Bear Cubs and Eagle's Wings - Bible Study

by Tom Bulick and Stephanie Thomas on

Bible Studies 1 document
Numbers 11:12 Hosea 11:3–4 Deuteronomy 32:10–11 Hosea 13:8 Isaiah 49:15–16

  • Bear Cubs and Eagle's Wings | The Scrolls | May 12, 2024

    Copyright Central Bible Church

The Scrolls is a weekly Bible study written by pastors and other leaders at Central Bible Church, based on that week’s sermon topic. Use The Scrolls as a personal Bible study tool, for family devotions, and for small group discussions. You can read part of it below. The downloadable PDF also includes discussion questions, more in-depth commentary, end notes, and a kids’ page designed for families to study the topic together. This lesson goes with the sermon "Bear Cubs and Eagle's Wings."

“God is spirit”—that’s what Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:24)—which implies that God does not have a material body, a notion confirmed by Jesus’ words to his disciples following his resurrection. One theologian writes: “When he appeared to them in his glorified body, they could hardly believe their eyes. They thought he was a ghost, an immaterial spirit. Jesus showed them his hands and feet, and to reassure them that they were not seeing a spirit or imagining something, he said (Luke 24:39), ‘See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ A similar sort of disjunction between flesh (mate-rial) and spirit (immaterial) appears in Isa. 31:3 as Isaiah pleads with his people not to fear the Egyptians but to trust in God. For after all, ‘the Egyptians are men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit’ (niv). These phrases set up parallel antitheses between men and God on the one hand, and flesh and spirit on the other. God is not man and spirit is not flesh. Men and horses are flesh, but God is spirit” (John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him, 216, italics added).

As to his essence, God is pure spirit without matter and hence invisible. Unlike human beings, he does not have a physical body (i.e., he is incorporeal), which means God is neither male nor female—even though male and female imagery is used to describe him. How then are passages that speak of God’s body parts, e.g., “hands” (Ex 3:20; Dt 33:3; Ps 139:10; Isa 65:2; Heb 1:10; 10:31), “eyes” (1Ki 8:29; 2Ch 16:9; Pr 15:3; Am 9:8; Ze 4:10; 12:4), “ears” (Ne 1:6; Isa 37:17; 59:1; Ps 34:15), “face” (Ge 19:13; Ps 17:15; 34:16; 80:3; Ex 33:11; Nu 12:8), to be understood? Such references are anthropomorphic figures of speech that speak of some divine attribute or action in terms that employ human body parts. “Since we know how those physical parts function in the human body, we understand that the writer is drawing an analogy between what humans do in virtue of those parts of their physical body and what God is and does” (Feinberg, 221).

When it comes to imagery used to describe God, such as, “father” (Hos 11:1; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Jer 31:9; Mal 3:17), “husband” (Isa 54:5; Jer 3:14, 20; 31:32; Hos 3:1-3), and “friend” (Jer 3:4; 2Ch 20:7; Isa 41:8), the feminine images are the least familiar. The same theologian cites the following Old Testament examples: “God is also characterized metaphorically as mother. In Deut 32:18 the Jews are accused of neglecting the rock who begot them and forgetting the God who gave them birth. Isaiah speaks of a coming day and records God’s word to Israel (Isa 66:13): ‘As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.’ In Isa 49:14-15 we see that though Israel thought God had forsaken her, God responds by asking, ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.’ God’s love for his people is likened to a mother’s love for her child nursing at her breast. See also Isa 42:14, where the Lord says that things will change for Israel: ‘I have kept silent for a long time, I have kept still and restrained Myself. Now like a woman in labor I will groan, I will both gasp and pant.’ And Jesus likens his desire for communion with Israel to the way a mother hen gathers her chicks (Matt 23:37)” (Feinberg, 56-57, italics added).

These images do not speak of God’s gender; he is neither male nor female. They do, however, describe his behavior in gendered terms that express how he relates to his people—as a father, a mother, a husband, and a friend.    

Central Message of the Text: 

The Lord is often portrayed in feminine maternal terms in the Old Testament to show his love, concern, care, compassion, and loyalty to his people.

Family Talk:

On good days we take the best of our parents into our marriage, and on bad days the worst. I think this is also true for parenting. I looked at my parents and sifted out the bad but clung to the good. I had a pretty concrete idea of what kind of mom I wanted to be and set up a solid plan for myself. Then I had kids. I remember saying I didn’t want my kids watching lots of TV; then I figured out Elmo was a fabulous babysitter, and I could get a shower. I was a latchkey kid and didn’t want my kids to spend a lot of time home alone; then I realized the beauty of going to the grocery store unattended. Every time I drew a line in the sand about kids’ expected behaviors and personal parenting style, things would happen that forced me to recognize why my parents did what they did. After my fourth child was born, I remember calling my mom and telling her how sorry I was for all the pain I caused her as a child and especially as a teenager. Being a mom isn’t easy, but it brings joy for which there are no words. We’re vigilant advocates, calendar queens, loudest in the cheering section, fierce protectors and the first to offer a hug and a Band-Aid. This tenderness a mother has for her child is an expression of God’s good character. Moms, it can be a challenge, but worth it. Keep up the good work of showing God’s love to your kids.