for all the nations

In an assignment on Zoroastrianism, one of my students took a pretty hard line approach, claiming that God only has dealings with Israel. I asked in my grading comments about all the passages in the Bible that suggest otherwise. Which led to the student sending me this email:

Hello Professor,

I am wondering if you could direct me to the passage(s) in the Bible where Yahweh had dealings with other peoples. Thanks!

I thought my response might be of more general interest:

Dear [student],

This is a really good question, thanks for giving me the chance to elaborate.

One example would be the prophets, who are frequently given words from Yahweh to share either with or about nations other than Israel. Sometimes these relate specifically to their dealings with Israel, but not always. Jonah’s mission to Nineveh is one prominent example, but the prophets are filled with this sort of thing (e.g., Isaiah 13-21, 33-34, 45-47, Jeremiah 46-51, Daniel 7-12)

There are other specific examples. Jesus mentioned a couple of notable ones in Luke 4.25-27: “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

There is a central concept here that often gets lost. Both Isaiah (ch.56) and Jesus (Mark 1, quoting Isaiah) make clear that the Temple was supposed to be “a house of prayer for all nations,” that central to Israel’s covenant with Yahweh was their role in His mission to all peoples. Israel’s exclusive claim to Yahweh misunderstood both God’s nature as the One who loves in freedom and their own role in the divine mission to the world. Sadly, this is too often the same problem with us.


6 thoughts on “for all the nations

  1. Great post, Mike! This same topic came up in a Bible study class I was in recently. Along with the passages you mention, I like to point people to Paul’s lengthy explanation of the Gentile’s being included in the promise in Romans ch. 8-11. I take special note of 10:19-24, where Paul uses the imagery of branches being grafted onto a tree as a warning against those who are prideful and boast in themselves for being counted among God’s people.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rich. Those are also great biblical examples. Seems hard to see this as anything other than a consistent theme throughout Scripture.

  2. Good stuff! Here’s one of my favourite passages on the topic:

    Amos 9:7 “Are you Israelites more important to me than the Ethiopians?” asks the Lord.
    “I brought Israel out of Egypt, but I also brought the Philistines from Crete and led the Arameans out of Kir.

    Yahweh has a “chosen” people but not an “exclusive” people!

    1. Yes! Chosen as in God choosing his emissaries, from among whom His Emissary would come. Thanks Brian.

  3. First, I love Zoroastrianism. It’s fascinating! Second, I subscribe to the theory that Cyrus the Persian may have been a Zoroastrianist and that he may have believed that Ahura Mazda and Yahweh were the same deity. In that context and in the context of your student’s paper, I really like this verse by Isaiah:

    “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped
    to subdue nations before him
    and strip kings of their robes,
    to open doors before him—
    and the gates shall not be closed:
    I will go before you
    and level the mountains,
    I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
    and cut through the bars of iron,
    I will give you the treasures of darkness
    and riches hidden in secret places,
    so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
    the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” -Isaiah 45:1-3

    I believe that Cyrus is the only Gentile in the Bible to receive the “messiah” title. With that said, your student’s question is answered. Yes, God had dealings with other nations.

    As already noted, the Prophets hold my favorite answer. God’s intent was to be accessible to all people, but Israel had other plans. I like your ending critique. It amazes me how some churches want to deny access to God from the unbelievers that they find undesirable and don’t want them sitting in their pews. It bothers me that some churches continue the culture war with “The Canaanites.”

    Thanks for sharing your student’s great question.

    1. Thanks Brian. The passage you cited from Isaiah was the basis of the assignment.

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