) child. In particular, if the “mother” symbol represents the role of the Holy Spirit, we should remember the admonition of Paul: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:30-31) Basically, bitterness, wrath, and all the rest are being equated to foolishness here. These are the things that grieve our mother. Another take: “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother.” (Proverbs 15:20) Wise up!
Honoring one’s father and mother begin with heeding their teachings. “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother. For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8-9, cf. Proverbs 6:20) He’s not talking about “chains” of servitude or slavery, but of jewelry—a necklace or pendant (from a verb meaning “adorn as with a necklace, to furnish liberally with supplies”). In short, your mother’s torah (her law or instruction) will prove valuable and make you look good, but only if you put it on and show it off.
The converse situation (for all practical purposes) is stated here: “He who mistreats his father and chases away his mother is a son who causes shame and brings reproach.” (Proverbs 19:26) The translation is needlessly gentle here. “Mistreats” (Hebrew: shadad) actually means to assault, despoil, destroy, devastate, desolate, ruin, or ravage. “Chases away” (Hebrew: barach) comes closer. It means to put to flight, to cause to flee, to drive away. Why would children do such things to the parents who nurtured them? The answer is in Yahshua’s warning to us: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division…. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” (Luke 12:51, 53) What we do about Christ is potentially the most divisive issue there is. We who love and follow Him can expect to be hated, ridiculed, and attacked by those who do not—even within our own families. Yahshua’s “Prince of Peace” persona is reserved for the Kingdom age.
Finally, Solomon says this: “Whoever robs his father or his mother, and says, ‘It is no transgression,’ the same is companion to a destroyer.” (Proverbs 28:24) Part of being a parent is pouring your resources into your children until they’re self-sufficient. But it’s understood under the concept of “honoring your parents” that eventually, the tables will be turned, that the kids will begin helping their parents as they were once taken care of. My wife and I did this for our parents to the extent that it was necessary and appropriate—and I don’t mean shipping them off to the nearest nursing home when their bodies began to fail them. (When my mother grew ill with Parkinson’s disease and my father could no longer cope, we brought them into our home for the better part of a year—until mom passed away. That’s how it’s supposed to work.)
I don’t really know when the “transition” is supposed to take place. Some of our kids still consider mom and I their personal piggy bank—and I’m almost 70 as I write this: according to Moses (in Psalm 90:10), I’m living on borrowed time. But we’re happy to be the “dependables” (instead of the dependents) as long as God provides health and finances. In other words, our children aren’t “robbing” us, as in Solomon’s proverb. So what is he talking about?
Christ explained what it means to “rob” one’s father and mother: “He said to [the scribes and Pharisees], ‘All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”— (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.’” (Mark 7:9-13)
Basically, here’s what was happening. Men of means would often bequeath parts of their estates to the service of the temple, or to certain rabbis or synagogues. They still had the money to invest and use as long as they were alive, but as the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible notes, “Jewish law allowed individuals to earmark their service or property as ‘dedicated to God,’ thus removing it from profane use and giving it the character of an offering intended for God. To do this was a serious decision and was rarely reversed, for violation of a corban vow risked the severe consequences of divine judgment.” The “corban” ploy wasn’t exactly commanded the Torah, you understand—it was something that had developed in Rabbinical tradition over the centuries. All the Torah said was, “keep whatever vows you make.” (See Deuteronomy 23:23.) Meanwhile, it was Yahshua’s position that we shouldn’t feel like we had to make vows at all—just do what’s right without all the self-serving fuss.
So it wasn’t forbidden, but it wasn’t commanded, either. Honoring one’s father and mother, on the other hand, was expressly ordered by God—in the Ten Commandments, no less—flagging it as being a foundational principle. One gets the impression that Yahweh doesn’t care much for our propensity to look for “loopholes” in His clear instructions.
But what if our parents aren’t really worthy of honor? What if they’re (gasp!) sinners? Something tells me Yahweh knew that before He scribed the Fourth Commandment on a stone tablet with His own finger. The point is, whether we like it or not, our fathers and mothers have a role to play—the toughest role of all: they are to demonstrate what God is like to their children, whether as providers or nurturers. If they fail in those roles, they will answer to Yahweh, but we (as children) are to honor them nonetheless, for we need to learn to honor God. After all, we weren’t worthy either when He died to purchase our salvation.
The principle applies as well, in a way, to our elders who aren’t actually our biological parents. (Remember what I said about “loopholes”?) The Torah instructs us: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:32) But what happens when ecclesiastical authority has passed to a younger person—an elder or bishop? Paul admonished young pastor Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.” (I Timothy 5:1-2) With age comes honor (deserved or not), for our elders stand in the role of God. (Besides, we’re supposed to have gained some wisdom along with our gray hairs.) But age isn’t a “get-out-or-exhortation-free” card, any more than temporal authority is a license to throw one’s weight around. We are to treat everyone with respect, whatever their (or our) age.
Honoring one’s elders, regardless of biological connection, is thus a Biblical imperative, symbolic though it may be. Two of the most poignant scenes in all of scripture deal with what it means to “honor your mother” in practical terms. First is the familiar story of Ruth, a Moabitess. She had married one of the two sons of a Jewish widow named Naomi, who found herself in economic exile in the land of Moab—across the Jordan from her home in Israel. Alas, Naomi’s two sons died as well, leaving her bereft of all family except for her two “foreign” daughters-in-law. Though she loved them, Naomi knew she had no right to ask her now-widowed daughters-in-law to return with her to the land of Israel, so she tearfully dismissed them. But Ruth honored her stricken mother-in-law, declaring: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. Yahweh do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Moabitess or not, Ruth had come to know and revere the God of Israel—the God of her late husband. So it was natural (if not exactly expected) that she should demonstrate her devotion to her mother-in-law (and her God) by going with her back to Naomi’s home—a village called Bethlehem. Under Yahweh’s Torah, the poor needn’t starve to death, for mercy was provided for them through purposely leaving fields and orchards partially unharvested for the benefit of the destitute. If someone worked hard in Israel, they would survive, even if they were poor, landless, and unemployed. And Ruth worked diligently, both for her own sake and that of her honored mother-in-law.
You know the story: Ruth’s faithfulness and industry caught the eye of the local landowner on whose land she had been gleaning. Boaz knew “quality” when he saw it in a woman, and this one fairly oozed honor, diligence, faithfulness, and reverence for God, despite her poverty. The twists in the story can teach us a lot about the whole “kinsman-redeemer” symbol so central to our redemption. Long story short (too late, I know) Boaz married Ruth, and she bore him a son, Jesse, whose youngest son would be Israel’s greatest king—David himself.
Oh, and it may be of further passing interest (choke, cough) that one of Ruth’s descendants (forty-four generations down the line) would be Yahshua the Messiah—the One in whom “all the nations of the world would be blessed.” Remember the “payoff” line from the Fourth Commandment: “…that your days may be long upon the land which Yahweh your God is giving you.” That promise was brought to fruition for all of us when Ruth, a poor widow from Moab, decided to honor her mother (okay, mother-in-law), as the commandment decreed. You never know where your simple obedience to God’s law might lead, do you?
If you thought Ruth’s circumstances were stressful when she vowed to “honor her mother” no matter what, consider what Yahshua did—as He was hanging on the cross, dying. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved [John] standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27)
Yahshua was the eldest son, though he had at least four half-brothers (James, Joses, Simon, and Jude—two of whom would go on to write books included in the New Testament canon) and several sisters as well (see Matthew 13:55-56). Tradition holds that Joseph, Mary’s husband and the legal father of Yahshua, had passed away prior to this. It thus fell to Yahshua, the firstborn, to make sure Mary was provided for. But He was being crucified: her temporal needs would of necessity fall to someone else from this point forward (though He was, if you think about it, providing for her eternal needs—and ours—there on Golgotha).
So why didn’t Yahshua assign the job of looking after Mary to James or Jude? He must have known that both of them would one day become pillars of the church. It’s because they had not as yet recognized that their brother Yahshua was the Messiah—and Mary needed support now, not five years down the road. So He asked John, the disciple to whom He was closest, to consider Mary as his mother from that point forward—to honor her as He Himself had.
This assignment isn’t as random as it first appears. Mary had a sister, who was with her at the crucifixion. (John calls her Mary’s sister, and Mark identifies her as Salome). Salome, however, was the wife of Zebedee—they were the parents of James and John, the disciples whom Christ had nicknamed “Sons of Thunder,” no doubt because of their irrepressible passion. That would make John and James Yahshua’s cousins. (So in John’s gospel he could have called his aunt Mary’s companion “my mom,” but perhaps that would have been even more confusing.) Being omniscient, of course, Yahshua knew that James (the son of Zebedee) would be the first disciple to be martyred, while his brother John would be the last of them to die—so John was His choice to fill in for Him as Mary’s surrogate son—the ultimate honor. Once again, the Fourth Commandment promise rings true: “…that your days may be long upon the land which Yahweh your God is giving you.” John lived well into his nineties. God’s word never fails.
The inclusion of the “honor your father and mother” concept in the Ten Commandments highlights, if you think about it, the rather counterintuitive fact that God is somehow our Mother as well as our Father. The Decalogue is not merely a “short list” or summary of semi-pointless Jewish rules. Rather, it instructs us how to respond to our Creator. The first three are overtly Yahweh-centric, and the last seven employ transparent symbolism to get His point across. All ten define our relationship with Yahweh.
In Volume 2 of this work, I paraphrased the Ten Commandments with that fact in mind: “Yahweh alone is God, so don’t worship or serve anything else. Don’t make visual representations of what you think He may be like, for He will provide His own image for you. Revere the name of Yahweh, and don’t associate with it anything that is worthless, empty, or deceptive. Observe the Sabbath, for it explains both God’s redemptive program and the timeline He has ordained to bring it about. Honor your Maker. And don’t murder, betray, steal, perjure yourself, or covet what others have, for in doing so, you show disrespect for Yahweh through your lack of trust in Him.”
God’s symbols, then, point out that (1) the Sabbath, (2) your father and your mother, (3) the life of your mortal body, (4) your marriage, (5) your possessions, (6) your respect for truth, and (7) your temporal desires are all metaphorical or instructive of who Yahweh is or how He operates in our lives. The surprise (for many) at this point in our study is that in commanding that we honor our mothers, Yahweh is revealing that “He” has a maternal side.
