Carried From the Womb
Mothering a child is the most divine thing I have ever done. There is no other endeavor that has drawn me closer to the Lord or nearer to His love. When my first daughter was born, I remember exclaiming to my friend, “No one ever told me! No one ever told me how much I would love her – how this would change me.” She paused and, with tears in her own eyes, replied, “How could we?” And she was right. There are hardly words. An entire world of men can only passively understand what it means when the Lord says:
“Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
-Isaiah 46: 3-4 (Note 1)
I have used similar language to appeal to my daughter: “Helen, listen to me! I’m your mother! I was the one who carried you for nine months and then gave birth to you.” She may roll her eyes, but this same maternal authority can be especially comforting in times of heartache: “Sweetheart, I love you. I know you. You are my girl. I am your mommy. No matter what, I will always be here for you. I will always love you.” (Note 1)
Drawing upon the timeless, universal symbolism of maternal love, the Savior teaches us of His love. Like a woman brings and then nurtures a child in the world, the Lord brings us into a newness of life through His power of deliverance, as described in both the account of the Exodus and of His Atonement. (Note 2)
Deliverance: The Exodus
The scriptural account of the Exodus begins with a small group of powerful women: rebellious midwives, a brave mother, a resourceful sister, and a compassionate adoptive mother. When the new Pharaoh commanded that male Israelite babies should be killed at birth to preempt a political threat, the midwives “feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them.” At that, Pharaoh told his soldiers to cast the infant boys into the river.
One of the daughters of Levi, surely at great personal risk, decided that she would hide her baby boy as long as she could. At three months of age, she entrusted him to the providence of God, putting him afloat in a hand-made vessel near the river’s brink. Remembering my own babies at that age, I imagine that Moses, too, had fingers in tight fists, soft fuzzy hair sprouting on his head, and sleepy eyes that opened to look into his mother’s as she nursed him for what she thought was the last time. To consider the pain that she must have endured (as well as the tragic legacy of the mothers whose babies were killed) is agonizing.
The boy was found by the daughter of Pharaoh at the river’s edge. She had compassion and adopted him, knowing that he was a Hebrew. At the urging of the babe’s sister, she asked his own mother to take him home and nurse him until he was older. Oh, the angels must have wept with the mother that day as she nursed her baby anew! And how those same angels must have rejoiced over the daughter of Pharaoh, who extended the covenant of maternal love with such tender mercy.
Reflecting on this story, I feel a sense of sisterhood with these women. They displayed spiritual backbone that transcended the world they lived in. They were scrappy and determined and brave.
Though distinct from one another in status, education, and tradition, these women were nevertheless complicit in their defiance of an abhorrent law. The bond that instantly connected them was forged of their instinct for life, for compassion, and for love.
Have we not all, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends, gathered at times of birth to celebrate new life and to sustain it? Does not this maternal love, shared by this circle of women, rightfully preface the Exodus? Is not this love the beginning of redemption?
Indeed, God’s mercy towards the children of Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness is frequently represented in maternal language. (Note 3) Deuteronomy 4:31 says: “(For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” The Hebrew for “The LORD” in this verse and others of similar nature is El rahum, which is rooted in the noun rahem or “womb.” Thus the symbol of the Redeemer, the merciful, forgiving, and loving Lord, is that of the womb which holds, carries, nourishes, and protects the growing baby (see also Isaiah 54:7). Likewise, throughout the infancy of the Israelites in the wilderness, God sheltered them, fed them, cupped them in a loving hand, carried them, and led them with an outstretched arm. His everlasting covenant with His people is described in terms of covering, washing, clothing, and nourishing. Traditionally considered the mundane chores of a housewife, we learn that these acts are truly the exalted and divine manifestations of compassionate love. (Note 4)
Deliverance: The Redemption
Even as the Exodus revealed the Lord’s “power of deliverance,” providing a template of the Lord’s faithfulness, so, too, is the symbol of maternal deliverance used in spiritual terms. It is the Lord’s way to describe the process of redemption through His infinite atonement. He who was anointed to “preach deliverance to the captives,” came to show us that sin brings death and captivity, while redemption brings new life. Like a mother carries the weight of her child, Christ offered Himself to carry the weight of our weakness, sorrow, and sin. He says, “take, eat, this is my body,” much as a mother soothes her hungry child. In the Garden and at Golgotha, Christ felt the pain of self-sacrifice and suffered the scars of bringing us forth. Through water, Spirit, and blood (like the emblems of our physical birth), we are born again, becoming new creatures. As with any infant, we cannot deliver ourselves. We must be nursed and carried and comforted. We are transformed by His love, becoming His children. Indeed, rebirth is not the limit of His love. He gathers us, as a mother hen; protects us, as a mother bear; and teaches us to fly, as a mother eagle. And when we are rebellious, ungrateful, and forgetful, we rely on the “tender mercies” of the divine womb to stir our Lord to forgiveness and compassion. (Note 5)
Says our Lord: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget.”
Here is a question that appears to be posed not to eons of men, but directly to women, who are uniquely qualified to answer.
