“My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice. My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.’” (Song of Songs 2:9–10)
Before the first sin, Adam and Chava (Eve) experienced perfect intimacy with God in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden).
When they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, however, they essentially severed their intimate relationship with their Father and Creator.
That loss of intimacy is demonstrated by the fact that they hid from God when He was “strolling in the Garden,” calling out to them, “Ayekah (Where are you)?”
Whereas before eating the fruit, they had felt close to God, afterward they hid from Him, trying to keep their sin a secret.
Across the spectrum of Judaism and Christianity, intimacy with God is described in terms from a Bridegroom to a Father to Friend.
Let’s take a look at how we can cultivate these forms of intimacy with God in our lives today.
Intimacy with God as Our Bridegroom
“For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is His name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5)
One of the most striking pictures of intimacy between God and His people in both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) is the image of a groom and a bride (a husband and a wife).
Judaism abounds with such images of intimacy and love; for instance, Adonai says that He chose Israel in the first place because of love:
“The LORD set His love [khashak—חשק] on you and chose you … because the LORD loves [ahavah—אהבה] you….” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8)
This verse describes God’s love for the Jewish People using language that evokes a man’s love for a woman. The verb set His love (khashak—חשק) means to love, to be attached to, to cling to.
As well, ahavah is translated throughout Scripture as love (between man and woman, God and mankind, intimate friends, and father and child).
We can see, then, the enduring nature of God’s love for Israel.
Jewish prayer confirms this love morning and evening after the Shema. In the morning we recite, ahavah rabbah ahavtanu—with great love You have loved us. In the evening, we say ahavat olam—with eternal love You love Israel.
And we immediately reveal that this love is reciprocal by praying, v’ahavta et hashem elekecha—you shall love the Lord your God.
Further, in Jewish tradition, the Song of Solomon, with verses such as “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” expresses God’s love for Israel. (Song of Songs 6:3)
In fact, we find that God’s love is often expressed using a metaphor of marriage. At the giving of the law, Mount Sinai becomes the chuppah (wedding canopy) and the Torah becomes the ketubah (marriage contract). God’s relationship with Israel is a true love story.
Marriage and wooing imagery continue throughout the prophetic writings, including in the following promises:
“For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5)
“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)
“I am your husband [ba’al].” (Jeremiah 3:14; see also Jeremiah 31:31–32)
“I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know [yada] the LORD.” (Hosea 2:19–20)
This tender verse in Hosea reveals God’s intent: He wants us to yada (know) Adonai.
Yada means to know intimately, to perceive, to understand and experience. To know God means that we experience Him intimately.
The imagery of this very intimate relationship between God and Israel continues in the writings of the talmidim (Yeshua’s disciples), which explain that Yeshua is the Bridegroom and those who follow Him are the Bride of Messiah.
“I promised you to one husband, to Messiah, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2)
Intimacy with God as Our Father
Another metaphor of intimacy in Scripture is that of Father.
Although some people think of God as the Father of mankind, that terminology is reserved for those who are the children of God, in other words, those who do His will.
The late Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920–2006), the United Kingdom’s first leader of Conservative Judaism, calls the idea of “God as the Father of all human beings” as “modern and highly apologetical,” stating that “this particular formulation finds no support in the Jewish sources.” (My Jewish Learning)
Rather, “the intimate relationship described in father-children terms is reserved for God’s relationship to Israel, not for mankind as a whole,” Jacobs writes, citing Deuteronomy 14:1–2:
“You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be His treasured possession.”
Believers in Yeshua understand that people from all nations can be grafted into Israel, becoming the children of God through the obedience of faith in Yeshua.
“My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:21)
The Tanakh does not particularly focus on God as Avinu (our Father) for the whole Jewish nation—yet there are 15 paternal references to God in the Tanakh.
This tradition began with Rabbi Akiba (c. 40–135) who prayed these words to God to end a devastating drought: “Our Father, our King, we have no king but Thee” According to the Talmud, God immediately answered. (Taanit 25b; see Isaiah 63:16—our Father; Isaiah 33:22—our King).
As well, Rabbi Yeshua authoritatively revealed deep intimacy with God by referring to Him many times as “My Father,” which was perhaps unprecedented in Jewish practice at the time. Moreover, He taught all of us to pray by beginning our supplications with “Our Father,” denoting a shared, intimate relationship among all of His children.
The Brit Chadashah (New Covenant) also highlights Yeshua’s use of the familiar Aramaic title Abba (Dad), about which author Marvin R. Wilson writes “that a Jew would be considered irreverent if he used it of God” (Our Father Abraham, p. 57).
In fact, the Brit Chadashah has over 165 references to the paternal nature of God.