Our failure to come to terms with this truth promotes an unbalanced picture of the Almighty: Judeo-Christianity all too often presents Him as being just, but not very merciful; powerful but not particularly tender; holy but somewhat less than intimate; and righteous but slow to forgive. In other words, in failing to recognize the Holy Spirit as our Heavenly Mother, we tend to stress only the paternal side of Yahweh’s nature. Yes, justice, power, holiness, and righteousness are all magnificent attributes—things we’d expect God to display, things that explain His willingness to wreak holy vengeance, and His right to impose well-deserved justice, upon a fallen world (albeit after exercising supernatural patience, sometimes for millennia on end). But taken as a whole, scripture also presents Yahweh as being merciful, tender, intimate, and compassionate—making “all things beautiful in His time.” God nurtures us, hovers over us, gently confronts us when we go astray, intercedes for us, teaches us, helps us, and gives us peace—all things our human mothers, ideally, do for us at home while our fathers are out earning a living and dealing with our adversaries out in the world.
The Old Testament has a somewhat undeserved reputation for being all about “fire and brimstone” and the “wrath of God.” Granted, it may seem that way, especially if you skip over the Psalms. The Hebrew prophets are forever lurching back and forth between dire warnings of coming judgment and seemingly contradictory messages of comfort and encouragement. But perhaps the reason the “stern Father” imagery comes out so strongly in the Tanakh is that the coming of the Holy Spirit as an indwelling presence is mostly a New Testament revelation. The term “Holy Spirit” (Ruach Qodesh) appears only three times in the Hebrew scriptures—and never in the Torah. David uses the term in Psalm 51:11, and Isaiah uses it twice, in Isaiah 63:10-11. All three instances seem to point to God’s Spiritual indwelling as a temporary or sporadic phenomenon.
It would not be until after Christ’s resurrection that the indwelling of Yahweh’s Holy Spirit within the lives of His believers would become permanent and irrevocable—a phenomenon so unprecedented and significant, it was prophesied (as we can see in retrospect) in the fourth of Yahweh’s seven “holy convocations” (sometimes referred to as “Feasts”)—the central event in the series. The Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost) was fulfilled through the amazing events recorded in Acts 2: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
The disciples would need the “other tongues” ability, for Jews from all over the Roman world had come into Jerusalem for the Feast (as required by the Torah), and they needed to hear the Good News of Christ’s resurrection and ascension in a language they could clearly comprehend. This is nothing less than the birth of the church. “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for [i.e., because of] the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’” (Acts 2:38-39)
How did Peter know what was happening? Besides his knowledge of the prophet Joel’s description of the “pouring out” of God’s Spirit (quoted right there in Acts 2:17-21, cf. Joel 2:28-32), he remembered what Yahshua had promised just before His passion: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He [i.e., Yahweh] may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18) This is where our English sentence structure conspires to rob us of understanding where God’s maternal nature is concerned, so let’s deal with it. How can Someone described as “Him” be called our Heavenly Mother?
The Greek word translated “Him” all three times here is autos, which is actually neutral in gender—it could just as properly be translated “she” or “it,” depending on context. We’re clearly talking about a personal encounter, though, and our minds—by God’s design—can’t seem to handle anything other than males or females for such things (much to the chagrin of today’s militant homosexuals, I imagine). Furthermore, the “He” in “He dwells with you” isn’t spelled out either. The gender-nonspecific third person pronoun is implied in the Greek menei—(from meno—to dwell or abide). The point is, although the Holy Spirit is, in fact, Yahweh Himself abiding forever with and in us (in a diminished manifestation, of course), “He” is not being described here as a male persona.
Note too that this “Helper,” the Holy Spirit, is described both as “Yahweh abiding with you forever” and as Yahshua Himself: “I will come to you.” We need to come to terms with the fact that although God is One, just as Moses informed us in Deuteronomy 6:4, He manifests Himself (as we learned in Volume 1) in whatever form God needs to use at any given time. In the present age, His chosen form is usually the indwelling Holy Spirit (i.e., not theophanies or Shekinah manifestations, for example). We are to honor both our Father and our Mother, for in fact, they are One Person.
Yahshua’s explanation continues: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He [Greek: ekeinos] will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:26-27) Functionally, the Holy Spirit is predicted to teach us, help us remember God’s word, and provide God’s peace in a turbulent world. Again, this sounds less like the authoritative “Father” image, and more like a nurturing “Mother.” Again, Yahweh’s agenda, Yahshua’s, and the Holy Spirit’s, are in perfect sync. And again, the masculine personal pronoun here is actually a mistranslation: the Greek pronoun ekeinos simply means “that one” or “that very thing,” without regard to gender.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He [ekeinos: that One] will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27) Here Yahshua explained to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be Someone He Himself would send—since He would not be walking among them as a human being anymore. The reason we have such detailed accounts of what happened as Yahshua walked the earth is that the Holy Spirit actively brought His words and deeds to remembrance—years after they happened.
“It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him [autos: it] to you. And when He [pronoun supplied, implied in the verb] has come, He [ekeinos: that One] will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged….” More things the Holy Spirit does: (1) “convince with solid, compelling evidence” (from Helps Word-studies on the Greek verb elegcho) the world of its sinful condition; (2) persuade them that there actually is such a thing as righteousness—an absolute standard of morality (as opposed to the theory of moral relativism so dear to the hearts of atheists and heathens these days); and (3) reveal to them that judgment awaits those who align themselves with “the ruler of this world”—Satan—even if they don’t want to hear it.
The surprise here (perhaps) is that although the Holy Spirit will exclusively dwell within the lives of Christ’s followers, the effect of Her presence within us will be the conviction of those living in world—people who have not been born of the Spirit—that their lives are sinful, unrighteous, and ripe for judgment. Our very presence reminds them that God exists, that there is a standard of right and wrong, and that they’re missing the target of moral perfection they swear doesn’t even exist. That’s not to say they’ll like the epiphany. What bugs them (I’m guessing) is that we too miss the mark but readily admit we’re sinners, relying on God’s grace for salvation. That’s why Yahshua said they’d hate us. Nobody likes to be reminded of their faults. Will the world celebrate their “freedom” from conscience when the Holy Spirit, with the believers in tow, departs the world (in the rapture)? Probably—for about an hour—until the fallout from the Spirit’s absence begins to implode their lives like a house of cards in a hurricane, that is.
Yahshua concludes, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He [ekeinos—that One], the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, [apo heautou—based on autos: literally, “from itself”] but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-14) All of the rest of the third person pronouns here are implied in their verbs, and aren’t gender specific: the Holy Spirit is not being presented as a male, no matter what it looks like in English.
Here is more insight into the role of the Holy Spirit as Heavenly Mother: She will remain in submission to the Father, not acting independently of Him. (So much for the “God in three persons” myth.) She will guide us through God’s word, provide the data the apostles would later need to utter prophecies in God’s name, shine the spotlight on the Son of God (meaning we aren’t to worship the Holy Spirit independently of Christ—the error of some Charismatics), and help us to comprehend the significance of Yahshua’s words. As with any good mother, we small children would be lost and helpless without Her.
Perhaps the clearest imagery in scripture portraying the Holy Spirit as our Heavenly Mother is this familiar passage describing an after-hours encounter between Yahshua and a powerful Pharisee. “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” Never one for small talk, Yahshua cut right to the chase, answering the question that was really on Nick’s mind. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….’” The phrase He used wasn’t “born again,” though that’s true enough. Yahshua said we must be “born from above” (Greek: anothen—from ano: up, above, a higher place, a heavenly thing). As we must be born to earthly, mortal mothers if we are to live on earth as human beings, we must also be born to an eternal, Heavenly Mother if we wish to participate in the everlasting Kingdom of God.
Not surprisingly, Nicodemus didn’t immediately understand. “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” No, birth into a new spiritual paradigm would require a second Mother as well. “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God….” The “water” birth results in our mortal lives. Think of this as a reference to the amniotic fluid in which a fetus grows within his or her mother’s womb. Spiritual birth, on the other hand, requires a Spiritual mother (and a Spiritual Father, of course).
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again….’” The first birth, into our mortal state, is necessary because this life is where our choices are made, where our free will is exercised. But our human bodies are not built to live forever, whether in fellowship with God or not. If we are subsequently born of the Spirit, however, we will someday inhabit the sort of immortal-spiritual bodies that Paul described in I Corinthians 15—the same sort of body (I’m guessing) in which Yahshua walked the earth during the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension. If the illustration helps, think of the “amniotic sac” of the spiritual pregnancy as the life of the believer on this earth, safe within the womb of the Holy Spirit. And think of our “new birth” (the appearance of our new spiritual bodies) as the rapture of the church.
It may help to remember that the two Hebrew words for “childbearing” encompass far more than the birth itself (as we tend to see it). One is herown, denoting the whole process—the sexual act, conception, the gestation period, and the childbirth. The other is the Hebrew verb yalad: to bear, bring forth, beget, or travail—it’s the all-purpose Hebrew word having to do with bearing children, used of the mother, the father, and even the midwife. So being “born” of the Holy Spirit entails far more than receiving one’s spiritual body at the end of the “gestation period” (that is, at the rapture). It begins with conception—the moment we choose to receive the saving grace of Yahweh through the self-sacrifice of His Son, Yahshua the Messiah.
So how can know if we are “born of the Spirit”? Christ explained that to Nicodemus as well: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:1-8) Remember, the words representing “Spirit” in both Hebrew and Greek were symbolic suggestions based on the concept of wind or breath—respiration, so to speak. So Yahshua reminded Nick that one couldn’t exactly see the wind. But you could know it was blowing by the evidence it presented—waving grass, moving leaves, the sound it created, or the cool sensation upon one’s skin. The Spirit, likewise, becomes evident in one’s life through its “fruit” (as Paul put it in Galatians 5:22): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If these things are altogether missing in your life, you need to question whether the Spirit of God is present at all. (Note, by the way, that political correctness, trend-following, and tolerance of evil are not on the “spiritual evidence” list—just sayin’.)
So we must be born both of “water” and of “the Spirit.” Just to keep us on our toes, in the very next chapter in John’s Gospel, Yahshua is heard comparing—equating—Spiritual indwelling to the life-giving properties of water. “Jesus answered and said to [the woman at the well], ‘Whoever drinks of this water [from the well] will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life…. The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’” (John 4:13-14, 23-24) God really loves His metaphors.
