What Do the Nations Think?

God is especially concerned about his reputation in the Book of Ezekiel. He really cares about what the nations think about him. In Ezekiel 36:22-23, for example, he says that he will deliver Judah for the sake of his own name, not for the sake of Judah. Why does God care about his reputation among non-Israelites?

I first thought about this issue in high school. I was reading the Book of Isaiah, and God appeared to be rather pompous. Here we humans are–we are supposed to be humble and modest–and the very God we are commanded to imitate is bragging about himself.

Over the years, I have found ways to deal with this concern. C.S. Lewis actually tried to tackle it in Mere Christianity and Reflections on the Psalms. His conclusion was that God exalts himself for our benefit. God knows that he is the only one who can give people happiness and fulfillment. Therefore, God exalts himself to convince us of his supremacy so that we will turn to him.

Theologically speaking, there is merit to this proposal. After all, why would a being as great as God care about what puny humans think of him? Would a human fret over what an ant thinks? Unless we want to say that God is insecure, we have to believe that God exalts himself for a reason other than pride.

Moreover, Lewis’ proposal often works from a Scriptural standpoint. Why does God care about his reputation among the nations? One explanation is that God wants the nations to worship him. That works for some biblical books, such as Isaiah and Psalms. Solomon also expressed such a sentiment when he mentioned that a foreigner might come to the Temple to worship God, after he has heard of God’s mighty deeds (I Kings 8:41-43).

But I do not think that Lewis’ proposal works as well for Ezekiel. Unlike Isaiah, Ezekiel does not focus on all nations coming to Zion to worship Yahweh. His focus is on Israelites worshipping him after their restoration. Moreover, in Ezekiel, God tells certain nations that they will know he is the LORD immediately before their destruction (Ezekiel 35:3-4; 39:6). If God magnifies himself so that the nations will worship and serve him, then destroying them after they discover he is God seems rather imprudent.

God may just be saying that he will have the last laugh. The nations who lightly esteem Israel’s God may be laughing now, but they will learn the truth at their destruction. Maybe that fits into the perspective of Ezekiel, but would God invest so much energy in preserving his reputation among the nations if he just wanted to gloat?

What do you think?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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