Read: Matthew 6:9-13
Then you [Moses] shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son…’ (Exodus 4:22)
The Jews in Jesus’ day were living under an oppressive Roman rule. In fact, since they had returned from their exile in Babylon, they had lived under the oppressive rule of one empire after another. And the whole time, the Israelite people had chafed under this oppression. They longed for the prophesied Messiah to appear and rescue them from their oppression. At various times, there were even actual rebellions – the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is the celebration of one, and Jesus’ disciple Simon was nicknamed “zealot,” meaning that at some point in his life, he was ideologically aligned with a Jewish rebellion against Rome. (Luke 6:15)
When Jesus instructed his disciples to start their prayers with “Our Father,” it’s likely that at least some of the people listening - the ones waiting for the Messiah to come rescue them from Rome - were reminded of the Egyptian Exodus story, because it’s the very first passage in the Old Testament that refers to the idea of God as father.
The Israelites had been slaves for 400 years when God called Moses to lead the people out of slavery. Crushed and oppressed, God used one man to lead them to freedom. He led them to a land where they could be free, and freely worship the God who had rescued them. At one time they were not a distinct people with a distinct land, but God rescued them, and gave them an identity and a place in the world. And this whole rescue, this “exodus” from slavery in Egypt, started with God sending Moses to Pharaoh and saying “Israel is my firstborn son.” (Exodus 4:22)
By starting the prayer with Our Father, Jesus was not only promising relationship, he was also promising rescue. Rescue not from the oppression of Rome as some people thought, but as it turns out, from the much more insidious oppression of our own sinful nature.
However, even if no one in the audience caught the promise of rescue in those words, the idea of God as father was certainly shocking to anyone listening. How could someone dare to claim something so intimate of one so holy?
“In ancient Israel, Yahweh (God) remained unapproachable. No one dared utter His personal name. Indeed, when reading scripture aloud, the Israelites, preferred – and still do – to substitute various alternatives rather than possibly offend Him with mispronunciation….The God of Israel, the Lord, the Holy One, remained transcendent….no one in Israel would have expected or dared speak of a ‘personal relationship with God.’ Such familiarity was unimaginable.”
-David Timms, Living the Lord’s Prayer
Yet, God wants that relationship with us! And it is how we start The Lord’s Prayer. Our Father. We’ll look at that more in depth in a couple of days.
What has your relationship with “God as father” been? What struggles have you experienced accepting the idea of “God as father”?
What sorts of feelings come up for you when you think of God as father? Make a list.