Another scriptural take on the dichotomy between being “born of the flesh” and being “born of the Spirit” is the story of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac. First, a little insight from Paul: “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh [Ishmael] then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” (Galatians 4:28-31) At this late date, we tend to take it as a “given” that the key to being the “child of promise” was that Abraham was to be his father. After all, it was he to whom the promise had been made.
But there’s apparently more to it. It should also be taken as part of the promise that Sarah was supposed to be the mother of the child of promise. Why? Because she was Abraham’s covenant wife—as in, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Being “one flesh” is more significant and far-reaching than merely blending DNA in the birth of a child. Abraham and Sarah were, in God’s eyes, “one flesh” long before they had borne Isaac. Regardless of who Abraham had sex with, he was only “one flesh” with Sarah. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure this out: Abraham serves as a metaphor for Yahweh in this parable, and Sarah—to the exclusion of all others—is symbolic of the Holy Spirit.
Let that sink in. Abraham ended up being the father of lots of people besides Isaac—just as Yahweh is the originator of life itself—all of it. Abraham also fathered Ishmael, as we know. But after Sarah’s death, Abraham married Keturah (who apparently had been his concubine previously—I Chronicles 1:32), who bore six more sons to Abraham—Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. And Genesis 25:6 reveals that Abe had even more concubines (plural) who bore him sons (plural). So much for being so old he was “as good as dead” when Isaac was born. Yahweh hadn’t changed his name from Abram (“Exalted Father”) to Abraham (“Father of Many”) for nothing. Before he died, Abraham gave gifts to all of his sons, but he separated them from the son of promise, Isaac the son of Sarah. This too is a reflection of Yahweh’s modus operandi.
I’m admittedly extrapolating here, but maybe Hagar, Keturah and Abraham’s other concubines represent spirits other than the Holy Spirit (who is represented by Sarah). Or perhaps Ishmael, the six sons of Keturah, and the unnamed children of Abe’s other concubines are symbolic of people who are “born of water” but not of the Holy Spirit—that is, symbolic of living one’s life in the flesh. It’s hard to be dogmatic, of course. After all, half a millennium later, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro (a.k.a. Reuel) was described as the “priest of Midian” (who was one of Keturah’s sons), and he was apparently a worshiper of God Almighty—the One we know as Yahweh. What is clear is that Sarah, the one who was “one flesh” with Abraham as long as they both lived, was intended to be symbolic of the Holy Spirit—the mother of Isaac, “he who was born according to the Spirit,” as Paul put it. And through Isaac, and then Jacob/Israel, she was the metaphorical mother of all who would put their trust in Yahweh and His Messiah throughout the ages.
Revealed by Yahweh’s biological metaphor, then, real life—eternal, spiritual, essential life—requires two parents who are actually one. This explains why He invented sex—because who’d believe where life came from if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes? God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are revealed in the world by what we know of our fathers and mothers. That’s why Satan works so hard trying to separate sex from marriage—or failing that, tries to redefine what marriage means, as a “bond of commitment” between any two (or more) humans, regardless of gender. His whole idea is to obfuscate any knowledge we could have gleaned about God our Creator from observing our own normal mortal lives.
But if you thought sexual reproduction was counterintuitive, let us move on to the next epiphany, revealed through one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” (I John 3:9) This train of thought can go off the rails in either of two directions. (1) Some hold, based on this verse, that once a person is saved, he must (by definition) never again do anything bad. Thus if we do sin after receiving Christ, it is evidence that we weren’t actually “saved” at all, and must repent all over again. But this theory, in effect, makes salvation a function of our works, not the grace of God—something flatly contradicted by scripture. (2) Others believe that “we cannot sin” after being “born of God” because grace makes good behavior irrelevant, since all of our sins, past and future, are forgiven. Though a wee bit closer to the truth, this still doesn’t mean we’re authorized to sin like Caligula, just so grace can abound.
This is where it becomes important to comprehend what “being born of God” entails. Just as we have two biological parents who have become “one,” a mother and a father, there are also two parental roles in play in our spiritual rebirth. Yes, grace and forgiveness are provided by Yahweh, our Heavenly Father, for He has the authority to do so, and the love to make Him want to. But our status as having been “born from above” (as we read in John 3) depends upon our relationship with our Heavenly Mother, the Holy Spirit, whose role within our lives is to convict us of our sins. Yes, She comforts, counsels, and consoles us like any mother, and she pleads our case (the Greek word for it is paraklétos, meaning “one who is called to one’s side,” as in a counsel for the defense, an advocate). But She also nags us about our failings (again, just like any good mom would). She wants us to be successful, especially before our Father.
So what does John mean when he says, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin…, he cannot sin.” It helps to remember what “sin” is. In both Hebrew and Greek, the concept is not “being evil” exactly, but rather of “missing the mark of perfection,” the target of goodness or behavior set by God Himself. It all has to do with our relationship with God—being born of God. I have this picture in my mind of my youngest son, at about four years of age, trying with all his might to shoot baskets. The hoop was where it was supposed to be—ten feet off the ground. And he was so small, he couldn’t even manage to throw the ball that high, no matter how hard he worked. So according to NBA standards, he “missed” every shot—he “sinned.” But because he was my son, all I saw was his fierce determination to do better on the next try. Because he was “born to me” (okay, he was adopted, but the principle still holds) he did not sin—he could not sin. We counted his “misses” as “valuable experience,” something to build upon and learn from—not as failure. The day would come when he could hit the target—and did.
In the same way, once we have become “born of God,” once “His seed remains in us,” our “sins” aren’t counted as the failures they actually are, but are seen by Yahweh and the Holy Spirit as “something to get better next time.” Just as it would have been ludicrous for us to denounce and abandon our child because he couldn’t shoot baskets at four years old, neither will our heavenly “parents” condemn us for our sins. Yes, we can grieve our mother, and “fail” our father (who was so “stern and unmerciful” he hung the basket at regulation height, knowing we couldn’t hit it—yet). But the God to whom we’ve been born will never give up on us—ever.
Look at it this way: our son was once tiny, incapable of sinking baskets. But he has grown tall and strong, and now he can—but sometimes he still misses. We believers, meanwhile, are sinners. We have grown in grace, and often avoid falling short of our Father’s standards and our Mother’s hopes for us, though we aren’t always successful. Yet in the eyes of the Eternal Spirit, we still cannot sin, for we are born of God. We can only look forward to the day when, clothed in our sinless resurrection bodies, it will no longer be in our nature to miss the mark.
Before we leave the subject of the metaphorical maternal nature of the Holy Spirit, I must again caution against confusing literal biology with symbolic significance. The conception of Yahshua seems (at first) to fly in the face of what I’ve been saying about the Spirit’s role as our Heavenly Mother. In a literal sense, in fact, the Holy Spirit is identified as Christ’s Father. We read, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus….’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:30-31, 34-35)
So am I crazy? Is the Holy Spirit “male” after all? Is He physically the Father of the Christ Child? Yes and no. I’m afraid what follows is as technical as it is astounding, but it’s worth drilling down to get to the truth of the matter. In Chapter 13 of my prophecy study (The End of the Beginning: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, elsewhere on this website) I described an amazing find by a devout amateur archaeologist named Ron Wyatt in 1982: the Ark of the Covenant, secreted in a cave directly beneath the crucifixion site at Golgotha. Something that looked like blood had seeped through a crevasse caused by the Passover earthquake (Matthew 27:51) and splashed onto the Mercy Seat of the Ark (as required for our atonement in Leviticus 16:14-15). Wyatt took a sample of the substance, and before his death in 1999, he had it analyzed (without telling the laboratory where it had come from).
Bill Fry, of Anchor Stone International, explains what they found: “Even though the dried blood sample was 2,000 years old, when rehydrated and examined under a microscope, it contained living cells, including white blood cells [indicating recent injury].... The results of the chromosome test conclusively affirms the identity of this man as the Christ because it testifies that he was the product of a virgin birth! Under normal circumstances all human beings have 46 chromosomes, 23 from their mother and 23 from their father. There are 22 pairs of autosomes which determine things such as our height, hair and eye color, etc. The 23rd pair is the sex determinant pair. They consist of either X or Y chromosomes. The mother only has X chromosomes. The father has both X and Y chromosomes. If the sex-determinant pair is matched XX, the child is a female. If XY, the child is a male. Thus we see that the single chromosome provided by the father in this chromosome pair determines the gender of the child. When the blood sample Ron Wyatt took from the crack in the rock ceiling above the Mercy Seat was tested, it contained 24 chromosomes—23 from the mother and one Y chromosome from the father, 24 chromosomes. As Dr. Eugene Dunkley states in his article on the genetics of the blood of Christ, 24 chromosomes is exactly what would be expected if a man was born of a virgin.”
So technically, the Holy Spirit wasn’t the “father” of Yahshua in any traditional sense, for the only thing added to Mary’s genetic contribution was the gender-determinate Y chromosome—without which Yahshua would have been a genetic clone of Mary. But remember: Isaiah 9:6 required that He be born a “son.” Since Yahweh did not supply an entire male genome, I’d characterize this as a “water-to-wine” sort of miracle—a transformation of one thing into another. It was not (as some militant atheists have recently characterized it) God’s rape of Mary, but it was a genuine virgin birth—unique in the annals of humanity. Yet because the Holy Spirit’s “overshadowing” resulted in Mary’s pregnancy, Yahshua was undeniably the Son of God, just as the angel had predicted. But as I said, the literal, physical mechanics of the incarnation should not be confused with the symbolic truths God wished to impart about the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of believers. Though “He” was Yahshua’s father, “She” is also our Heavenly Mother. Confused yet?
The love of a mother for her children is a thing of legend. Throughout history, it has been axiomatic that mothers have so much invested in their children, they will go to extraordinary lengths to keep them safe from harm if humanly possible. They have been known to take risks and make sacrifices that defy human reasoning. And in these last days, as Satan’s onslaught against the traditional two-parent family is gaining ground worldwide, mothers often carry burdens on their children’s behalf that would crush most men.
