Israel's Tribal Deity

This week I was reading Jeremiah 10 on the difference between Yahweh and idols.  It struck me that the prophet doesn’t argue the way we often do.  We usually say ‘There are idols that are tribal deities of the nations, but the living God is not like that.  The living God is the uncreated Creator.  (Oh and the uncreated Creator happens to be Yahweh).’  

Jeremiah does something different.  He certainly plays up the worthlessness of the foreign idols (v1-9). But then he says:

But Yahweh is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King.

Note that his argument is not “the true God is Yahweh.”  Rather he argues “Yahweh is the true God.”  In other words he doesn’t assume some notion of deity and then says Yahweh fits the bill.  Instead he says, in effect, “You know the tribal deity of Israel?  The One from the burning bush?  He’s the true God.” 

He does it again in verse 16.  After continuing the worthlessness-of-idols theme, Jeremiah says:

He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for He is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the tribe of His inheritance–the LORD Almighty (Yahweh Sebaoth) is His name.

Note the particularity of this statement.  The tribe of Jacob will inherit their God called Yahweh Sebaoth, and He in turn will inherit them.  This tribal deity who is strongly (and it seems exclusively!) linked to his particular people – He is the Maker of all things.  Interesting!

Think of how He definitively reveals His name to Moses at Sinai.  The Angel says to Moses “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. At this Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” (Ex 3:6).  If we were writing Exodus 3 we’d have Moses hiding his face because the LORD says, “I am God the Unoriginate, the Infinite, the Transcendent and Immense.   But no, the LORD says “I am your people’s God, your dad’s God, the God of that guy Abraham and his family.”  The living God is made known as the tribal deity of Israel.  He is revealed in His covenant approaches towards particular people in concrete historical situations.  And from within that particular frame – as Jacob’s Portion – He reveals Himself to be the true and living God.

So often we conceive of the direction of argument as this:

“You know God ??  Well that tribal deity Yahweh is actually God.” 

Instead it’s:

“You know that tribal deity Yahweh?  Well He’s God.” 

The former argument forces Yahweh into a procrustean bed.  The latter argument makes us reconfigure everything we thought we knew about ‘God’ since we’ve met Him as the covenant-LORD.

I’ll look at some implications of this next time…

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Rest of series:

Part two

Part three

Jesus is LORD, not Son of LORD

Some clarifications

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Posted on by Glen in Doctrine of God, Old Testament, theological method

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to Israel's Tribal Deity

  1. The Orange Mailman

    Glen-

    This is thought provoking. May I risk a contemporary application? A Christian talking to a Muslim:

    Christian: I know God. The One True God.

    Muslim: But I know the One True God. Perhaps we worship the same God.

    Christian: Remember the stories of how God brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt? Remember how He plagued Egypt with the Passover to purchase their freedom? Remember how He helped Israel to drive out all the Canaanites from the land of Canaan? The God that did all that is the One True God.

    Or insert the story of creation to a theistic evolutionist. I like the “concrete historical situations” approach.

    Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  2. Missy

    So – rather than taking this big concept that one might think is God and then fitting it in the box of the tribal deity as revealed to Israel, you gotta discover that tribal deity as He expounds on that with the rest of the revelation?

  3. glenscriv

    indeedy Yes to both of you. Orange, it’s interesting that the Quran nowhere mentions the name Yahweh even though it does take many of its stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. On the other hand Jesus is at pains to show Himself (through both words and actions) as the LORD God of Israel – the great I AM!

    Missy that’s exactly right. Look at the particular, the historical, the involved LORD in action – there you see God.

    I’ll draw out an implication or two in the next post.

  4. siwalker

    Glen, would you say Exodus 3:14 has any bearing on this where the Lord reveals himself as ‘I am who I am’ or ‘I will be what I will be’? There seems to be the same idea of him defining himself on his own terms and reconfiguring our preconceived ideas.

  5. glenscriv

    Hi Si – I’ve replied with my latest post.

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