The Bible describes God in many different ways. His characteristics include:
God also has numerous titles, including, from the Tanach:
• Adonai: “Lord, master, owner”. Stresses man’s relationship to God as his master, authority, and provider (Genesis 18:3; 40:1; Exodus 21:1-6; Joshua 5:14; 1 Samuel 1:15).
• Elohim: “strong one”. The plural form of El, when used of God, refers to His sovereignty, creative work and mighty work for Israel (Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 5:23; 8:15; Isaiah 45:18; Psalm 68:7).
• El Elyon: “The Most High God”. Stresses God’s strength, sovereignty, and
supremacy (Genesis 14:19; Psalm 9:2; Daniel 7:18, 22, 25).
• El Shaddai: “God Almighty”. Stresses God’s loving supply and comfort,
alternatively, His power as the Almighty one standing on a mountain and who corrects and chastens (Genesis 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Exodus 6:31; Psalm 91:1, 2).
• El Olam: “The Everlasting God”. Emphasizes God’s constancy and inexhaustibility (Genesis 16:13).
• Yahweh ( יַהְוֶה – יהוה ): From the verb “to exist, be”. Stresses God’s independent selfexistence (Genesis 4:3; Exodus 6:3 (cf. 3:14); 3:12)
Yahweh is used descriptively in in own right, with:
• Yahweh Avinu: “The Lord our Father”. Portraying God as the father of His people (Isaiah 64:8).
• Yahweh Elohim Israel: “The Lord, the God of Israel” Identifies Yahweh as the God of Israel in contrast to the false gods of the nations (Judges 5:3; Isaiah 17:6).
• Yahweh Nissi:“The Lord is my Banner”. Stressing that God is the rallying point, means of victory and the one who fights for His people (Exodus 17:15).
• Yahweh Qadash: “The Lord your Sanctifier”. Portraying God as our means of sanctification or as the one who sets believers apart for His purposes (Exodus 31:13).
• Yahweh Ro’i: “The Lord my Shepherd”. Portraying God as the Shepherd who cares for His people as a shepherd cares for the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 23:1).
• Yahweh Sabbaoth:“The Lord of Hosts”. Portraying God as the commander of the armies of heaven (1 Samuel 1:3; 17:45; Isaiah 54:5).
• Yahweh Shalom:“The Lord is Peace”. Portraying God as the means of our wellbeing, peace, and rest (Judges 6:24).
• Yahweh Shammah: “The Lord is there”. Portraying God’s personal presence in the millennial kingdom (Ezekiel 48:35).
• Yahweh Tsidkenu: “The Lord our Righteousness”. Portraying God as the means of our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6).
• Yahweh Yireh: “The Lord will provide”. Stressing God’s provision for His people (Genesis 22:14).
God as Father in the Tanach – To the People of Israel:
• Deuteronomy 32:6 – Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?
• Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
• Isaiah 64:8 – But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
• Jeremiah 3:4 – Have you not just now called to me, ‘My father, you are the friend of my youth. • Jeremiah 3:19 – “‘I said, How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me.
• Jeremiah 31:9 – With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
• Malachi 1:6 – A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
• Malachi 2:10 – Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?
God as Father in the Tanach – To particular people or groups
• David (Psalm 89:26)
• Solomon (2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13; 22:10; 28:6)
• The fatherless (Psalm 68:5)
• Jews and Gentiles who are faithful to the Messiah but are rejected by apostates of Israel (Isaiah 63:16)
The People of Israel as God’s Sons and Daughters in the Tanach:
• Exodus 4:22b-23a – Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”
• Deuteronomy 14:1a – You are the sons of the Lord your God
• Deuteronomy 32:19 – The Lord saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters
• Psalm 2:7 – I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
• Isaiah 1:2 – Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.
• Isaiah 43:6 – I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth.
• Isaiah 45:11 – Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
• Jeremiah 3:14 – Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.
• Jeremiah 3:22 – “Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.” “Behold, we come to you, for you are the Lord our God.
• Jeremiah 31:20 – Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord.
• Ezekiel 21:10b – You have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood.
• Hosea 1:10 – Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
• Hosea 11:1 – When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
4 Tanach passages liken God’s relationship with Israel to that of a father & child:
• Deuteronomy 1:31 – and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’
Deuteronomy 8:5 – Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.
Proverbs 3:12 – for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Malachi 3:17 – “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.
