Glory, mercy and the womb

God’s manifest presence builds to an unprecedented crescendo of revelation to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, in spite of human weakness and unfaithfulness (see Exodus 31-34). In the midst of this weighty interchange between Moses and the Almighty, Moses entreats, “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). “Show me the fullness of who you are.”

God responds by calling Moses up the mountain again. Then, while Moses remains hidden in the cleft of the rock, the Lord descends from heaven and passes by, climactically proclaiming the name of the Lord, proclaiming the fullness of His nature … “YHVH, YHVH merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty …” (Exodus 34:6).

The opening word with which the Master of the Universe describes Himself is worthy of special attention. Rachum can be translated as merciful or compassionate. It has the same root letters as the word for womb (rechem). God proclaims who He is, and the first thing out of His mouth is “I am like a mother having mercy and compassion on the baby in her womb!” We could paraphrase the word and hear God calling Himself the “wombed one.” That’s how the grammatical form sounds in Hebrew.

This is central to God’s identity. God is characterized by the same loving compassion that nurtures the tiny, invisible, developing baby, though the baby has no achievements, no good deeds in its present state, no earned honor. At conception a baby exists purely as potential, and the baby’s potential has no chance of being realized except for a prolonged period of receiving total provision, care and protection. As adults, can we still allow ourselves the luxury of this level of dependence on Him? This level of neediness?

Even those of us who had amazing parents, probably did not get the full download of this with our mother’s milk. The embryos that we once were, existed in total dependence in our mothers’ wombs and even after exiting the womb. Can we overstate such dependence? Can we outgrow it? Most relevantly, can we recover it, together with a continual awareness of God’s care for us?

As we internalize who God is, we will begin to understand: “I am loved unconditionally, even if I stumble.” “I am loved without measure” means “I am not under pressure to prove that I am better than anyone else.” It means, “I don’t have to exaggerate to gain respect. I don’t have to put others down to feel good about myself.” This begets healthy self-confidence born of deeply knowing that I am loved, as opposed to desperately striving to prove that I am likable.

As an overflow of receiving God’s mercy toward us, we can become those who show mercy to our “fellow neighbor” human beings, who are often living out of their “wounded-ness,” out of their “womb-lessness,” out of their feeling of being abandoned in a harsh, cold world (Luke 10:37). We can allow ourselves to be moved with compassion toward them (Matthew 9:36).

But the people of Zion said: The LORD has abandoned us! He has forgotten us. Can a woman forget her nursing baby, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Even if mothers should forget, I will never forget you.“- Isaiah 49:14-15

This article originally appeared in Oasis newsletter, August 2017, and reposted with permission.