A mother’s love, then, could be said to be the “gold standard” against which other loves are measured. And conversely, the mother’s children are commanded by God to honor that commitment. But surprisingly (perhaps), the Bible speaks of situations in which the love of a mother for her child is not enough, or when the child’s response to it must be sublimated to something even greater.
But before we look at the exceptions, let us examine the rule. Precisely how deep does a mother’s love run? This story is told of the wisdom of Solomon: “Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. And one woman said, ‘O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house….’” So we have two women, neither of which is known for her integrity, who find themselves in exactly the same boat: both with newborn children and no father in sight to corroborate their story.
Here’s the problem: “‘And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.’ Then the other woman said, ‘No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.’ And the first woman said, ‘No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.’ Thus they spoke before the king....” One of them is lying, and the other is telling the truth. But which is which? It’s a classic case of “she said—she said.” No witnesses, no evidence, no DNA analysis, just two women who want the living baby instead of the dead one. Sadly, I find this rather refreshing. Too many women today would have killed the baby on purpose in the name of convenience or economics. But I’ll have to save that rant for another time.
Solomon, faced with figuring out who the real mother is, must fall back on what he knows about a mother’s sacrificial love. “And the king said… ‘Bring me a sword.’ So they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.’ Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, ‘O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!’ But the other said, ‘Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.’ So the king answered and said, ‘Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.’” (I Kings 3:16-27) The real mother would rather have lost her child forever to a lying usurper than to have seen him cut in two just to settle the argument. She was ready to give up her very flesh and blood to ensure his safety. Solomon, of course, knew immediately who the real mother was—the one who didn’t care about “winning,” but only about the welfare of the child, even at her own expense and sorrow.
Children don’t remain dependent upon their mothers forever, of course. So “letting go” at the appropriate moment is part of the profile of a mother’s love. As the mother in Solomon’s court knew, it’s not about possession; it’s about love. If God’s pattern is any indication, a man will always need a woman. But there is a point at which his need for nurturing (a mother’s role) gives way to his need for a helper, a partner, a mate—a wife. The institution of marriage is based on this transition: “And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:23-24) Heaven help the man who doesn’t have a good woman in his life.
The sacrificial love of a mother for her son includes her desire for him to find and marry “a helper comparable to [literally: in front of, the opposite counterpart of] him.” (Genesis 2:18) The transition from focusing upon “honoring one’s mother” to “loving one’s wife” corresponds to the moment when the son’s symbolic role shifts to being the picture of God in the family structure—no longer the child, but now the husband and father; no longer the dependent, but now the one upon whom others are depending. For daughters, the parallel parable is the shift from being her parents’ treasure to fulfilling her role as the image of the Holy Spirit in the new family as a wife and mother—being one with God, while at the same time being submissive to Him. She is focused on providing counsel, comfort, and conviction, abiding within the lives of her own children. Thus the cycle of symbolism repeats, one generation after another—until Christ makes all things new, and such metaphors have outlived their usefulness.
We use standards to measure things. In the Bible, a man’s forearm was a handy unit of measure, called a cubit. Not terribly precise, but it got the job done. If we’re measuring an explosion, our unit is a ton of TNT (trinitrotoluene, a.k.a. dynamite), so when we describe, say, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, we call it a fifteen kiloton blast (i.e., equivalent to about 15,000 tons of TNT). If a mother’s love is the benchmark by which all human relationships are measured, then let’s call it the “Hiroshima bomb” of all loves. But it’s a comparative benchmark—it can be exceeded. For example, the most violent volcanic explosion ever experienced by man, the Krakatau volcanic explosion in 1883, blew with a force of about 150 megatons—some 10,000 times as powerful as that of Hiroshima.
The reason I bring up these comparisons is that Christ did—referring to the love that would be required of us if we were to be His followers. He said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39) Wow, that’s tough. First we’re commanded to honor our mother and our father, and then love our neighbor or brother as we do ourselves, only to find that our love for our Messiah and God must exceed even that. Even the “Hiroshima bomb” of a mother’s love falls short of the bond of love between God and man. Yahshua would demonstrate—prove—the depth of God’s commitment when He went to the cross for us. The question is, how deep does our love for Him run?
Elsewhere, He put it even more pointedly: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27) Hate? I thought we were to love! We are. This is like saying, “If your love for your friends, your spouse, and your children—and even yourself—is as great as an atomic bomb (and it should be), then your love for God must be more like the biggest volcanic explosion imaginable.” Krakatau made Hiroshima sound like a pop gun.
The Scofield Reference Notes on this verse state, “All terms which define the emotions or affections are comparative. Natural affection is to be, as compared with the believer’s devotedness to Christ, as if it were hate. See Matthew 12:47-50, where Christ illustrates this principle in His own person.” Okay, let’s do that: “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.’ But He answered and said to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50)
Did Yahshua love His mother and His half-siblings? Of course He did. He was about to give up His very life so that they (and we) could dwell in peace with God for eternity. But His words seem rather brusque and callous here. Why? Because in comparison with His love for Father Yahweh and the object of His affection—the whole world—Yahshua’s devotion to His earthly mother and brothers was merely a “Hiroshima bomb.” And He was preparing for a somewhat bigger “bang.”
Speaking of the “Big Bang,” consider the comparison between the scale of Yahweh’s work at the moment of creation—when all of the matter that comprises the entire known universe came into being in an instant—and what we actually need to maintain our mortal existence. At most, we need the stuff that makes up our own solar system—and maybe not even all of it: the earth as our home, the sun to provide energy, the moon for its gravitational nuance, and maybe Saturn or Jupiter to sweep up big asteroids before they can ruin our whole day. Do we really need the whole Milky Way, or billions upon billions of other galaxies? No, except maybe to demonstrate how awesome our God really is.
My point is that if Yahweh’s use of physics, chemistry, geology, and biology is this extravagant—this far beyond what is actually needed—then what must His love be like? Yahweh is not the God of the bare minimum. And neither should our response to His love be “just enough to get by.” The greatest love we ordinarily encounter in our human relationships—that of a mother for her child—should seem like hatred in comparison with what we feel for our Creator. It all sort of brings home the saying, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” doesn’t it? In our own strength, we don’t even come close.
Of course, the love between a parent and child is an idealized concept. We don’t always treat our parents as if they were stand-ins for God, because they (like us) are flawed, fallen creatures. Unlike God, they make mistakes. Nor is a mother’s demonstrated love for her children an inviolable and constant reality. Anyone who has ever had a fourteen year old daughter knows this. There is going to be friction, friction causes heat, and heat can lead to meltdowns. That is true even without any logical reasons for rancor. But we are promised (oddly enough) that one issue will be sufficient to divide a family in two: the deity and lordship of Yahshua the Messiah. He warned us, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” (Luke 12:51-53) His very existence is enough to split families into warring factions—those who rely upon His sacrifice for salvation, and those who (for whatever reason) do not. Unity is usually a good thing (see Psalm 133) but unity in falsehood, no matter how pleasant, is the road to destruction.
What is absolutely clear is that when faced with choosing sides between Christ and family (or any other good thing), Yahshua, the author and finisher of our faith, is the only logical choice: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:29-30) Yes, even a mother’s love must bow before Christ’s.
“There are three things that are never satisfied, four never say, ‘Enough!’: The grave [Sheol], the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water, and the fire.” (Proverbs 30:15-16) Although it is obviously central to God’s plan for women to bear children, it is by no means automatic. In Bible times, barrenness was received as a curse, or at least as an example of the “tribulation that worketh patience” about which God warned us. Conversely, children were perceived as a blessing, because they could be expected to extend the family’s prosperity, influence, and honor.
As Solomon once said, “Behold, children are a heritage from Yahweh; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. They shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5) If a man’s “quiver” was empty because His wife was barren, he was pitied, no matter how much wealth he might have amassed, for children were one’s legacy—the means by which someone’s name and reputation might be perpetuated in the earth. For one’s genetic line to come to an end was perceived as about the worst thing that could possibly happen.
In our world, children are not always appreciated as they once were. It is no longer universally recognized that “the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Sex has been divorced from marriage, and if people do marry, it is statistically far later in life than it used to be. There is a billion dollar industry in preventing (or eliminating) pregnancy. Careers are often placed before childbearing, and women in first-world nations often wake up to the reality of their self-imposed barrenness only when their biological alarm clock finally becomes impossible to ignore, in their late thirties—after they’ve given themselves carpal tunnel syndrome from punching the snooze button. It can be a shock to realize that you can’t have it all.
Lots of air time these days is given to abortion—as it should be. It’s an insane waste of life on an industrial scale: 1,200,000 abortions performed each year in the United States—some 45 million annually worldwide. What is less widely known is the flip side of the coin: the heartbreak of infertility—when women want to bear children, but can’t.
The CDC provides the following (U.S.) statistics. (1) The number of women ages 15-44 with impaired fecundity (impaired ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term): 6.7 million. (2) The percent of women in that age range with impaired fecundity: 10.9%. (3) The number of married women aged up to 44 who are infertile (unable to get pregnant after at least twelve consecutive months of unprotected sex with her husband): 1.5 million. (4) The percent of married women of childbearing age who are infertile: 6.0%. (5) The number of women who have used infertility services: 7.4 million.
Since the rise in infertility rates in the U.S. have risen in tandem with the easy availability of abortions after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, it compels one to wonder if there is a link between abortions and subsequent barrenness. While abortion proponents ridicule the idea (while pressuring medical professionals to keep their mouths shut about it), it’s not hard to identify a few risk factors. These are provided by Life.org.nz, a pro-life website in New Zealand:
(1) “In a first trimester abortion the doctor sometimes performs what is known as an ‘incomplete abortion’ accidently leaving some tissue in the uterus. When foetal tissue is left behind in the womb it can rot and cause a severe infection that can cause permanent damage to the female reproductive organs. This can result in sterility or miscarriage of future pregnancies.”
(2) “It is likely that following an abortion the main risk to fertility is the development of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which is an inflammation of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Any use of instruments on the cervix, such as during a D&C, can lead to a greater spread of these organisms and, therefore, the risk of PID. A Scandinavian study found that women with previous or existing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease had a decrease in fertility following an abortion.”
(3) “Multiple abortions: Any procedure that dilates the cervix, which is a necessary step during most abortions, can weaken it. It can affect the ability of an embryo to implant into the uterus or the ability of your cervix to support a pregnancy.”
