5 Apr 2017

Yahweh, God of Grace for the Nations

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Church, Exegesis, Faith, Grace, Jeremiah, Love, Salvation

Several years ago Ronald Hals in an epic little book, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament (should be required reading, only 96 pages), noted that many western believers miss the “ocean of grace” in the Hebrew Bible because they have have not “learned to listen to it.” Grace, of course, comes to us via the Greek language yet the “OT” is written in Hebrew, so we do not expect it to use Greek vocabulary. To illustrate, simply because a particular language does not use the English word “car” does not imply there are not millions of “four wheeled internal combustion engine vehicles going down the road” in that country.

Grace Not Invented by Paul

Grace is not the invention of the apostle Paul. It is on every page of the Hebrew Bible. There are a cluster of words that proclaim the teaching, and they are everywhere. But more often the Hebrew Bible shows us pictures of Yahweh. When I lived in Milwaukee I became friends with a Jewish rabbi.  One of his statements to me has never left, “If Saul of Tarsus was half the student of the Torah his writings indicate he was then he did not need an encounter with Jesus to know that Ha-Shem is infinitely loving, merciful and gracious. It is on ever page of the Tanak.” I already knew that but to have a Jewish rabbi emphatically point it out was memorable.

Some of the most poignant images of grace in the Bible are the pictures of the suffering that Yahweh endures, not only from the sin of Israel but the sin of the nations. And of these, one of the most moving images is the “emotional catastrophe” (to use an image myself) that comes upon Yahweh, when God must finally deal with horrific sin.

Even when punishment must finally be given, after Yahweh’s long suffering, the Hebrew Bible voices these poignant words towards the murderous Babylonian Empire:

[I]n wrath may you remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3.2)

These images reveal what kind of God we worship. Jeremiah contains some of the most gripping of these. Christians are not mere theists! I am, in fact, an atheist towards many of idols and false gods that people fashion and worship. Christians do not merely believe just any god. We believe in and worship the Father of Jesus! That is the God of Israel revealed ultimately in the Nazarene.

Yahweh’s Merciful Justice

Near the end of the book of Jeremiah, there are a series of oracles against various pagan nations that have tormented Israel from the days of Abraham down to the the time of Huldah and Jeremiah. These nations have committed every war crime imaginable from enslaving refugees to raping women and making war on various non-combatants. Thus we read of Egypt, Moab, Ammon, and Edom. Each of these enemies of God have oracles “against them” in Isaiah, Obadiah, Amos, and other prophets. Jeremiah also notes that each of these nations, pagan idolaters all, and enemies of humanity, will finally be dealt with.

That does not sound very gracious, we may possibly think. But that is not the end of the story.  The ugliness of the Cross turns into the beauty of Resurrection. God’s judgement comes only after sometimes centuries of mercy. There is no knee-jerk in the Lord. God will stop evil! That in itself is Good News, just ask anyone that has been victim of continual systemic evil!

Jeremiah’s Images of Hesed and Grace

But punishment for the pagan nations is not God’s last word. After punishing Egypt, Yahweh declares his mercy on them. They, like Judah, with have an “exile” because of their sin. But “afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, says Yahweh” (46.26). Of Ammon, God promises them, “afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, says Yahweh” (49.6). And of Elam, “but in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam” (49.39).

It is with Moab, that ancient enemy of God’s people, that we get an incredibly moving picture of Yahweh. Moab is arrogant, prideful, worshipers of the demonic god “Chemosh.” They have been Israel’s enemy since the days of the Exodus. They too will suffer the fate shared with Judah from the Babylonian invasion. In language that echoes the Exodus narrative itself, Moab has brought the “destroyer” upon themselves.

But Yahweh, the God of Israel, loves Moabites. The knowledge of the self-inflicted consequences of their sin moves the Lord in powerful ways. As the consequences of that sin are manifest in Jeremiah 48, God bursts into tears. Our God!

Usually available for five bucks used via Amazon this book should be on your immediate reading list. Learning to “listen” (ears to hear) is the gift of this small treasure of a book. Just may change the way you read the whole Bible.