Still, the Tanakh has very clear paternal references as well. While the Psalmist praised God as “a father [av] to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Psalm 68:5), the Prophet Isaiah affirmed that “you, Lord, are our Father [avinu]” (Isaiah 64:8) and described the faithful commitment of God to those with whom He shares relationship:
“No eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64:4)
Waiting for God acknowledges His sovereignty, and demonstrates our trust in His timing and our reliance on His faithfulness. We are not to regard Him as a vending machine stocked with answers, but as a Living Being who desires the love of those He loves.
The Prophet Jeremiah affirms the strength of God’s tenderness toward Israel: “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3), and James 4:8 urges, “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”
While “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), Rabbi Ebn Leader of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School underscores the difficulty to obey, by choice, the Shema’s command that “you shall love the Lord your God.”
“We cannot be commanded to ‘fall in love’ as we commonly use that phrase. But we can be commanded to open ourselves to the possibility of love in practical ways,” Leader writes. “We can begin to cultivate love for God by committing ourselves to investing in the relationship and creating time for intimacy.”
Cultivating love for God and sustaining intimacy with the Spiritual Being we know exists but cannot see requires disciplined commitment to guarding and designating the best of our time to His company.
With a spirit of thankfulness, we are more likely to achieve humility before God; and with a spirit of humility before God, we are more likely to achieve patience as we seek Him in what can be a sea of demands for our time and focus.
Just as we invest in important human relationships—disconnecting from distractions, offering undivided attention and showing interest in the other person—we must also create opportunities for intimacy with God that will keep building a relationship of intimacy and a willingness to cultivate the relationship.
Intimacy, according to Merriam-Webster, means familiarity—a knowledge of a person’s character, likes and dislikes, preferences, vision, hopes and dreams. Children close to their parents, especially at a young age, are significantly inclined to mimic their parents’ traits and habits.
In a similar way, times of intimacy with God increase our knowledge of Him and His character and prompt us to live out His character—as Yeshua did.
“We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Yeshua did.” (1 John 2:3–6)
Intimacy with God as a Friend
In the Tanakh, Abraham is the only person that God directly calls His friend (Isaiah 41:8), while He honors Moses with a new distinction: “With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” (Numbers 12:8)
Abraham, as the friend of God, showed a unique trust and faithfulness to the Lord throughout his life. In return, God entrusted him with His unconditional covenant and freely shared with Abraham His plan to destroy Sodom.
“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” expressed the Lord in Genesis 18:17, affirmed later by the word of Amos (3:7) that “surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan [סודו, sohdo—His intimate secret counsels] to His servants the prophets.”
The base word, sohd, can also be applied to “friends conversing (Jeremiah 6:11, 15:17); judges or heavenly powers and prophets consulting with God (Jeremiah 23:18, 22); counsel and friendly conversation (Psalm 55:14); and secret knowledge (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 25:9).” (Biblical Hebrew)
A Hebrew word study of the Scriptures identifies that the term for secret, intimate friendship or counsel (סוד–sohd) also can be translated as secret, cushion, couch, or pillow.
The root of sohd is Y-S-D, “which means ‘a setting down, to found or establish‘ and ‘to support oneself whilst leaning or reclining.’”
“The best way of imagining it is to think of the prophet and God sitting down together on adjacent cushions in a nomad’s tent in the desert to discuss matters, in intimacy, not needing to shout”—just as Abraham and the Lord would have done, according to the study “Çôwdh – ‘Secret Intimate Friendship.’”
“It is the side-by-side, still, quiet intimate voice of God that is heard here.” (Biblical Hebrew)
Jeffery M. Cohen writes in an article entitled “Abraham’s Hospitality” that this picture of Middle East hospitality is in fact “a hallmark value of Jewish tradition” that evokes images of Abraham’s tent marked with cushions and comfortable areas for his guests to recline.
These guests included angels whom Abraham bowed down to in humble respect, inviting them to recline as they enjoyed the lavish meal he and Sarah had prepared for them. Abraham enthusiastically invested in this intimate time with these acquaintances.
We are likewise exhorted to “not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
But we are exhorted, even more so, to develop and practice the faith and trust that so moved God to call Abraham His friend.
As God did not withhold His plans from Abraham, He also does not withhold His plans from His friends today.
Yeshua said, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14–15; see also James 4:4)
We cannot love our Heavenly Father and friend with such Abrahamic faith through our own strength. Only with the help of the Ruach HaKodesh—the Holy Spirit of God Himself dwelling inside of us—can we experience such intimate, eternal love as would a friend, a child, and a Bride of a covenant-keeping Bridegroom.
The Spirit of Yeshua in us—those He has redeemed out of “slavery under the elemental spiritual forces” (Galatians 4:3)—carries the confidence of sonship in the family, the house and the Kingdom of God, and therefore intimacy with God.
“Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:6–7; see also Romans 8:16)
It is God’s intention to restore intimacy with Him so in that full legal standing as God’s sons and daughters, we who follow Yeshua can be confident that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)