(4) Out-of-control estrogen levels caused by being pregnant but not bringing the baby to term (because of abortions) may also diminish a woman’s ability to conceive.
I am reminded of God’s propensity to “harden the heart” of someone who (like the Pharaoh of the exodus) repeatedly refuses to heed the Word of Yahweh—locking the door, so to speak, that we have already slammed in His face. Could the correlation between abortions and barrenness be evidence of the same sort of thing? Is not abortion actually a “request” to God to become barren and fruitless? Be careful what you wish for—it may be granted.
I realize we’re all sinners; we all make mistakes. With the state of the family in these Last Days in such an advanced state of decomposition, it is not surprising that many people want sex, but not the responsibility of having children; they want pleasure, but not procreation. It is no particular surprise, then, to find that unwanted pregnancy is a rampant problem in our sick society. Returning to Biblical morality would fix the problem, of course, though that would require an entire nation to change its heart and mind. Call me unimaginative, but I don’t foresee that happening before the Second Coming. But failing that, is it really so hard to see that the goals of the barren hopeful and the desperate pregnant have the potential, to some extent, of canceling each other out?
I’m speaking, of course, of adoption. Maybe I’m prejudiced (since we adopted nine kids into our own family), but it seems to me that the world would be a far less painful place if people adopted “inconvenient” children with the same alacrity with which God adopts fallen, sinful, needy people into His family. 130,000 adoptions take place in the U.S. each year—only about one tenth of the number of children who are sacrificed to Moloch through abortion. But at the same time, 6.7 million American women suffer from impaired fecundity—they have tried to become pregnant, and can’t. Is the solution to this conundrum really that opaque, or has love died out completely in this nation?
It is a clear scriptural principle that children are to be seen as a blessing. Numerous and healthy children were promised Israel as a result of keeping God’s Instructions—and vice versa. “If you diligently obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today…blessed shall be the fruit of your body.” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 4) But although children are the physical result of biological processes God designed into our species (just as He did with every living thing), the Bible is peppered with examples of Yahweh’s closing the wombs of godly women temporarily in order to get their attention and/or to teach their husbands some critical truth.
Probably the most well-known instance of this phenomenon is the long wait of Abram and his wife Sarai for the son Yahweh had promised them. When he was seventy-five years old, God told him that He would make him a great nation, though he had no children. Through a convoluted series of misadventures, we learn that it was not Abram’s fecundity, but his wife’s barrenness, that was (by God’s design) holding things up—making the child of promise more and more eagerly anticipated with every passing year. At one point, we read, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, Yahweh has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.” (Genesis 16:1-2)
So Ishmael was born, but God later told Abram (as he changed his name to Abraham, meaning “father of many”), Nope, your covenant wife will bear the child of promise, impossible or not. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you…. As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.” The name change, as with her husband, implies a more extensive progeny—Sarah means “princess.” “And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” (Genesis 17:6, 15-16) Sarah was ninety years old by this time, you understand. Good looking for her age or not, she was the poster child for “infertility.” God didn’t care: to His purposes, her barrenness was essential: without it, Isaac’s birth would not have been received as the miracle it was, nor would Yahweh have been proved to be the Lord of Life.
During the ages of the Judges, a woman named Hannah found out what it was like to walk in Sarai’s shoes, for, though her husband’s other wife had children, she was barren—and was reminded of it every day. We read the story in I Samuel 1 and 2. When Hannah had reached the end of her rope (called in nautical terms “the bitter end,” appropriately enough) she cried out to God in her distress: “Then she made a vow and said, ‘O Yahweh of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to Yahweh all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” (I Samuel 1:11) God answered her prayer, and Hannah bore a son, whom (after he was weaned) she entrusted to the High Priest, just as she had vowed. This child was destined to become a key figure in the unfolding history of Israel: both its final Judge and the prophet who would anoint its first two kings. His name was Samuel (which means “the name—or character—of God”).
That “razor” comment denoted a “Nazirite vow” (see Numbers 6)—normally a temporary vow someone would elect to take in order to unreservedly devote himself to Yahweh for a time. Being a Nazirite from the womb was very rare. But two other mighty men of God (in their own ways) were also lifelong Nazirites—consecrated from the womb: Samson (Judges 13) and John the Baptist (Luke 1).
John’s story is particularly revealing. “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years….” They were in the same boat as Abraham and Sarah had been, although God had made them no glowing promises about miraculous offspring—yet.
“So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John….” Note that Zacharias had been praying for a child, even in his old age. He had not given up, nor had his wife Elizabeth. God seems to like this formula: a godly man, his righteous wife, years of barrenness as preparation, and stubborn reliance on Yahweh’s provision through it all. There’s something to work with there—something that will bring glory to God, though we rarely see it coming.
“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.” There’s the prophecy of John’s “Nazirite” status. “He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’” (Luke 1:5-17, quoting Malachi 4:6) When the angel of Yahweh confronts you and begins quoting scripture, I’m pretty sure it means you should wake up, pay attention, and check the source. Malachi had spoken of the return of the prophet Elijah. John’s life was to be a precursor, a partial fulfillment, of that prophecy (and Yahshua identified him as such).
But what we too often miss is the punch line of Malachi’s prophecy: “And he [“Elijah”] will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I [Yahweh] come and strike the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6) That is, to the extent that “Elijah” is not successful in reconciling those of the current generation with the “fathers” (i.e., the patriarchs, especially through the faith of Abraham and the Instruction of Moses) the earth will be cursed. Israel did not heed John, and the Land subsequently suffered two thousand years of “curse.” (See Hosea 6:2.) But the ultimate “Elijah” antitype will appear during the latter half of the Tribulation (one of two such witnesses), and the fate of the whole world will hang on whether or not they listen to him. (See Revelation 11:1-14.)
But I digress. We were exploring what it means for a wife to be barren. It can’t be a coincidence that the mothers of all three Nazirites, Samson, Samuel and John, were said to be barren prior to their sons’ births. So perhaps it might be appropriate to take a moment to look at the Nazirite vow. The key descriptor is that “All the days of his separation he shall be holy to Yahweh.” (Numbers 6:8)
The Nazirite was to bring certain offerings to commemorate his consecration, all of which are transparently prophetic of the Messiah’s mission, if you understand the symbols. Other, less obvious images in the Nazirite vow include not cutting one’s hair for the duration. I am reminded of Yahshua’s Olivet Discourse admonition about remaining steadfast amid persecution during the Last Days: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:16-19) The Nazirite—one consecrated wholly to Yahweh—will not “lose one hair of his head” during Satan’s coming reign of terror, even if he is beheaded for his faith. Eternal life is like that: it defies human logic.
The other symbolic aspect of this vow was the total separation from any product of the vine—grapes, raisins, or wine. We are reminded of Christ’s parallel separation vow, announced at the Last Supper. “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:27-29) The crucifixion He was about to endure for our sins required total consecration to Yahweh. But the time for symbolism was coming to an end: the Levitical wine oblations were about to see literal fulfillment in the shedding of Yahshua’s own blood.
It is as if Yahshua were taking His own “Nazirite vow” (not formally, of course, for His actions spoke far louder than words ever could). Something buried deep in the Hebrew etymology confirms this notion. The word transliterated “Nazirite” is the Hebrew nezer, a noun meaning (not surprisingly) consecration, separation, or dedication. But it shows up no fewer than ten times in scripture as “crown,” worn by the High Priest or the king as a sign of his consecration, his dedication to duty. The crucible of Christ’s crucifixion would declare not only His unalloyed consecration, but also His right to rule. This explains why He says the fruit of the vine will once again be on His lips “when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” It’s because the vow will have been fulfilled, and He Himself will reign at last in glory.
The Bible’s three life-long Nazirites, then, had a story to tell—even if they didn’t fully understand it themselves: the story of the salvation of mankind—or in Samson’s case, judgment on the unrepentant. All three of them began life in the womb of a godly though barren woman. That should be a clue for us: the story is one of miraculous transformation at God’s hand: from lost to saved, from dead to alive, from barren and hopeless to joyfully, spectacularly fruitful. “[Yahweh] raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes—with the princes of His people. He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children. Praise Yahweh!” (Psalm 113:7-9)
The story of our transformation is a personal, case-by-case matter. Each one of us must choose whether or not we wish to be changed from our current barren state into something fruitful and fertile—useful and pleasing to our Creator. But Yahweh has also sworn to transform an entire nation—Israel—from a “valley of dry bones” into a living, breathing organism. In context, that’s what Isaiah is talking about when he says, “‘Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,’ says Yahweh.” (Isaiah 54:1)
I am convinced that Israel’s literal national restoration—a promise repeated hundreds of times in scripture (presumably because it was so hard to believe)—is a parable, a guarantee of sorts, ensuring us that our personal redemption is just as real, even though it’s equally amazing. Furthermore, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (in chapter 37) also indicates that Israel’s physical, cultural, and socio-economic restoration—something to which we have been witnesses all our lives—will be followed by its spiritual redemption—Israel’s national return to Yahweh and recognition of His Messiah, Yahshua. Basically, if Yahweh can bring Israel back from the dead, our own salvation cannot be an illusion.
Let’s face it. All of us die—the saved and lost alike. So how can we know God is as good as His word when He promises to raise us up to everlasting life? We have the example of Christ’s resurrection, of course, but He was God incarnate, and could thus be presumed to have unique abilities. Might bodily resurrection be one of them? But when Yahweh raises Israel from national extinction, it is an undeniable demonstration of His awesome power—one we can see happening before our very eyes. Were it not for His promises to Israel, they would have been as dead today as any of a hundred nations named in scripture. (Met any Hittites or Amalekites lately?) But as Israel lives, so can we. It’s all a matter of Yahweh’s promises—and the faith we put in them.
Isaiah revisited the theme repeatedly. In his final chapter, he once again describes Israel’s rebirth: “Before she was in labor, she gave birth. Before her pain came, she delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children. ‘Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?’ says Yahweh. ‘Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?’ says your God….” Zion’s “labor” was as hard and painful as they come: the holocaust under Hitler’s Nazis. But without that, I’m sad to say, Israel never would have gained the sympathy of the world for one brief moment in the late 1940s. That’s when the newly formed United Nations, in a rare moment of sanity, voted to allow the Jews to establish a modern homeland in their ancient Land. It may be the only good thing the U.N. ever did.