I myself know his insolence, says Yahweh;
his boasts are false,
his deeds are false.
Therefore I wail for Moab;
I cry for all Moab;
for the people of Kir-heres I mourn.
More than for Jazer I weep for you,
O vine of Sibmah! (48.30-32)

The narrative in Jeremiah does not simply tell us that Yahweh mourns and cries over the punishment of pagans. That is moving enough. Rather the text goes on to describe that this is a traumatic event for Yahweh. Moab’s punishment causes God pain. There is no image here of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The image is that of “Sinners in the Hands of a Suffering God of Hesed.” Note how Jeremiah directly connects Moab’s self inflicted wound to God’s pain.

And I will bring an end in Moab, says Yahweh, those who offer sacrifice at a high place and make offerings to their gods. Therefore my heart moans for Moab like a flute, and my heart moans like a flute for the people of Kir-heres; for the riches they gained have perished” (48.36).

These are arresting words to say the least. God’s heart “moans like a flute!” That is a powerful image. I think we are supposed to hear the sound of the flute as we read those words.

Egypt, Ammon, and Elam all “deserved” what they got as the saying goes. But such punishment seems to effect the Creator God deeper than it is possible for humans to imagine. In Jeremiah the Lord is torn to pieces by Judah his people (Jer 8-9). In Hosea God’s heart is “destroyed” at the thought of punishing his “son” (11.8). God has this same response at the thought of having to deal with evil in the pagan nations in Jeremiah.

But as with Israel, God’s last word to Moab is not punishment. God’s last word is the promise of mercy to Moab. God’s tears flow into rivers of grace for even the pagan nations. This is the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus of Nazareth, speaking,

Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab
in the latter days, says Yahweh.
Thus far is the judgment on Moab.” (48.47)

The Last Word … is Grace

The last word is is not that Yahweh will overcome the evil. The last word is that Yahweh will find a way to not only to remove evil from Moab, Egypt, Ammon, and Elam the bitter enemies of Israel and Judah for centuries. Rather the final word is that Yahweh will find a way to “restore the fortunes” of these nations.

The God We Worship

What kind of God do we worship? Jeremiah tells us we worship a God that loves even the pagan tormenting enemies of his own people so much, that he weeps so violently that his heart is like a flute in mourning.

What kind of God do we worship? Jeremiah tells us we worship a God who does indeed deal with evil ultimately by overcoming it. Now Jeremiah does not tell us how Yahweh is going to do that. But as disciples further along in the Story, we know that Yahweh has done this through a weeping and suffering Servant whom we call Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

Grace is on every page of the Hebrew Bible. God’s love is so rich, so deep, so powerful that the New Testament proclaims that Jesus is the testimony of Yahweh’s love for the world. A love that is not only for Israel. It is for the pagan nations. In fact it is not only for Israel and the pagan nations but literally for the “world.” John 3.15-16 is about the God of the “Old Testament” it is not about Jesus’s love.

No wonder Israel proclaimed in song to the nations, as our Psalms regularly point out, “your [Yahweh’s] steadfast love {hesed} is higher than the heavens” (Ps 108.4).

This is the message of the saved by Yahweh’s grace people TO the pagans that surround us. That my beloved friends is worth reflecting on.

5 Responses to “Yahweh, God of Grace for the Nations”

  1. Profile photo of limb2016 Robert Says:

    So why did Paul follow Jesus? I suggest because he met him as grace incarnate. Just as in John, the logos is no longer abstract thought but a person.

    • Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

      @Robert Limb. That may very well be true. And Jesus is “salvation” incarnate. I suspect though that Paul followed Jesus because he believed he was the Messiah and had come to believe he was the Son of God.

  2. James Thrasher Says:

    Bobby,

    You recomendations good for Amazon’s business. The book is now available at $399.00 and up.

  3. Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

    @James Thrasher. I would check back periodically on Hal’s book (Grace and Faith in the OT) James. I bought one a month ago for 5 bucks off Amazon. That cannot be a legitimate price lol.

  4. Good job Says:

    Good post, keep

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