Can a woman forget her sucking child? We know that it is nearly physically impossible to do so! A sucking child binds the mother to it as surely as the mother, in nursing, binds the child to her. She literally aches to be relieved of the milk and nourish her baby. Is there any other symbol that could resonate so strongly with God’s daughters, the mothers of the world? What other metaphor could give us a greater understanding of how our Savior longs to nourish us with milk and honey without price, to calm and soothe our troubled souls, to strengthen our feeble knees, and to bring us up, even unto a fulness? He labors with us, even as a woman in travail, preparing the world for the final deliverance from sin and death. And when the time comes, He will dry our tears and cause our sorrow to flee away.
Deliverance: A Translation
Do not these words of faithful, loving care require us to feel rather than to merely read them? Do we not begin to sense the reality of Christ’s love in our arms or against our breast or tucked into the crease of our neck, like the familiar weight of a child? Is there not a kind of maternal muscle memory that helps us to know of this love with physical certainty? And in so knowing, do we not become essential witnesses of a Savior who “first loved us” and then made love perfect through holy sacrifice?
Indeed, while I have felt the miracle of this love with each of my children, I am more its vessel than its source. I marvel as it flows into me, much as the first breath expands and enlivens a baby when it is born. I recognize that, even though loving my children feels as natural and native to me as my own heartbeat, this love is really a gift from my Savior. Motherhood seems to have simply reshaped me so that I have an increased capacity to carry its abundance.
Even at my best, my love is an approximation of the love of our Savior. While He is perfect in how He reaches, comforts, nourishes, and guides His children, I am still practicing. I have accidentally lost track of my toddler in a department store; have fed my babies Nutella for breakfast (no carbs necessary); have clothed them in mismatched socks; and have been guilty of brushing away their sometimes relentless petitions for attention. I am not the ideal! He is. And thank heavens for that - I am an imperfect, mortal mom and still can be a partaker of the Lord’s divine nature.
In other words, I believe that the symbol of maternal deliverance is used not because it exalts women, but because it speaks to us. In these sacred scriptures, we have poignant textual evidence that the Lord respects women and reaches out to us in the language of our hearts. The universality of birth, as well as the pure, unadorned emotion of mother and child, finally and ultimately communicates divine love as nothing else can. Precisely because it is simplified and archetypal, this imagery has the power to survive the battery of time, translation, and tradition that may otherwise distort God’s truth. It inspires us, much as it did our grandmothers, and much as it will our daughters. And by virtue of our maternal experiences, we have unique access to its singular message: that our Redeemer is a God of love.
It becomes our privilege as women to provide translation of this text for others, preparing their hearts to yield in trust towards a merciful God. We are divinely positioned to be a reference point, a context, for God’s love, so that it becomes meaningful in the physical world. As with the little group of women who set the stage for the great Exodus, we represent the Savior in our reverence for life; our willing sacrifice; our compassion; and in our courageous faith. (Note 6) In so doing, we “make flesh” the love of God, standing as witnesses and reminders that we, each of us, have been carried from the womb.
Note 1: There is a physical parallel to never forgetting the child of your womb that caught my eye: a phenomenon called “fetal microchimerism” occurs when cells from a fetus (even a miscarried fetus!) escape the uterus and become part of the mother. Not all things are known about how this physically or psychologically affects the mother. But it does suggest that, through these genetic “souvenirs” of the children of her womb, the mother physically bears the reality of her children throughout her entire life.
Note 2: Deliverance is also termed in masculine language: the Lord is a “man of war” and “Lord of hosts,” bringing military conquest to His people. I have noticed that it is not uncommon for the masculine and feminine to be paired in scripture, creating a whole (e.g. Genesis 49: 22-25; Deuteronomy 26: 8-9; Isaiah 42:13-14). This is a good place to also mention that I am far from possessing expertise in the field of Biblical interpretation. I fully anticipate there will be mistakes here, and hope that this is just a place to enhance your own study and prayer, with the guide of the Holy Spirit. I do gratefully acknowledge the inspiration I have drawn from the writings of Samuel Terrien, Phyllis Trible, Sheri Dew, and Rachel Hunt Steenblik, among others.
Note 3: While the merciful attributes of God are feminine, represented in terms of motherhood, the angry, jealous God is often represented in masculine terms (e.g., the husband that divorces his unfaithful wife). At various times, He plays the role of the mother, the midwife (see also Micah 4:9-10), and a source of fertility. Indeed, one name of the Lord is El Shaddai, typically translated “God Almighty,” indicating a warrior God. Scriptural context has led scholars to believe that, particularly when God is making promises of fertility, the name also implies the sufficiency of the maternal breast.
Note 5: Compassion, that “innate and great capacity to sense the needs of others and to love,” is the defining characteristic of both maternal and redeeming love. Said Gordon B. Hinckley, “God planted within women something divine.” This endowment is not unique to women who physically bear children in this life. Indeed, “Every woman is a mother by virtue of her eternal divine destiny.” In the story of Moses’ watery deliverance, the entire circle of women both felt and displayed maternal love, confirming that the divine “womb” can be manifest in more ways than physical birth.
Note 6: Women throughout history have often been poised to recognize the Savior, receive Him, and extend the call for others to “come, see.” As with the midwives, sister, and two mothers in Pharaoh’s Egypt, I believe that the Lord will continue to enable faithful women to prepare others for the divine deliverance of their Savior.
Small Seed Copy Editor: Megan Grant
Becca is the Director of Web Content at The Small Seed. She is here because she loves the Lord Jesus Christ and loves this community of women! She and her husband live with their five children in southwest Colorado where the mountains remind them daily to aspire to higher things.