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her. Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her, that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.” (Isaiah 66:7-11) The friends of Yahweh did rejoice at Israel’s rebirth. I was only a preschooler at the time, but one of my earliest memories was that of my godly parents being all excited about something they called “Israel,” and how it meant the “second coming” must be right around the corner. It would be many years before I had any idea what they were talking about, of course. But now, almost seven decades later, the situation has come into razor-sharp focus, and the anticipation of believers has reached a fever pitch.
Barren women have no descendants, no future. But as dry and infertile as the world has become, there is still hope for us. Moses’ words still ring true today: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
We have established that, symbolically at least, our mothers “live in us.” They know what we’re thinking (for better or worse), know what we’re up to—sometimes before we know it ourselves—and have an uncanny knack for knowing when to admonish us and when to console us. All of this makes moms the perfect metaphor for the Holy Spirit—the one who dwells within believers, convicting us of our sins, bringing to remembrance the word of God at just the right moment, being our advocate before God the Father, and comforting us in times of deepest sorrow. (Or is it that Yahweh created mothers with these abilities just so we would be able to understand what the Holy Spirit would do in our lives?)
But although our mothers live “in us,” we also live “in them,” so to speak. They are our “home” in the sense that they are where we come from. The second mention of “mother” in scripture (right after marriage was defined as “a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife”) is when Adam’s named his own bride: “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 3:20) Adam’s “day job,” you’ll recall, was to name all of God’s creatures. This woman whom Yahweh had given him he named Chavvah (or Hawwah), transliterated down to “Eve,” defined right here in the text as “the mother of all living.” The word is derived from chay or hayah—not coincidentally, a component of God’s self-revealed name, Yahweh, meaning “I Am.” Being and living are inseparable concepts in God’s mind. But chavvah also means a village or town—a place where people live. The DBL defines it as a “tent settlement, i.e., an unwalled village of a nomadic peoples, as a more or less permanent population center.” Our mother, then, is “where we live.”
In an imagery-laden parable about the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, Ezekiel writes, “Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline, planted by the waters, fruitful and full of branches because of many waters….” “Like a vine in your bloodline” was rendered in the Septuagint, “like a flower on a pomegranate tree.” If you’ll recall, the pomegranate is God’s symbol for “refuge in the blood,” and the blood, in turn, is where life resides.
So Jerusalem is pictured as Israel’s “mother,” once a fruitful refuge, but now facing God’s wrath because of her pride and disobedience. “She had strong branches for scepters of rulers. She towered in stature above the thick branches, and was seen in her height amid the dense foliage. But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried her fruit. Her strong branches were broken and withered. The fire consumed them. And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. Fire has come out from a rod of her branches and devoured her fruit, so that she has no strong branch—a scepter for ruling.” (Ezekiel 19:10-14) In other words, the flower of Jerusalem was about to be broken off and sent to Babylon.
Matthew Henry notes on this passage, “Jerusalem was a vine, flourishing and fruitful. This vine is now destroyed, though not plucked up by the roots. She has by wickedness made herself like tinder to the sparks of God's wrath, so that her own branches serve as fuel to burn her.” Is all hope for Jerusalem lost, then? No. “Blessed be God, one Branch of the vine here alluded to, is not only become a strong rod for the scepter of those that rule, but is Himself the true and living Vine. This shall be for a rejoicing to all the chosen people of God throughout all generations.” That “one Branch,” of course, is Christ, who will restore Jerusalem as His earthly capital city during His Millennial reign. As Yahshua is the new Adam, so to speak, Jerusalem is the new Eve—the new Chavvah, the new “mother of all living.”
It doesn’t end when Christ’s thousand-year reign on earth is over, either. It only gets better: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.” (Revelation 21:9-11) The bride of Christ will not only dwell in the New Jerusalem—she (i.e., we) will be the city of God. She will dwell in us, and we will dwell in her. And no, I don’t have a clue as to how it will all work; it’s simply too wonderful for me to comprehend.
That being the case, Yahweh made sure we had the testimony of several witnesses. Isaiah tells us, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth. And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create. For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people. The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.” (Isaiah 65:17-19) Eternal rejoicing—on the part of the people, of course, but also from the lips of God Himself!
Gee, this doesn’t sound like the judgmental, vindictive God so many ascribe to the Old Testament. But look closely: the rejoicing throng are Jerusalem’s people—Yahweh’s children. Not everyone will celebrate God’s love forever, for not everyone has chosen to be adopted into Yahweh’s family—though the invitation is extended to all. The New Jerusalem, the new heavens, and the new earth are the dwelling place of God’s children—exclusively. If your chosen father and mother are someone else, then you cannot live there.
Paul mangles his metaphors even more than usual in trying to explain the difference: “For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Galatians 4:24-26) His point—one that is often missed altogether in the confusion—is that one cannot establish and maintain a relationship with Yahweh by keeping the letter of the Law of Moses. Mostly, this is because of what he had observed earlier: no one ever has (see Acts 15:11). Paul had been a Pharisee, the strictest sect of all. If anyone could have done it, he would at least have heard about it. This does not mean, however, that Paul was anti-Torah—far from it. It was the perfect standard, God’s Word, good and right and true—but since it has been proven unachievable by fallen man, it is characterized here as the “bondage” of reliance upon the flesh.
So he draws a contrast between biological and geographical metaphors to make his point. Sarah represents God’s promises, fulfilled through grace, while Hagar stands for human effort. And Mount Sinai (where the Law was delivered) and Jerusalem (where the temple and priesthood were) are both contrasted with the New Jerusalem of which Isaiah had spoken—where our tears, struggles, and chains are remembered no more, and where we can rejoice for eternity in the righteousness imputed to us by our Savior’s sacrifice—if we choose to avail ourselves of His gift. Paul thus describes this New Jerusalem as “the mother of us all,” that is, it is our eternal home, hearth, and heart.
Of course, the contrast between something perfect though unattainable (the Law) and something that’s perfect yet freely available (the grace of Yahshua) can be hard to see—at least, if you’re not intimately familiar with both of them. It’s like a small child telling the difference between his mother and his mother’s twin sister, his aunt. He can do it every time, but the twin sisters’ casual friends might get fooled. The child may love his aunt, but there’s only one mom.
The reason I keep pointing out that the phrase “born again” in John 3 should actually be translated “born from above” (genneo anothen) is that the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit in the world. Although Yahshua didn’t actually use the phrase, He made it quite clear that it is also possible to be “born from below”—that is, born in the spirit of hell instead of heaven. When He called the scribes and Pharisees who attacked Him a “brood of vipers,” He was identifying their spiritual Father as Satan—the serpent, the dragon, the deceiver of Eden.
And just as the New Jerusalem is pressed into service as a metaphor for the “mother” of the redeemed, another city symbolically stands for the “mother” of the damned: Babylon. John describes her: “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: ‘Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.’ I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.” (Revelation 17:3-6)
The “mystery” seems to be how she can be so horrible and so successful at the same time. (In biblical parlance, of course, a “mystery” is something that was previously hidden, but is now being revealed.) Babs is first seen “sitting on”—controlling—the beast (the Antichrist and his kingdom), though he will later throw her off and destroy her. She is said to be the “mother,” the source and home, of two things:
(1) Harlots or whores are symbolic of idolatry—those who entice people to betray the One True God. That’s probably why they call prostitution “the oldest profession.” Satan’s whore has been at it since Eden.
(2) She’s also called the mother of abominations. This is the strongest language in the entire Bible. The Greek noun bdelugma denotes something loathsome, detested, or accursed. Helps Word-studies says the word is “derived from bdēō, ‘to reek with stench’—properly, what emits a foul odor and hence is disgustingly abhorrent, abominable, and detestable; figuratively, moral horror as a stench to God (as when people refuse to hear and obey His voice).” Being the “mother of abominations” means Babylon is (symbolically) the source of everything Yahweh finds detestable. Her habit of getting drunk on the blood of saints and martyrs goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. God, for all His patience, will not allow her to run free forever.
The bottom line is that if one is born at all in the spiritual sense (something that’s by no means automatic, by the way) then his mother is either the Yahweh’s Holy Spirit (symbolized by the New Jerusalem) or the spirit of Satan, Babylon. Is it any wonder we are instructed to “flee from Babylon” (one way or another) no fewer than nine times in scripture? Jeremiah 49:30, 50:8, 50:28, 51:6, and 51:45; Isaiah 13:14 and 48:20; Zechariah 2:6-7, and Revelation 18:4 all give the same advice. We read the prophetic phrase “Babylon is fallen,” or something similar, at least six times, and her sudden and final demise is described in gory detail in Revelation 18.
While Babylon (the wife of Satan, so to speak: the mother of harlots and abominations) is going down in flames, we see exactly the opposite scenario being played out in the life of the bride of Christ: “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:6-8)
Babylon, you’ll recall, was decked out in purple and scarlet—the most expensive raiment imaginable, dyed with colors obtainable only through the death of countless unclean creatures (murex snails and cochineal insects, which I suppose you could symbolically compare to the souls of her lost victims). She had lots of costly jewelry, too—gold, refined in the fires of other people’s adversity, precious stones formed by pressure within the earth, and pearls, created within the shells of unclean creatures (again) through friction and irritation. Everything she’s wearing came at a great price—to somebody else.
But Christ’s bride? What is she wearing? Linen cloth, made from flax plants that the Creator causes to grow naturally out of the earth—unsoiled, clean, white, and pure. John reports that “the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” But wait a minute: “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) So where do our righteous acts really come from? Like the linen robes, they are a gift—the imputed righteousness of our Messiah. And how are our linen garments made white? John explains (in reference to another group of redeemed souls): “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) The life-blood of Yahshua is what clothes us in purity—while the whore of Babylon is clothed in the suffering of the damned. The contrast could not be more stark.
There is one more mention of Babylon that I should address. It’s found in Peter’s closing remarks in his first epistle: “She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you.” (I Peter 5:13) Most commentators read this as a reference to the church at Rome (where Peter was at the time), and I’m inclined to agree. But there is no admonition about fleeing or impending disaster here, and the one sending her greetings is described as “elect,” that is, chosen by Christ because she chose Him. So what Peter is describing here is something with which many of us must cope during our lives—the necessity of having to live “in the world” as believers while endeavoring not to let the world “live in us.”
