I recently penned what I thought was the last of a three-part series on living in exile. This morning I came across a passage however which made me realise that one more devotional article is in order. So please indulge me with this last part to my study on Israel’s captivity, and lessons for God’s people today.
I had noted that when Israel was destroyed by the Babylonians and many Hebrews were carried away into captivity, this period of exile was part of Yahweh’s judgment on a rebellious and idolatrous people. God loves his people too much to allow them to continue to live in ways which will separate them from Him.
So in love he sends judgment. His judgments are actually often tempered with, and reflections of, his mercy. I mentioned how God also loves the church too much today to allow it to keep going its own way. He is preparing a spotless bride, and in love he will chastise and correct his people when need be.
But there is another major element to this story of exile and judgment, and eventual regathering. It has to do with God’s reputation, with God’s glory. And it has to do with how God’s people had allowed the name of Yahweh to be dragged through the mud.
The very reputation of God was at stake here. And the more godly of the Israelites had recognised this. Thus psalm 79, which I just reread today, speaks to this very situation. This is one of many lament psalms found in the book of Psalms. It most likely does refer to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
While it is a cry for vindication and deliverance, it is also a heartfelt cry for the reputation and glory of Yahweh. The psalmist is most concerned about how the surrounding nations are viewing all this. When they see Israel so crushed and destroyed, what do they think about Israel’s God? Will they not think, ‘a weak people, a weak god’?
When Israel is down and out, it seems that so too is its God. The psalmist is rightly quite concerned about this: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us” (v. 4). He is greatly concerned about God’s glory, and how the nations will think about the living God. Indeed, they had been hurling reproach at Yahweh (v. 12).
Consider especially verses 9-10: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake. Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” Here we see all these elements nicely combined: concern for the glory of God; recognition that Israel’s fallen state impinges on God’s reputation; and concern that the nations will have a lower view of God as a result.
As Craig Broyles comments, “By making himself their God, Yahweh has in some measure tied his reputation to Israel’s welfare. To this extent Yahweh – remarkably – has jeopardized his public image for the sake of this special relationship with his people. The psalm mounts an argument on the basis of public perception.”
Of interest is the fact that concern for God and his reputation above all else is featured throughout the Bible. When God has taken steps of judgment against his people, the true spiritual leaders of Israel are even more concerned about how the nations will perceive Israel’s God. That is their primary concern.
Many examples can be offered here. One classic example is that of Moses. In Exodus we have the incredible story of the deliverance of the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity, and the giving of the law. Yet amazingly as Moses is up on the mountain receiving the law, the people were resorting to idolatry with the golden calf (Exodus 32).
Yahweh’s anger is rightly kindled against the people, and he tells Moses he will wipe them out, and make of Moses a great nation (vv. 9-10). But Moses prays an amazing prayer of intercession on behalf of the people. But his main motivation is the name and honour of God. And bear in mind that in biblical times an appeal to God’s name was an appeal to his reputation.
Read what Moses prays in verses 11-14: “But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. ‘O LORD,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.”’Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”
This is surely a glorious prayer. Moses could have been made into a great nation. But Moses was not concerned about his own reputation, but that of his God. How could he allow this to happen, when the surrounding nations would end up with such a poor view of who Yahweh was?
A similar theme comes through in the famous story of David and Goliath as found in 1 Samuel 17. It is a familiar story, but the highlight is not so much the felling of Goliath, but the stirring words of David just prior to his actual confrontation with the giant. Consider what he says in verses 45-47:
“David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands’.”
David went into battle so that “the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel”. As R. P. Gordon comments, “David’s zeal for the reputation of God” was the primary factor in his heroic actions. David had a burning desire to see the name, honour, reputation and glory of God heralded far and wide.
That should be our motivation as well. Zeal for our God and his reputation should be an overriding attitude of believers today. Yes we should be rueing the sad condition of the church, not so much because of how it reflects on us, but how it reflects on our God.
When the church goes through scandal, compromise, failure and defeat, it not only makes the people of God look bad, it makes the head of the church look bad as well. When the Bride is not being all she should be, the reputation of the bridegroom is severely tarnished. That should motivate us to do all we can to see the church become all it is meant to be. That should be our main concern.
We need the attitude of the psalmists, of Moses, of David, and other great saints of God who put his name, his glory and his reputation above all else. Only then will we be really serious about being the sort of people we are called to be.