The name of God admits no
rivals, approximations or substitutions.
— Victor Shepherd (Seasons of Grace)
It’s amazing that the same motivation can lead to two opposite results. A parent, fired with a motivation of love for her child can sing him to sleep one night, and violently yank him away from a hot stove the next day.
This apparent irony leaps off the page in this passage. Back before the exile, Israel was mired in sin. God wanted everyone to know his power and righteousness, so he judged his people by bringing Babylon in to destroy them. The startling admission in this passage is that the judgment did not effect God’s purpose. Instead of the nations turning around and being humbled by such an awesome display of God’s holiness in action, they mocked Israel’s God for not being able to keep her safe.
In this passage, God determines to restore Israel—but not for her sake.
. . .
God’s motivation—the motivation that led to judgment and now to restoration—is the same:
I had concern for my holy name (v. 21, NRSV)
For the sake of my holy name (v. 22, NRSV)
God is now restoring his people for his own sake—for his own reputation. I can’t imagine what the Israelites would have felt like when they first heard this message. I’m sure they would be happy—messages of restoration usually elicit joy. On the other hand, would they feel strangely shamed? How would it feel to know that God was only restoring them because the punishment didn’t do any good?
. . .
In a sense, we are in the same situation. God can punish us for our sins, but then all of humanity would have to be destroyed. Is it not better for God to show his glory by rescuing us? That is exactly what he did in Jesus.
We like to emphasize John 3:16: It is because God loved the world so much, that he gave us his son. While that is absolutely true, he was also just as validly motivated by a desire to make his name known throughout all of his creation.
. . .
One of the biggest excuses I’ve heard in Christianity is this: “Don’t look at me, I’m just a sinner—look at Jesus if you want to see a good example of godliness”. It sounds good at first because humans are weak and will always fail. But that’s not what Paul said:
I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:16, NRSV)
On the surface it sounds utterly boastful and full of pride. Once you look at the character of the life that uttered it, you see a depth of responsibility and God-formed character that is inspiring for us to follow.
Are we making God’s holy name glorious in this world—or are we shaming him. Can we really say, “follow me, as I follow Christ”?
. . .
Lord Jesus, tie me so tightly to your yoke that I am able to be an example of godliness to the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.