During some of my cooking or wrangling excursions in the back-country, I’ve had the privilege of encountering a number of bears in their natural habitat. Most of them were quick, heart-pounding moments, with the bear usually spotting me, before I spotted him. Generally I only met up with a single bear, but there were a few times that I met up with a sow bear and her cubs.
I didn’t run into mama bears with cubs all that often, thankfully, because as most people know, a sow bear with cubs are hyper-vigilant and violently protective against any perceived threat to their cubs. Hence the saying “fierce as a mama bear”.
I was riding west of Rainbow Lake near of Atlin, BC when I when we rounded a thicket of poplars on the trail and met up face-to-face with a Grizzly sow and her two nearly-grown cubs. I startled her and she spooked me. She rose up on her hind legs and woofed at me which, needless to say, scared the livin’ daylights out of me and my horse. I had images flash through my mind of an enraged grizzly bear defending her young by charging at me and tearing me apart limb by limb not unlike a recent news account I had read a few days prior. She could have made real trouble for me, but for some reason, thank God, she turned tail and ran with her cubs following, while I had my hands full trying to calm down a crow-hopping horse. It took a number of minutes before our hearts—my horse and mine—settled back into our chests and we could carry-on with the ride, just a wee bit more sensitive to our surroundings than before.
Another time, I was taking a ride with some guests at the Anchor D Ranch, west of Turner Valley. I was in the lead and topped a razor-back tree-lined ridge and spotted right away a black bear and three cubs on another ridge maybe three hundred yards to the west. The mom was at the top of a grassy slope, sitting and watching her three rambunctious cubs somersault down the hillside. They would roll and roll and then scamper back up to snuggle in by their mom and then push each other around until they were rolling back down the hillside like little black bits of fluff. It was very entertaining to watch! Eventually the mama tired of her cubs play, stood up and barked an order, and the cubs scampered after her as she waddled off into the forest. Two of the rascally fur balls hitched a ride on her back, while the other nipped playful at it’s mamas legs.
Another incident doesn’t involve cubs, but does demonstrate some of the power of a sow bear. I was in the Yukon, sitting in a hunting cabin at Grayling Lake waiting for a plane to arrive with the guides and a hunter when the hunter’s wife Mary came in the door and calmly said. “There’s a Grizzly just outside by the salt block.” So we all stood up and looked out the window and didn’t see anything. Then we all went out the door. I wasn’t ten feet out of the cabin, when suddenly a bear stood up behind the bushes ten feet in front of me. She was just so cute, standing there all curious like we were the neatest thing going. No fear. I just stared at her and she stared at me, and then I felt a hand on the back of my collar and I was jerked behind the guns—a much wiser and safer place to be when you are within charging distance of a grizzly.
Well that bear wandered on down to where we had moose meat hanging and neatly pulled down a hind quarter and dragged it into the meadow in front of camp. She carried that huge hunk of meat that probably weighed well over 100 pounds as if it were a baby and then sat down to have a meal. She wasn’t even a really big bear, but the power she displayed, was pretty awesome. Made me glad she wasn’t carrying me off somewhere, as at that time in my life, I probably weighed not much more than that chunk of meat.
All these stories are just to set the preface for something I came across this week. A name of God. Shaddai. Or El Shaddai. It piqued my interest, so I went searching out the meaning. 98% of English Translations of the word render El Shaddai as God Almighty. However when I looked up the meaning of the word in Hebrew, I came across a variety of meanings—everything from “God of the Mountains”, “God of Shaddai” (an Ammorite City on the Banks of the Euphrates), “The All Sufficient God”, “He who said ‘Enough’ to His world.”, to being an acronym of the common Jewish saying, “Guardian of the Doors of Israel”.
Then I came across two meanings that leaped out at me and have been twisting in my mind ever since “The Breasted One”, and “The Destroyer.”*
How can one name mean so many things and especially things that seem to be as far from each other in meaning as night from day? Naturally, when I think of breasts, I picture breast-feeding. I am a mother after all. To me that’s what breasts are for, nourishment, fulfilling the needs of my baby. So to see that God himself spoke this name to Abraham is pretty mind-blowing,
“I am El-Shaddai (The Breasted One) . . . This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! . . . I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!” (Genesis 17:1,6 NLT)
This whole passage talks about Abraham being the father of many nations and God introduces this whole covenant by calling himself El-Shaddai, which could be translated as The Breasted One, which could lead one to think that God is then like the mother of all nations. Which is very hard to wrap my mind around because it’s hard to think of God in motherly terms—Crazy! And yet many times in the Bible he is likened to a mother or motherly activities. One of which is giving birth, another is nursing, and another is holding her children close.
How this thought changes my perception of God, or should I say ADD to it. Oh all the pictures that fly through my mind! The thoughts of God like a mother. Carrying me. Holding me. Feeding me. Contemplating being nourished and fulfilled by “suckling at the breast” of God. Does this seem sacrilegious? Does this picture make you squirm?
I know it did for me, until I decided to dwell on that image and all it could really mean for my relationship with God.
To then think of the function of breast milk and how it is like “living water” springing from within the woman to within the baby.
To remember of when Jesus was talking to the Samaritan Woman at the well, and how he describes Living Water to her:
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” John 4: 13-14 (MSG, emphasis mine)
To ponder the declaration made when Jesus stood up on the last day of the feast of tabernacles:
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38 (NIV84, emphasis mine)
From Within God to within you and me.
And what could all this mean for all people, not just the mom’s who breastfeed, but the ones who can’t, and the ones who aren’t technically mothers? And then I realized that this could be just one of the reasons God uses multiple imagery, to connect with all people on all levels—to the breastfeeding mothers, to the adoptive parents, to the single dads, and those that are future parents, and those who have parents and those who never really did—they all can picture coming to Jesus and drinking from a well of living water, a spring of living water, taking a cup of living water, or suckling living water. No matter which way you picture it, God still provides, fulfills, nourishes with the Living Water that comes from Him. He is the source. He is your point of supply. He is the cup, the well, the spring, the breast.
Then I remembered those mother bears—the ones I’ve seen first hand and the ones I’ve heard about—nourishing and playing with their young and then defending them with all their fierce passion and holy terror against all that would dare threaten them.
I had to add this, as it’s the only verse in the Bible I could find that pictures God like a mother bear while he’s speaking to Israel through his prophet Hosea:
“I’ll jump them like a sow grizzly robbed of her cubs.
I’ll rip out their guts.” (Hosea 13:8, MSG)
I kind of think this verse fits the image of a Destroyer! Only if you read it in context it talks of God ripping into Israel for forgetting him and all he had done for them. I think I’d rather have all that destructive rage pointed at my enemies than at me, because I’ve seen the aftermath of what a sow bear can do, and it’s not pretty.
Now I challenge you to read all of Psalm 91, and take note of all the motherly terms. (It may be helpful to read in multiple translations to get a fuller picture.)
“You who sit down in the High God’s presence,
spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
And for the person looking for an even bigger challenge: Go looking for all the references in the Bible that use mother imagery for God. Hint: There is a stack of them in Isaiah and Hosea.
*You can read all about how people arrived at the meanings of El Shaddai here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Shaddai and http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/El/el.html