07 May 2014

For the sake of God's name

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses recalls the pleas he made to God on behalf of the Israelites.

26 I prayed to the Lord and said, “Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ 29 But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.” (NIV).

Reading the text this time, both of Moses' arguments jumped out at me. 

The first - remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - struck me almost as strange. Although Israel had been rebellious and disobedient, their forefathers were not exactly what one would call ideal in their response to God. Reading the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob one cannot help but be struck by how not good the patriarchs were (e.g., their complicated relations with their wives and poor fathering, their frequent deceit). It seems to me that Moses had little ability to claim any rights on the basis of their goodness.

The second - for the sake of your name - spoke to me differently. I've been thinking a lot about the negative ways in which the (American) church has been represented by the media. God is often presented as being judgmental and strange, and He is seen as being particularly ungracious to gays. Moses' words - You, O LORD, would not want the other nations (i.e., non-believers) to think poorly of You - seem like words we have forgotten today. How can we as Christians speak about God so often in ways that are misunderstood by non-believers and/or allows them to profane who He is?

As a side note, I noticed when looking at Moses' exact words that I had placed words in his mouth when originally reading the text. This is not entirely surprising, as one's understanding of Scripture is (and ought to be) influenced by the rest of Scripture. The idea of 'for the sake of his name' is actually found elsewhere in the biblical text, for example in Ezekiel 20:9 -  But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites.

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