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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Nation

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Within God’s overall government of human society, he has allowed a great variety of nations. Most of these have arisen out of commonly held interests or characteristics such as race, language, homeland culture, religion and law-code. According to this understanding, a nation in the biblical sense may differ from a nation in the present-day sense. Today a nation is usually defined by territorial boundaries imposed by military or political power, regardless of other considerations. In biblical usage, a ‘nation’ was primarily a ‘people group’ defined by the sorts of unifying characteristics outlined above (Genesis 10:32; Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26).

In Old Testament times God chose one nation, Israel, to belong to him (Exodus 19:5-6). This was not because Israel was better than other nations (Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Deuteronomy 9:9), but because God wanted a channel of communication through which he could send his blessings to all the people of the world (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:17-18; see ELECTION). God loves all nations and desires their good (Isaiah 19:24-25; Amos 9:7; Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8; Acts 13:47).

Nevertheless, nations may fall under God’s judgment, and God may use other nations to punish them. This does not mean that those whom God uses as his instruments of judgment are free to do as they like. If they do wrong, they too may fall under God’s judgment (Isaiah 10:5-19; Isaiah 37:23-26; Habakkuk 1:6-7; Habakkuk 2:15-17). God may also use nations as his instruments to bring deliverance and blessing (Isaiah 45:1-5), for he controls the destinies of all nations (Jeremiah 18:7-10; Daniel 4:17).

Sometimes people become nationalistic to the extent of putting pride in their nation ahead of moral values. God may have to remind them that national power and glory can be very shortlived. The only lasting kingdom is the kingdom of God (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 4:30; Daniel 4:34). God’s people may well love the nation to which they belong (Jeremiah 8:18-22; Matthew 23:37; Romans 9:3) and be loyal citizens (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14; cf. Jeremiah 29:4-7), but their first allegiance must always be to God (Exodus 20:3; Mark 12:17; Acts 5:29; see GOVERNMENT).

Israelites of Old Testament times made such a clear distinction between themselves and others that their usual word for ‘nations’ (plural) developed the special sense of ‘other nations’ (often translated ‘Gentiles’ or ‘heathen’) (Deuteronomy 18:9; Psalms 2:1; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 30:28; Isaiah 36:18; Isaiah 49:22; Jeremiah 10:1-5; Jeremiah 10:10; see GENTILE). Israelites of New Testament times made the same mistake as many of their ancestors in thinking that their nationality guaranteed their salvation (Matthew 3:9; Romans 9:6). God accepts people into his family on the basis of their faith, not their nationality (Luke 4:25-27; Romans 2:28-29; Romans 4:1-3; Romans 4:16-17).

This truth is clearly demonstrated in that vast international community known as the Christian church. The concern of this community is to win people of all nations for Christ and promote a true fellowship in which there are no national or racial barriers (John 17:20-23; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:13-16; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9; see RACE).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Nation'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/n/nation.html. 2004.

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