God as Father in the B’rit Chadashah (the New Covenant)
• 184 references to God as ‘Father’ in the Gospels, 175 of them by Jesus (111 in John’s Gospel!)
• 71 other references to God as ‘Father’ in the New Covenant
• Giving a grand total of 255 such references
• The New Covenant references are almost always applied to a personal relationship between individuals and God, and not merely to fatherhood in the impersonal biological or collective sense that characterises the Tanach
The New Covenant shows Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray
• Matthew 6:9-13 – 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our
debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
• Luke 11:2-4 – 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
The Lord’s Prayer depicts God as:
• protector, and
We should relate to God in all of these ways but, in telling us how to orient ourselves in this prayer, Jesus also taught us which conception of God should govern our lives: Father.
Jesus repeatedly models this orientation to God as Father in the numerous instances we have of Him praying (e.g. Matthew 11:25; 26:39 & 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 10:21, 22:42, 23:46; John 11:41; 12:28; 17:1).
Jesus’ relationship with his Father is the ideal father:son relationship
• The Father says of Jesus “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 & 17:5 – see also Mark 1:11 & 9:7 and Luke 3:22).
• A relationship so close Jesus could say:
o The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. (John 3:35)
o the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (John 5:19);
o For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. (John 5:20);
o I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
o For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. (John 12:49)
o If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:7)
o Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)
o I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father (John 14:31)
• As the ideal son, we find in Jesus a son who was totally committed to doing his father’s will, even at the cost of his own life (Luke 22:42)
Our relationship with God as Father derives from adoption and new birth
• John 1:12 – But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
• Romans 8:14-15 – 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”
• Galatians 4:7 – So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir
• Ephesians 1:5 – He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will
• 1 John 3:1 – See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God
But how should we relate to God as ‘Father’?
• At one extreme, one might adopt Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of an accusing and punishing father god
• At the other extreme, one might adopt Sigmund Freud’s notion of a protective and providential father god.
• Both are idolatrous.
• As the French Christian philosopher, Paul Ricoeur (who labelled Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx as ‘the maters of suspicion’) wrote about false conceptions of God, the idol “must die so that a symbol of being may begin to speak”.
A biblical conception of God as father
• The Matthean form of the invocation ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ emphasizes God’s transcendence. Luke’s simpler form ‘Father’ emphasizes God’s immanence.
• Taken together, the two forms show that we are being
called to intimacy with God but not casual familiarity.
• Not only is God our heavenly Father but the Lord’s Prayer recalls that He is also our sovereign, lord, provider, redeemer and protector.
• If we don’t keep all of these characterisitcs in mind, we risk creating our own caricature god; in other words, yet another idol.
The New Covenant mostly describes Christians’ relationship with God in terms of the Christians’ sonship and as a result of their adoption:
• Matthew 5:9 – Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
• Matthew 5:44-45 – 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
• Romans 8:14-23 – 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we
are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may
also be glorified with him. … 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. …. 23 And not only the creation,
but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
• Romans 9:26 – “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
• 2 Corinthians 6:18 – and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the LORD Almighty.
• Galatians 3:26 – for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
• Galatians 4:4-7 – 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who
were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
• Ephesians 4:13 – until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the
stature of the fullness of Christ,
• Hebrews 2:10 – For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of
their salvation perfect through suffering.
• Hebrews 12:5-8 – 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the LORD disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are
left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
• 1 John 3:1-10 – 1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the
world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we
know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. … 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and
who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
• 1 John 5:1-2 – 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has
been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
• Revelation 21:7 – The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
A biblical model for father:son relations
In the Hebrew family, the father had supreme rights over his son. He:
• had the power of life and death over his son (Genesis 22:9-10, Judges 11:30-31, 2 Kings 16:2-3; 17:13-17; 21:1-6, Psalm 106:37-38)
• could expect the utmost respect and obedience from his son (Exodus 20:12; 21:15 & 17, Leviticus 19:3a; 20:9, Deuteronomy 5:16; 27:16)
• could arrange or refuse the son’s marriage (Genesis 24:2-4; 29:15-30, Nehemiah 10:30)
• had property rights over his son, who could be:
o seized for debt (2 Kings 4:1; Job 24:9); and
o sold into slavery (Exodus 21:7).
In relation to his son, the ideal father in the Torah unilaterally:
• loves (Genesis 22:2; 44:20; Proverbs 13:24)
• loves with tender affection and compassion (Psalm 103:13)
• carries, supports & sustains (Deuteronomy 1:31)
• delights in (Proverbs 3:12)
• raises (Isaiah 1:2)
• rears (Isaiah 1:2)
• instructs wisely (Proverbs 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1, 11,21; 4:10, 20; 5:1, 20; etc.)
