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.