Exploring the Multiple Metaphors for God in Shirat Haazinu

from Exploring the Multiple Metaphors for God in Shirat Haazinu, TheTorah.org, by Dr. Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss

Theology C S Lewis

Parashat Haazinu tells of a relationship gone awry. According to the poem at the heart of Deuteronomy 32 (referred to as “the Song of Moses” or, after its first word, “Shirat Haazinu”), God established a special relationship with the people Israel and lovingly watched over and cared for them; yet they rejected God and turned to other deities. Enraged at their betrayal, God resolves to decimate Israel. But God relents after realizing that the other nations might misinterpret Israel’s demise as a testament to their own power, not as a divinely inflicted punishment; so God decides instead to avenge the Israelites against their enemies.

One of the remarkable things about this poetic composition is the many different metaphors the poet uses for God. In the span of just fifteen verses (vv. 4-18), we find metaphors of God as a rock, father, eyelid, eagle, and mother. Exploring these metaphors teaches us about the poem’s perception of God’s nature and God’s relationship to Israel, and about the way metaphor works in the Bible….

◊ God as an Eagle
Verse 11 introduces another divine metaphor, describing God as an eagle watching over its young: “Like an eagle who rouses its nest, over his young he hovers; he spread his wings, he took him, he carried him on his pinion.”

Some scholars argue that the verb (יעיר) translated here as “rouses” may mean “to protect.” That reading further strengthens the connection between the seemingly different metaphors juxtaposed in vv. 10-11, for the eyelid and eagle analogies both emphasize God’s protection and care for Israel during the early phase of their relationship.

◊ God as a Nursing Mother
The poem goes on to recount how God brought Israel to the Promised Land and provided food for them: “He set them atop the heights of the land, and he ate the produce of the field. He nursed him with honey from the crag and oil from the flinty rock” (v. 13).

Some translations mask the maternal metaphor by rendering the last verb in this verse as “fed” instead of “nursed” (for example, see the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh). Nevertheless, the Hebrew verb י-נ-ק clearly establishes an image of God as a nursing mother who lovingly, attentively, and generously nourishes her newborn child (also see Numbers 11:12 and Isaiah 43:3-4; 49:15). This metaphor further enhances the picture of God’s devoted care for Israel communicated by the previous two metaphors, which makes Israel’s later defiance all the more astonishing.

See the full article here http://thetorah.com/exploring-the-multiple-metaphors-for-god/

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