• teaches (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
• teaches God’s word diligently (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
• tutors (Psalm 78:5), especially concerning God’s faithfulness (Isaiah 38:19)
• corrects (Deuteronomy 21:18; Proverbs 3:12)
• chastens (Deuteronomy 8:5; 21:18-21; Proverbs 19:18; 29:17)
• restrains from blasphemy (1 Samuel 3:13)
The model son’s relationship with his father is characterised by his unilateral:
• reverence (Leviticus 19:3)
• honour (Deuteronomy 5:16; Malachi 1:6)
• devotion (Proverbs 23:26)
• boasting (Proverbs 17:6) of his father
• support against his father’s adversaries (Psalm 127:3-5)
Other attributes of the model son include that he:
• cultivates a moral character (Proverbs 23:19)
• reverence (Proverbs 24:21) for God and the king
• obeys God’s law (Proverbs 28:7)
• refuses enticements to sin (Proverbs 1:10)
• does not despise (Proverbs 3:11) God’s discipline
• does not loathe (Proverbs 3:11) God’s rebuke, correction, reproof, punishment, or chastisement
• does not depart (Proverbs 5:7) from his father’s words
• is neither stubborn nor rebellious (Deuteronomy 21:18)
The expressions of the unilateral attributes of the model father:son relationship together with its bilateral aspects, can be summarised as reflecting:
• A father who dearly loves and delights in his son, cares for him, disciplines him when necessary, shares his insights and wisdom with his son, and so on.
• A son who reveres his father and is devoted to him, paying attention to what he says and willingly doing whatever he asks.
• Although the father is said to love the son (Psalm 103:13), not a single Torah reference exists for a son loving his father – except in terms of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)
• Only in the New Covenant, is there a reference – and even then only one – that talks explicitly of a son loving his father, and it concerns Jesus, the Son, loving His Father: John 14:31.
Orphans –vs– Adopted Sons
Jesus promised his disciples “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
Orphans is what we’d be had God simply chosen to forgive us our sins and take our relationship with Him no further.
When we understand that God could have :
• left us in our unregenerate sinful state (as apparently happened to the angels who rebelled) but didn’t; or
• forgiven our sins, then simply left us in no better state than:
o the angels who didn’t rebel (i.e. giving us a status as servants), or
o the animal kingdom (so that we simply live out our lives here on earth and, when we die, cease to exist) the significance of adoption into God’s family becomes all the more apparent.
God as Father – a New Relationship
• Having God as one’s Father changes the whole nature of the relationship. In society, there are basically two types of relationship: transactional and familial.
o In a transactional relationship, if one does well/delivers the goods one is accepted/receives the rewards.
o In a familial relationship, it’s the other way around: performance is based on the fact of acceptance and one’s desire to perform derives from that acceptance.
• So it is with relationships between people and God.
• Our God cares for us and hears us because of who we are to Him, not because of what we do for Him.
• Of course, just as in this life those who have been adopted take time to grow into their new relationship, so too do we in our new relationship with God. It takes a lifetime!
God’s fatherhood and the Christian’s sonship is not a matter of biology; it is a matter of revelation and relationship. One does well to remember the implications of Ephesians 3:14-15, that “Human fatherhood is a reflection of the divine, not vice-versa”. (Strong, Systematic Theology, 1907, p. 334)
The Lord’s Prayer depicts God as father, sovereign, lord, provider, creditor, protector, and deliverer. One should relate to God in all of the ways mentioned but, in telling us how we should both orient ourselves and address God in this prayer, Jesus also taught us which conception of God should predominate in our lives: Father.
But let’s not concoct for ourselves an idolatrous conception of god in the form of Nietzsche’s accusing and punishing father god; or Freud’s notion of a protective and providential father god.
Let’s also not adopt either an idolatrous conception of a ‘father’ god who is so transcendent that we can’t relate to Him, or one whose immanence descends into casual familiarity.
The biblical model of God our Father is a comprehensive one.
He is a God who dearly loves and delights in each of us as His sons, cares or us, disciplines us when necessary, and shares His knowledge and wisdom with us.
In turn, we should revere and love God our Father, be devoted to him, pay close attention to His Word and willingly do whatever He asks.