Early in Deuteronomy, God’s tender care as Israel’s father is expressed in language that sets the stage for the rest of the book.
“Yahweh your God who goeth before you, he will fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that Yahweh thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came unto this place” (Deut. 1:30–31).
The statement that “Yahweh thy God bare thee” connects with Moses’ words in verse 9 and in verse 12: “I am not able to bear . . .” and “How can I myself alone bear . . .” The burden of leading Israel was more than Moses could handle, but Yahweh bore the children of Israel as a Father carries a little child. Thus, at the very beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, a threefold reference to bearing and a contrast between Moses’ inability and Yahweh’s sufficiency—demonstrated by His powerful defeat of the enemies and protection in the wilderness—highlights Yahweh’s gracious care for His people.
The context in which this remarkable statement occurs brings out the deep contrast between Yahweh’s kind care and Israel’s stubborn rebellion. In the larger paragraph, Moses is reminding the children of Israel of their climactic act of apostasy and unbelief at Kadesh-barnea (Deut. 1:19–33). As a rebellious son, they refused to follow Moses into the Promised Land and determined instead to appoint a new leader to take them back to Egypt (Num. 14:4). The statement of God’s love and care for Israel was part of Moses’ attempt to persuade them to trust Him and follow Him into the land of Canaan. Moses reminded Israel that in the Exodus God “carried” them like a man “carries” his son from Egypt to Sinai—in other words, the Father’s grace had brought the rebellious son to where he was.
Thus, when the statement of the Father/son metaphor first appears in Deuteronomy, the Father’s tender care for His son—“Yahweh thy God did bare thee, as a man bares his son”—is specifically set against the unbelief and rebellion of Israel.
Israel is the son whom the Father carried in His arms from Egypt to Kadesh-barnea, but who responded in unbelief, a rebellious son who grew up to be worthless. The allusion to Israel’s determination to reject Yahweh and Moses points to the narrative in Numbers 14, where the statement “Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt” (Num. 14:4) constitutes decisive rejection of the Abrahamic covenant, the Promised Land, and the special favor shown to the children of Israel at Sinai where Yahweh declared them to be His treasure, chosen from all the nations of the world (Exod. 19:5–6).
The first generation rejected the love and blessing that was graciously bestowed upon them for the sake of Abraham, so they had to die in the wilderness because of their own sins. They also died as a lesson to generations to come, to teach them the fear of Yahweh. But the sad reality that Yahweh told Moses was that in spite of the wilderness lessons, even the generations to come would be disobedient sons (Deut. 31:16–18).
The basic paradigm for the whole book is set out in the very beginning of Deuteronomy. Both Yahweh’s fatherly care and Israel’s rebellious heart appear in the very first paragraph of the book where Moses recites the history of the Exodus generation.
This post was adapted from Hear My Son: An Examination of the Fatherhood of Yahweh in Deuteronomy by Ralph Allan Smith (Athanasius Press, 2011).