More Feminine Imagery for God in the Bible

Aside from the more straightforward comparisons of God to female images cited in my post, The Female God, there are some very interesting and subtle allusions to the Divine described in feminine terms. I’d like to touch on a few.

God and Gender

First, let me repeat that, like most Christians, I believe that God is actually BEYOND gender. God is GOD! The great I AM. Beyond human language and beyond human comprehension. However, God communicates with us through very human language and images, revealing the Divine through earthly relationships and experiences that we as humans can relate to, much as Jesus communicated through parables. The point I’m making here is that, contrary to what is commonly the language, imagery and theology of the conservative church, God is not referred to exclusively in masculine terms in the Bible, itself. Here are some examples.

*** drawing by Celeste Boudreaux, March 2015 ***

Spirit: Ruah

The Hebrew word for spirit, ruah or ruach, literally meaning wind or breath, is in the feminine gender. As an example of usage, Genesis 1:2 speaks of Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of God: “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma also means both spirit and wind, as in John 3, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, in which he tells him that man must be born of water and the Spirit [Pneuma] (verse 5). Jesus uses this same word, translated as “wind” a couple of verses later when he says, “The wind [pneuma] blows where it will… So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit [Pneuma].” (verse 8) To make things even more intriguing, in this passage Jesus mixes in the undeniably feminine image of childbirth, telling Nicodemus that he must be born again. Here, clearly, God is our Heavenly Mother, from whose womb we are born of the Spirit.

Indwelling Presence: Shekhinah

Shekhinah, the Hebrew word for the indwelling Presence of God, as when the glory of God descends as a cloud into the Holy of Holies in I Kings 8, is also feminine.  In the Talmud, it is used when the presence of God is displayed in the form of light, fire, or cloud, such as when the children of Israel were led in the wilderness by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night in Exodus 13, or Moses’ burning bush in Exodus 3.

Mother Bird / Wings / Holy Spirit

I mentioned in my post, The Female God, a couple of examples from the Bible in which God is compared to a mother bird who protects her babies. The book of Psalms is full of references to finding refuge under the shadow of God’s wings (Psalm 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, to name a few). I mention this as another possible tie to the Holy Spirit, as with the appearance of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, and John 1:32).

Wisdom: hokmah / sophia

Both the Old and New Testament use a female personification of Wisdom. Some examples from the Old Testament:

“Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the watery depths were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.”
– Proverbs 3:13-20 (NIV)

The feminine figure of Wisdom is a recurring character in the first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs. In Chapter 8, she speaks for herself:

“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence…
The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the water would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.”
– Proverbs 8:12a, 22-31 (NIV)

It is so interesting that the female Wisdom is described as being a companion of God before the creation of the earth or of humankind, similar to the female Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) who hovered or brooded or blew like a wind over the waters of chaos. And this reference to Wisdom as female is not peculiar to the Old Testament. In fact, in the New Testament, the word for wisdom in Greek is Sophia, another feminine word which has become a popular girls’ name, and Jesus himself speaks of her in Luke 7:35: “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Similarities between Feminine Words and Images
and the Holy Spirit in the Bible
Activity or AppearanceOriginal WordReferenceSimilar to Holy SpiritReference
wind blowing over waters of formless voidRuahGen. 1:2rushing, mighty wind at PentecostActs 2:2
breath of lifeRuahPsalm 104:29-30Jesus breathes on disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”John 20:22
breath of creation of the universeRuahPsalm 33:6God sends the Spirit and they are createdPsalm 104:30
waters of birthHudorJohn 3:5living water (Jesus speaking of the Spirit)John 7:38-39
God appearing in fireShekhinahExodus 3:2, 13:21tongues of fire at PentecostActs 2:3
God appearing in cloudShekhinahExodus 13:21God appears to Moses in a cloud and the Spirit descends on 70 eldersNumbers 11:25
mother bird, sheltering under her wingsKanaphPsalm 17:8The Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a doveMatthew 3:16
wisdomHokmah, SophiaProverbs ch. 1-9The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.John 14:26

This is just food for thought about why some people have taken to referring to the Holy Spirit using feminine pronouns.

The Almighty: El Shaddai

Here’s another interesting one, though controversial. Some scholars think that the literal meaning of El Shaddai (the Almighty) comes from the root “shad” (שד) “breast” or “shadayim” (שדים) “breasts”, which would make this name for God, The Breasted One. An example of El Shaddai in scripture:

“Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty (El Shaddai)
and will lift up your face to God.” Job 22:26 (NIV)

I also think of how Jesus as an infant nursed at Mary’s breasts, as I referenced in my poem, “Wellspring.” If he was not ashamed, as God, to drink from a woman’s body, why should we be appalled at the thought of nursing at the breast of El Shaddai?

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