Imperial Rome was a pagan city, as were most places within the empire. It had become the principal repository of the rites and rituals of the original Babylonian mystery religion that had plagued the earth since the days of Nimrod. Alas, eventually (centuries after Peter wrote these words) the Roman Catholic Church would don that same nefarious mantle (as predicted by Christ in His letters to Pergamos and Thyatira in Revelation 2). The point I’d like to glean from this, however, is that it is possible to sojourn (if you must) in downtown Babylon without letting the city touch you—while you live set apart from the world as a citizen of the New Jerusalem, indwelled with the Holy Spirit.
It is possible. I didn’t say it was easy.
As I’ve said ’til I’m blue in the face, one of the reasons we Christians tend to miss so much about God’s intentions is that we all too often ignore the Torah. Yes, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews characterized it as “obsolete,” but it is only obsolete in the way that a road sign becomes obsolete when we reach our destination. That doesn’t imply that it was ever wrong, unhelpful, misleading, or false. In fact, while we were still on our journey it was absolutely essential. Besides, Old Testament believers weren’t “saved” by obeying the precepts of the Torah, ’cause none of them ever did that perfectly. Rather, they were redeemed by simply trusting Yahweh to have our best interests in mind—and demonstrating that trust by keeping His Instructions. No one realized the Torah was a complex prophecy about the coming Messiah until after Yahshua had risen from the dead.
So we note that (beside what we’ve already explored) there are references to “mothers” scattered throughout Yahweh’s Instructions. And I’ll admit right up front, without reference to the symbols God has established in His word (The Torah Code, so to speak) some of these rules seem at first glance to be utterly pointless—almost silly. And yet, these things are contained in the very word of God: they bear closer scrutiny, for He never says anything on a pointless whim. If we dig deep enough, we are almost certain to uncover nuggets of insight we might otherwise have missed.
Let us begin, then, with this one: “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 34:26) When we hear things like this, we almost want to look around to see if our reaction is being caught on a hidden camera somewhere. We stifle a snicker and say, “Ummm, okay, Lord, if that’s what you want.” But then we realize that He said virtually the same thing three different times (in Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21). Repetition indicates significance. The first two are in reference to the Feast of Firstfruits (prophetic of the resurrection of Christ), and the last is thrown in at the end of a short recap of Torah dietary rules—warning us to be discerning about what we put into our bodies. Something tells me we need to dig deeper.
Let us, then, look at this precept in light of the symbols we’ve already established. If “mother” represents the role of the Holy Spirit, and her “milk” indicates the pure, foundational revelation of the word of God, we’ve made a good start at sorting this out. “Goats” (as we were taught through the symbology of the Day of Atonement) represent sin, error, missing the mark. But the precept is very specific: it doesn’t prohibit boiling any young goat in any mother goat’s milk—but only in his own mother’s milk—a relationship is in view. Since the “mother” is the Holy Spirit, the “young goat” must represent the Son of God, the Messiah, specifically in His role as sin-bearer in our stead.
So what are we being told? We are never to use God’s Word as a weapon against God’s work. Elsewhere, I listed several examples of what this might look like: “TV preachers whose “ministries” have more to do with funding than with fundamental truth. Another: sects or denominations that use a few carefully selected passages to create doctrines and dogma designed to subjugate, control, and fleece the would-be faithful. Another: politicians who piously play the ‘Christian card,’ wooing the religious right while sacrificing the clear precepts of Yahweh on the altar of political expediency. Another: businessmen who think of the church or synagogue merely as fertile fields for new commercial contacts. I think you get the picture.”
Whereas judgment would have been pictured as roasting with fire, boiling or seething presents another picture: the softening or compromise of the subject—in this case, Christ Himself. Yes, He took our well-deserved judgment upon Himself, but “boiling down” His life to politically correct sound bites, making His truth malleable and tender and easy to chew and swallow (if you catch my drift) is inappropriate and unnecessary—and we are commanded not to do it. We are told to “eat Christ’s body and drink His blood.” Nowhere is it hinted that this would be easy. The Word of God is nutritious, but it is not soft. It is not intended to “melt in your mouth.” Rather, it is meant to soften our hearts.
Another Torah precept about mothers that makes us scratch our heads: “When a bull or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall be seven days with its mother; and from the eighth day and thereafter it shall be accepted as an offering made by fire to Yahweh. Whether it is a cow or ewe, do not kill both her and her young on the same day.” (Leviticus 22:27-28) Again, a relationship between mother and child is in view, but this time, the reference to “an offering by fire” does indicate judgment. The wrinkle here has to do with chronology. The mother and her child are to be inseparable for seven days. While I have no doubt that there are practical biological ramifications for ranchers and herdsmen, I’m going to concentrate on trying to sort out the spiritual meaning of the passage.
The “seven days” parameter reminds us immediately of God’s plan for the tenure of fallen man upon the earth (as prophesied by the creation account, the Sabbath law, and a score of more esoteric hints throughout scripture). God has, by all accounts, given us six thousand years from the fall of Adam to the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ (a.k.a., the real Sabbath). The age of sin (i.e., that of man’s free will) will conclude at the end of that seventh thousand-year period. The “eighth day” is therefore a reference to the commencement of eternity, in which all believers of every age will be “clothed” in their immortal resurrection bodies, as described in I Corinthians 15, and unbelievers too will experience the fate they’ve chosen. The Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) will apparently mark the transition from the seventh “day” to the eighth—the shift from the age of man to the eternal state.
How does this correlate to the Torah’s barnyard mitzvah? We are the newborn calves, sheep, or goats in this parable, and our “mothers” are the spirits to whom we’ve been born—preferably the Holy Spirit, of course, but possibly the spirit of Satanic Babylon (as we saw above). Judgment in scripture technically denotes a division of one thing from another—a judicial separation of good from bad, of right from wrong. And fire is the agency of that judgment. So what Yahweh is saying here is that the execution of His judgment—the final separation of good from evil—will not take place during the seven thousand years of the age of choice, not even during the glorious Millennial Kingdom of Christ, when Satan is bound in the abyss (Revelation 20:2), unable to tempt anyone to evil. Neither the blessings of the New Jerusalem nor the horrors of hell will commence until after the last human being has made his choice: to receive God’s love, or spit on it.
And what about that enigmatic final detail? “Do not kill both her and her young on the same day.” Sheep and cattle are mortal, of course. One way or another, they will end up dead. But the spirits they represent as “mothers” will not: the Holy Spirit (being a manifestation of Yahweh) won’t ever die, and as far as scripture hints, Satan and his demons can’t be killed either—only locked up. But what is death? If our bodies are in view, it is the separation of the soul from the body; if spiritual death is being considered, it would be the separation of the spirit from the soul. And separation, in case you missed it, is the outcome of judgment.
My guess, therefore, is that this means one’s entrance into the eternal state, whether as saved or damned, does not release them from association with the spirit that indwells them. This can be either good news or bad news. If the Holy Spirit has made your soul alive (through your association with Yahshua the Messiah), that blessed life and relationship will persist into eternity.
But if you have willfully received the spirit of Satan, your spiritual torment will not cease at the “second death,” but will continue for as long as Satan’s does—forever. It may not even be so much a reflection of your own actual earthly misdeeds, but will (or can) merely be an artifact of the devil’s well-deserved and undying punishment. Be careful what (and who) you choose, my friends. Guilt by association carries the same penalty as guilt by perpetration. You don’t get “time off” just because you weren’t as competent at inflicting evil as Satan was. It’s the thought that counts.
Let’s look at another esoteric Torah rule. “If a bird’s nest happens to be before you along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, with the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely let the mother go, and take the young for yourself, that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) Here’s another unlikely scenario with a lesson attached—one God has left up to us to figure out. Again, a mother-child relationship is pictured. We’re allowed to harvest the eggs, but if we do, we’re to leave the mother hen unmolested.
If the “mother” here is once again the Holy Spirit, then the “young” she is sacrificing for our benefit is the Son of God—Yahshua, who indeed gave His life (with the Spirit’s blessing) so that we might live. But in this context, what might it mean to “take the mother with the young”? You can’t capture or kill God the way you might a bird in the field, of course. But the moral equivalent is apparently for the “takers” to try to usurp the place of God—to be hailed as providers, admired in all their fine-feathered glory, worshiped as lords of the heavens while they exploit God’s people for their own gain. These “takers” are not content to gratefully acknowledge God’s provision, but instead covet the place and power of Yahweh. And they conspire to take His place in the hearts and minds of the people who might otherwise benefit from Yahweh’s great gift by blocking others’ access to Him (since they can’t actually kill Him). Basically, these verses are a warning to those who would attempt to seize the prerogatives of God for themselves, whether through religion, politics, or commerce.
And notice something else: the instruction comes with a promise—the same promise that accompanied the Fifth Commandment. That shouldn’t be too surprising, since the precept, at its heart, is quite similar: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which Yahweh your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) Leaving the mother bird unharmed while gathering her eggs is a picture of honoring the Creator—gratefully availing ourselves of God’s sacrificial gift of salvation while revering our Maker.
The next one is, on the face of it, more easily understood. “The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness.” (Leviticus 18:7) Incest is one of those things we all intuitively know to be wrong—or at least extremely weird. It’s one of those things psychiatrists label “complexes” and use as evidence that you need to be locked up in the loony bin. From a Biblical perspective, we should understand that to “uncover one’s nakedness” is an unambiguous Hebrew euphemism for sexual relations; this is one of a whole range of sexual perversions forbidden in the Torah.
Beyond the obvious literal application (something that probably didn’t even merit mention in the Torah—although I lead a sheltered life: I could be wrong), the inevitable spiritual lesson lies just beneath the surface. Sexual relationships were designed by Yahweh to be a picture of the sort of relationship we can have with Him. As I wrote earlier, “we can be a family: fruitful, loving, and growing…. the Creator of the universe wants a partner, a collaborator, a lover, and a friend. The one thing a holy God lacks within Himself is companionship. So it’s no coincidence that God’s very first command to us was to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28).” But incest with one’s mother symbolizes something entirely different, something completely unnatural. It is the usurpation of your father’s rightful place, making it symbolically tantamount to seizing the authority and rightful place of Yahweh.
