There is plenty of evidence to show that ancient Israel believed that the LORD (= YHWH) was their true "Father" such as:
- Jer 31:9, I [YHWH V7] will make them walk beside streams of waters, on a level path where they will not stumble. For I am Israel’s Father, and Ephraim is My firstborn.
- Mal 1:6, “A son honours his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honour? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me?” says the LORD of Hosts to you priests who despise My name. “But you ask, ‘How have we despised Your name?’
- Mal 2:10, Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why then do we break faith with one another so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?
- Isa 63:16, Yet You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O LORD, are our Father; our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.
- Deut 32:6, Is this how you repay the LORD, O foolish and senseless people? Is He not your Father and Creator? Has He not made you and established you?
- Deut 32:18, You ignored the Rock who brought you forth; you forgot the God who gave you birth [that, your Father]
Even in the NT the Jews alluded to the fact that God Almighty Himself was their Father:
- John 8:41, You are doing the works of your father.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they declared. “Our only Father is God Himself.”
Therefore, the question should be, Why did the Jews object to Jesus calling God His Father in John 5:16-18?
The answer is subtle. The Jews had no problem with calling God, "our Father" of their nation as God had founded Israel and called Abraham out of Ur and later Israel out of Egypt. However, this was not what Jesus was alluding to in John 5 and the Jews knew it. Jesus called God "my Father" and was thus alluding to the Messianic 2nd Psalm where we read (Ps 2:2, 7-9). See appendix below.
The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather
together, against the LORD and against His Anointed One [ie, Messiah]
… I [the Psalmist] will proclaim the decree spoken to Me by the LORD:
“You are My Son; today I have become Your Father. Ask Me, and I will
make the nations Your [Messiah's] inheritance, the ends of the earth
Your possession. You will break them with an iron sceptre; You will
shatter them like pottery.
That is, Jesus was not claiming God as Father as every other Jew could; Jesus was claiming God as His Father personally, and by His allusion to Ps 2 was, by extension, also claiming to be Messiah. The Jews recognised this immediately and wanted to kill Jesus for blasphemy (John 5:18), making Himself equal to God. The accusation (of divinity) was correct but the crime (of blasphemy) was not committed because Jesus was Messiah, as Jesus then said (V23):
all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Whoever does
not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent Him.
In John 8, they continue this same topic about God being Jesus' (personal) Father (V16-19), but this time, Jesus goes further and claims to be the great "I Am" of the OT, no less than three times:
- V24 For unless you believe that I am [ἐγώ εἰμι], you will die in your sins.
- V28 When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [ἐγώ εἰμι], and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me.
- V58 Truly, truly, I tell you,” Jesus declared, “before Abraham was born, I am [ἐγώ εἰμι]!
Note that in V24 Jesus uses the "I am" in the present tense; in V28 it is in the future tense; and in V58 it is the past tense. Following this final pronouncement, the Jews again tried to kill Jesus.
The Jews had no trouble calling God their Father (as per John 8:41) as a matter of national pride. They objected to Jesus calling Himself the Son of God the Father as a personal relationship because that made Him equal to God and Messiah as per Ps 2.
APPENDIX "My Father"
The phrase, "my Father" (Πατρός μου or a slight variation) occurs 41 times in the NT. Of these only four refer to an earthly father (Matt 8:21, Luke 9:42, 15:17, 18). All the remaining 37 instances of "my Father" (eg, Matt 8:21, 10:32, 11:27, etc) refer to God the Father, and all are spoken by Jesus. There is no instance of anyone other than Jesus saying "my Father" when referring to God.
While the Jews referred to God as "our father" (see above list) there is not a single instance of anyone referring to God as "my Father". It was this that the Jews objected to in John 5:18 as discussed above.