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“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.… And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (vv. 4, 18) God’s purpose is to act in a way that causes people to own up to His glory and confess that He is the only Lord of the universe. Therefore, the great event of the Exodus, which was a paradigm for all God’s saving acts, should have made clear to all generations that God’s purpose with Israel was to glorify Himself and create a people who trust Him and delight in His glory.
The Giving of the Law When Israel reached Mount Sinai, God called Moses onto the mountain and gave him the Ten Commandments and other regulations for the new social community. At the head of this law is Exodus 20:3–5.
T H E G OA L O F G O D I N R E D E M P T I V E H I S TO RY“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” When God says we are to have no other gods before Him and that He is a jealous God, He means that His first aim in giving the law is for us to accord Him the honor He alone is due. He has just shown Himself gloriously gracious and powerful in the Exodus; now He simply demands in the law an appropriate response from His people—that we should love Him and keep His commandments.
To love God does not mean to meet His needs, but rather to delight in Him and to be captivated by His glorious power and grace and to value Him above all other things on earth. All the rest of the commandments are the kinds of things that we will do from our hearts if our hearts are truly delighted with and resting in the glory of God’s grace.
The Wilderness Wandering God had good reason to destroy His people in the wilderness because of their repeated grumbling and unbelief and idolatry. But again the Lord stays His
hand and treats them graciously for His own name’s sake:
“But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.” (Ezekiel 20:21–22; cf. vv. 13–14)
This motive of God in preserving His people in the wilderness is the same one
that emerges in Moses’ prayer for the people when God was about to destroy them:
“Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 9:27–29; see also Numbers 14:13–16; Exodus 32:11–14.) Moses appeals to God’s promise to the patriarchs and argues with God that surely He does not want scorn to come upon His name, which would certainly happen if Israel perished in the wilderness. The Egyptians would say God was not able to bring them to Canaan! In allowing Moses to pray in this way, God makes plain that His decision to relent from His wrath against Israel is for His own name’s sake.
The Conquest of Canaan The book of Joshua records how God gave the people of Israel victory over the nations in the land of Canaan. At the end of the book we find a clue to why
God did this for His people:
“And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.
“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” (24:12–14)
T H E G OA L O F G O D I N R E D E M P T I V E H I S TO RYThe words “Now therefore fear the LORD” are an inference from God’s grace in giving Israel the land. The logic shows that God’s purpose in giving them the land of Canaan was that they would fear and honor Him alone. In other words, in giving Israel the land of Canaan, God aimed to create a people who would recognize His glory and delight in it above all things. This purpose is confirmed
in David’s prayer recorded in 2 Samuel 7:23:
“Who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?” The Beginnings of Monarchy After a period of judges (recorded in the book by that name), Israel asked for a king. Even though the motive for asking for a king was evil (Israel wanted to be like other nations), nevertheless God did not destroy His people. His motive in this gracious act of mercy is given in 1 Samuel 12:19–23.
And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.
For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” Here the preservation of the people, despite their sin at the beginning of the monarchy, is due to God’s purpose to preserve and display the honor of His name. This goal is supreme.
Another way God showed mercy during the monarchy was to bring to the kingship a man after His own heart, a king whose goal was the same as God’s.
We can see this in how David prayed: “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11). And in the most famous psalm of all, David says God’s motive in leading His people is the glory of His name: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).
The Temple of God The books of 1 and 2 Kings tell the story of Israel’s history from David’s son Solomon, who built God’s temple, down to the Babylonian captivity. This was a period of about four hundred years ending in 587 B.C. In 1 Kings 8 we read Solomon’s dedicatory prayer after the building of the temple, including these
“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you; in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.
“If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the LORD toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.” (vv. 41–45) This prayer shows that Solomon’s purpose for building the temple—in accord with God’s own purpose: “My name shall be there” (v. 29)—was that God’s name should be exalted and all the nations should know and fear God.
Deliverance in the Time of the Kings After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was divided into the northern and the southern kingdoms. One example of God’s continued grace during this time, and of His continued purpose to be glorified and maintain the honor of His name, is evident in the way He intervened when Hezekiah was king of Judah in the late 700s B.C.
The Assyrians, led by Sennacherib, were coming against the people of Judah. So Hezekiah prayed to the Lord for deliverance. Isaiah the prophet brought God’s answer, stated in 2 Kings 19:34: “For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” He says the same thing again in 2 Kings 20:6, “I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” Exile and Promised Restoration Finally, in about 587 B.C., Jerusalem falls to the invading Babylonians (the northern kingdom had gone into exile with the Assyrians in 722 B.C.). The people of Judah are deported to Babylon. It looks like God may be through with His people Israel. But if so, what about His holy name, for which He had been so jealous over the centuries? We soon discover that God is not finished with His people, but will again be merciful. And again, as Isaiah makes clear,
God’s purposes are the same as always:
“For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:9–11) Similarly, Ezekiel, who prophesied during the Babylonian exile, tells of
God’s merciful restoration and why He will perform it:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.… It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.” (36:22–23, 32) Salvation is not a ground for boasting of our worth to God. It is an occasion for self-abasement and joy in the glorious grace of God on our behalf—a grace that never depends on our distinctives, but flows from God’s overwhelming concern to magnify His own glory on behalf of His people.
Post-Exilic Prophets Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi, who prophesied after Israel’s return from exile, represent the last writings in the Old Testament period. Each reflects a conviction that God’s goal after the exile is still His own glory.
Zechariah prophesied concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem: “I will be the glory in her midst” (2:5).
Haggai made the same point: “Build the house…that I may be glorified” (1:8).
Malachi criticized the wicked priests in the new temple: They “will not take it to heart to give honor to my name” (2:2).
NEW TESTAMENTMoving from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we shift from an age of promise to an age of fulfillment. The hoped-for Messiah, Jesus Christ, has come. But God’s supreme goal does not change, only some of the circumstances
in how He is achieving it, along with the revelation that now the goal is “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).1 Jesus’ Life and Ministry Two texts from the Gospel of John show that Jesus’ life and ministry were devoted to glorifying His Father in heaven. In John 17:4, Jesus prayed at the end of His life, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” And in John 7:18, referring to His own ministry, Jesus said, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” Therefore, we can say with certainty that Jesus’ all-consuming desire and deepest purpose on earth was to glorify His Father in heaven by doing His Father’s will (John 4:34).
Jesus’ Death In John 12:27–28, Jesus weighed whether to escape the hour of His death, but He rejected that alternative, knowing that precisely through dying He would finish His mission of glorifying the Father.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The purpose of Jesus’ death was to glorify the Father. To be willing as the Son of God to suffer the loss of so much glory Himself in order to repair the injury done to God’s glory by our sin showed how infinitely valuable the glory of God is. To be sure, the death of Christ also showed God’s love for us. But we are not at the center.
1. Tom Schreiner rightly presses into the ultimate goal of all NT “emphases” and “focuses” and themes by demonstrating that the glory of God in Christ is the center of Pauline theology. See his Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001).