The whole idea was demonstrated, with a twist, in the case of David’s son, Absalom, who rebelled against his father the king and wanted the people to know that he had seized David’s royal authority. So as David fled from Jerusalem, Absalom consulted with one of the king’s most trusted advisors, Ahithophel. “And Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you are abhorred by your father. Then the hands of all who are with you will be strong.’ So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.” (II Samuel 16:21-22) It wasn’t Absalom’s own mother, but the principle is the same: by having sex with King David’s concubines, the rebellious prince was claiming the authority of his father.
In terms we can relate to, then, “uncovering the nakedness of one’s mother” is doing anything that tries to transfer God’s authority (which, you’ll recall, now rests entirely with the risen Yahshua—see Matthew 28:18) to yourself. I hate to say it, but the largest branch of Christianity, Roman Catholicism, does this all day long. Papal opinion is routinely given equal or greater weight than scripture; priests take it upon themselves to absolve sins and prescribe penance—something only God is authorized to do—and so forth. Repentance is in order, but the Church has been “sleeping with its mother” so long, they no longer even blush with shame. That’s not to say other individuals and organizations within nominal Christianity are guiltless in this matter. Yahweh alone is sovereign, folks.
The event that transforms a woman into a mother, of course, it childbirth. So let us explore what the Torah has to say about that. The firstborn—whether human or animal—was to be set apart to Yahweh: “Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.’” (Exodus 13:1-2) And for every birth, there was a prescribed ritual cleansing process for the mother: “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days…. When the days of her purification are fulfilled… she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then he shall offer it before Yahweh, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood…. And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.” (Leviticus 12:2, 6-8)
Childbirth wasn’t sin. In fact, it was implied in the very first commandment God ever gave mankind: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) But it was designated in the Torah as something that required cleansing (as were a whole range of bodily functions). We are reminded that two implements stood in the sanctuary courtyard—first, the altar of sacrifice (for the atonement of sin) and then, the laver (for the symbolic cleansing of one’s works and walk before God). As indicated by their relative positions in the courtyard, you can’t get “clean” until after your sins are forgiven, but neither can you enter the House of God (where light, provision, and prayer take place—ultimately leading into the very presence of Yahweh) unless your hands and feet have been washed at the bronze washbasin. That’s God’s order: salvation, then cleansing, and then fellowship.
Childbirth, according to Yahweh’s Instructions, required purification. The ritual (fraught with symbolism, as always) included two different offerings. First, a “burnt offering” (Hebrew: olah) was to be sacrificed. An olah was a voluntary sacrifice made for atonement, homage to Yahweh, or celebration before Him. Total dedication is implied, for the offering was to be completely consumed by fire—it was not eaten. The second offering was a “sin offering” (Hebrew: chata’t), something that was ordinarily brought by the guilty party when he (or she) became aware of transgression. Thus although bearing children isn’t itself a sin, it has never been done by anyone who isn’t a sinner. And bringing a new life into the world is the perfect occasion for facing that fact. Parents aren’t perfect. They’re going to need all the godly counsel they can get as they raise their children.
And what about Yahshua’s mother, Mary? Did she comply with the Law of Moses? Of course she did. “Now when the days of [Mary’s] purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’” (Luke 2:22-24) A few of factors bear mentioning:
(1) Since she brought the required sin offering, Mary was freely admitting that she was a sinner. Thus the odd notion held by some Roman Catholics that Mary must have been sinless (and is thus authorized to forgive our sins as a “Co-Redemptrix with Christ) is proven erroneous. What nobody realized until the resurrection was that Mary’s sin offering (the real one—Yahshua) had covered not only her sins, but those of all mankind.
(2) Being dirt-poor, Mary naturally took the “poor girl” option: instead of an expensive lamb for the burnt offering, she brought a turtledove or pigeon, as allowed in the Law. What she didn’t realize until much later was that she actually had brought a lamb, and didn’t know it yet—the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as John the Baptist would phrase it.
(3) What are the chances Yahweh would have gone to all the trouble of giving us these Torah insights, and then failed to ensure that there was a standing temple and a working priesthood when the time came to fulfill the prophecies implied in the precepts? A suitable temple was available for Christ’s use only from 967 to 586 B.C. and from 515 B.C. to A.D. 70. That is, a temple suitable for Messiah’s use has stood in Jerusalem for only 966 years out of almost four thousand years of Jewish history. Since Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy insists that “unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given,” the window of opportunity for the Messiah’s advent effectively closed with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Today, His mother would have nowhere to go with her sin offering and burnt offering.
One last “mother” passage from the Torah is particularly obscure. Numbers 5:11-31 details what is called “the law of jealousy.” I won’t quote the whole thing, but rest assured, it’s pretty colorful. Here’s the scenario: a wife is suspected by her husband of sexual infidelity, though there is no way to prove his suspicions. So he is to bring her to the priest, to put her through a medieval-sounding test to determine her guilt or innocence.
Quite a few symbols are involved. The jealous husband is to bring some barley meal, a minha, or grain offering. (No blood is to be shed, for no atonement is in view; it is an “offering of remembrance.”) Normally, a grain offering would come with oil and frankincense, but not this time: olive oil is indicative of the Holy Spirit, and frankincense speaks of purity through sacrifice—neither of which has any role to play in this “discovery” process. The supposed crime, sexual infidelity, is symbolic of idolatry: the giving of one’s devotion and intimacy to someone to whom it does not belong. The jealous husband is ultimately Yahweh, and the suspected wife is His people—either Israel or the church.
Here is what was supposed to happen: “The priest shall bring her near, and set her before Yahweh. The priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. Then the priest shall stand the woman before Yahweh, uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering for remembering in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that brings a curse.” The priest was also to write down the charges, and scrape the dried ink off into the “bitter water.”
“And the priest shall put her under oath, and say to the woman, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not gone astray to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be free from this bitter water that brings a curse. But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has lain with you…Yahweh make you a curse and an oath among your people, when Yahweh makes your thigh rot and your belly swell, and may this water that causes the curse go into your stomach, and make your belly swell and your thigh rot.’ Then the woman shall say, ‘Amen, so be it.’” Then she was to drink the water.
There was nothing intrinsically poisonous about the drink—it was just water with a pinch of dust and a little dried ink in it. But her guilt or innocence was to be revealed by her physical reaction to it. “If she has defiled herself and behaved unfaithfully toward her husband, that the water that brings a curse will enter her and become bitter, and her belly will swell, her thigh will rot, and the woman will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself, and is clean, then she shall be free and may conceive children.”
A few observations. (1) There’s no way the husband can win here. If his wife is guilty, she will suffer in agony (something no loving husband would want, aggrieved or not—see Matthew 1:19). But if she is innocent of the charges, she will never willingly share his bed again. (Would you?) The only “winner” here is the truth. For everyone else in the picture, there is only pain.
(2) The wife’s conscience alone determines the effect of the “bitter water” on her physical body. David discovered the same thing after his affair with Bathsheba: “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head. Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly. I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are full of inflammation, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and severely broken. I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.” (Psalm 38:3-8) See Psalm 51 as well. The symptoms may be psychosomatic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
(3) For the purposes of the parable, only a guiltless wife is capable of being fruitful, of fulfilling the role of a mother. And none of us are guiltless. We must receive and rely upon the imputed righteousness of Christ.
You may be saying, did this ever happen? There’s no record in scripture of any husband confronting his suspicions about his wife’s adulteries in this way. What’s the point?
The point is that apparently, Yahweh did.
The year was 1033 A.D. Jerusalem was held by Muslims, as it had been ever since the late seventh century. But there was a large Jewish minority living there in dhimmitude, and the rabbis even maintained an academy in the city. Also, Jerusalem (the place where Yahweh had chosen to make His name abide—see Deuteronomy 16:11, etc.) had been a tourist destination for Catholic pilgrims for centuries, but in 1033, their numbers swelled due to the fact that this marked the one-thousandth anniversary of Christ’s passion.
But at this time, Jerusalem was shaken by a large earthquake (not an uncommon occurrence—the place is riddled with faults, one running right up the Valley of Kidron, in fact). This particular earthquake, however, affected the Well of Gihon, the sole water source for the old city, located in the very shadow of the temple mount. Its waters were rendered poisonous, a condition that persisted for the next forty years or so.
For those attuned to the imagery of Numbers 5, the mention of “bitter waters” in connection with the “dust from the floor of the sanctuary” begins ringing very loud bells. For those willing to see it, both Israel and the Church were being accused of unfaithfulness by their God, their “Husband.” Not only had Judaism taken a serious left turn away from the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets under the charismatic leadership of Rabbi Akiba early in the second century, the church at this time had reached its low point, characterized prophetically by the church of Thyatira, to whom Christ had said, “Indeed, I will cast her [the false prophetess “Jezebel,” who had seduced the Church into idolatry] into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:22)
Faced with their “bitter water” problem, the rabbis packed up and moved their operation to Damascus. Meanwhile, the Islamic warlords raised the jizyah tax they were charging on non-Muslim residents of the area, forcing out the last remaining Jewish farmers and tradesmen. The Christian pilgrims stayed away in droves. This was the cultural equivalent of “Her belly will swell, her thigh will rot, and the woman will become a curse among her people.” It should not have come to this for either the “wife of Yahweh,” Israel, or the “bride of Christ,” the church. But they had been warned of the consequences of spiritual adultery 2,500 years before. It would take centuries for the church to dig its way out of the pit of idolatry into which they had fallen. Israel, alas, is still there, though something tells me they won’t be lost for too much longer.
The significance of the fulfillment of the Law of the Jealous Husband in 1033 cannot be overestimated. Every one-thousand years since the fall of Adam, something extraordinary has happened to mark the time on Yahweh’s redemption schedule, like the hour being chimed on God’s celestial grandfather clock. The fall, the flood, the almost-sacrifice of Isaac, the building of the temple, the passion of the Christ, and the Numbers 5 wake-up call all happened (as far as we can tell) on exact one-thousand-year intervals. The next millennial milestone will fall very shortly now—in 2033.
I expect the bi-millennium of the Messiah’s passion to arrive as an epiphany of “Biblical proportions” on the part of Israel. It is prophesied hundreds of times in scripture: Israel will (belatedly) return to their God and receive their returning King. And finally, she will assume her role as the mother of nations—fruitful, comforting, counseling, and compelling. Zion will serve as “home base” for the entire world, the center of life on earth during the Millennial reign of Christ.
I think I smell cookies baking.