“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is My son, My firstborn.’” (Exodus 4:22)
“For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us. You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.” (Isaiah 63:16)
“But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)
“When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” (Hosea 11:1)
What are we to learn about God as Father in the Old Testament? Rarely referring to the Lord as Father, the father-son motif is a more developed reflection of Israel’s relationship with God. Deeply embedded within their historical and theological framework, Israel’s identification with their God is pictured through a familial relationship. It was God who promised to deliver His children out of the land of Egypt. Because Pharaoh refused to liberate the children of Israel, the tenth plaque was the final warning to Pharaoh. Israel is God’s firstborn son chosen from all other nations. Not because of their size for they were small in number, but God graciously chose the people of Israel because of His compassion and mercy.
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 7:6-8
As with each of the other plaques that the Lord of Israel was greater than any of the Egyptian gods, God sent the angel of death to visit the land of Egypt. Because Pharaoh refused to free Israel, God’s firstborn son, God would take Egypt’s firstborn child. Every firstborn son in every Egyptian home did not escape the divine judgment. Establishing the first Passover, the Hebrews followed Moses’ instructions by placing blood on their doorpost, and when the “slayer” came over the land, He passed over each Hebrew home because of the blood that protected that home. The Passover became the historical catalyst by which Israel identifies with God as their Creator and Father.
In addition to historical earmarks to the father-son motif, there are theological overtones within the relationship. The book of Deuteronomy illustrates that the love between Israel and their God must be expressed through obedience to the covenantal treaty between the two parties. Dennis J. McCarthy (“Notes on the Love of God in Deuteronomy and the Father-Son Relationship between Yahweh and Israel,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 27: 144-47) produced a short article explaining how the relationship between God and Israel and its covenantal treaty are two sides of the same coin. Verses in Deuteronomy demonstrate the care, provision, protection, and discipline of the Lord to his people:
“The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:30-31)
“Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.” (Deuteronomy 8:5)
“Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.” (Deuteronomy 32:6)