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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Nations

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NATIONS. In many places where in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] we have ‘ Gentiles ’ and ‘ heathen ’ the RV [Note: Revised Version.] bas rightly substituted ‘nations,’ and it might with advantage have carried out the change consistently.

The Heb. ( goi ) and Greek ( ethnos ) words denote invariably a nation or a people, never a person. Where in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] (only NT) we find ‘Gentile’ in the singular ( Romans 2:9 f.) the RV [Note: Revised Version.] has ‘Greek,’ following the original. In nearly every example the singular ‘nation’ stands for ‘Israel,’ though we have a few exceptions, as in Exodus 9:24 (of Egypt), Proverbs 14:34 (general), and Matthew 21:43 . It is often applied to Israel and Judah when there is an implication of disobedience to God, sinfulness and the like: see Deuteronomy 32:28 , Judges 2:10 , Isaiah 1:4 etc. This shade of meaning became very common in the later writings of the OT. Quite early in Israelitish history the singular as a term for Israel was discarded for the word translated ‘people’ ( ‘am ), so that ‘am (‘people’) and goi (‘nation’) came to be almost antithetic terms = ‘Israelites’ and ‘non-Israelites,’ as in Rabbinical Hebrew. For the reason of the change in the use of goi (‘nation’), see below.

In the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘Gentiles’ often corresponds to ‘Greeks’ in the original, as in John 7:35 , Romans 3:9 etc. In the RV [Note: Revised Version.] the word ‘Greeks’ is rightly substituted, though the sense is the same, for to the Jews of the time Greek culture and religion stood for the culture and religion of the non-Jewish world.

The two words (Heb. and Greek) translated ‘nation’ have their original and literal sense in many parts of the OT and NT, as in Genesis 10:5 ; Genesis 10:10 etc., Isaiah 2:4 (= Micah 4:2 f.), Job 12:23 ; Job 34:20 , Acts 17:28 , Galatians 3:14 . In other passages this general meaning is narrowed so as to embrace the descendants of Abraham, e.g . in Genesis 12:2 ; Genesis 18:18 ; Genesis 17:4-6 ; Genesis 17:15 . But it is the plural that occurs by far the most frequently, standing almost invariably for non-Israelitish nations, generally with the added notion of their being idolatrous and immoral: see Exodus 9:24 ; Exodus 34:10 , Leviticus 25:44 ff., Numbers 14:15 , Deuteronomy 15:5 , 1 Kings 4:31 , Isaiah 11:10 ; Isaiah 11:12 , and often. These are contrasted with Israel ‘the people of Jahweh’ in 2 Samuel 7:22 , 1 Chronicles 17:21 etc.

This contrast between Israel (united or divided into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah) as Jahweh’s people, and all the rest of the human race designated ‘nations,’ runs right through the OT. Such a conception could have arisen only after the Israelites bad developed the consciousness of national unity. At first, even among the Israelites, each nation was thought to be justified in worshipping its deity (see Deuteronomy 3:24 ; Deu 10:17 , 1 Kings 8:23 , Isaiah 19:1 etc.). As long as this idea prevailed there could be no necessary antagonism between Israelites and foreign nations , except that which was national, for the nation’s god was identified with the national interests. But when the belief in Jahweh’s absolute and exclusive claims possessed the mind of Israel, as it began to do in the time of the earliest literary prophets (see Amos 9:1-15 ff., Micah 7:18 etc.), the nations came to be regarded as worshippers of idols ( Leviticus 18:20 ), and in Psalms 9:5 ; Psalms 9:15 ; Psalms 9:17 (cf. Ezekiel 7:21 ) ‘nations’ and ‘wicked people’ are, as being identical, put in parallelism. It will be gathered from what has been said, that the hostile feelings with which Israelites regarded other peoples varied at various times. At all periods it would be modified by the laws of hospitality (see art. Stranger), by political alliances (cf. Isaiah 7:1 ff., and 2 Kings 16:5 ff., Ahaz and Assyria against Israel and Syria), and by the needs of commerce (see Ezekiel 27:11 [Tyre], 1 Kings 9:28 ; 1 Kings 10:11 ; 1 Kings 22:28 etc.).

The reforms instituted by king Josiah in the Southern Kingdom (2 Kings 22:1 f.), based upon the Deuteronomic law newly found in the Temple, aimed at stamping out all syncretism in religion and establishing the pure religion of Jahweb. This reformation, as also the Rechabite movement ( Jeremiah 35:1-19 ), had a profound influence upon the thoughts and feelings of Jews, widening the gulf between them and alien nations. The teaching of the oldest prophets looked in the same direction (see Amos 2:11 ; Amos 3:15 ; Amos 5:11 ; Amos 5:25 ; Amos 6:8 ; Amos 8:5 , Hosea 2:19 ; Hosea 8:14 ; Hosea 9:10 ; Hosea 10:13 ; Hosea 12:7 ff; Hosea 14:4 , Isaiah 2:6 ; Isaiah 10:4 ; Isaiah 17:10 , Zephaniah 1:8 ; Zephaniah 1:11 , Jeremiah 35:1 ff; Jeremiah 37:6 f. etc.).

But the Deuteronomic law (about b.c. 620) made legally obligatory what earlier teachers had inculcated. Israelites were not to marry non-Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:3 ), or to have any except unavoidable dealings with them.

The feeling of national exclusiveness and antipathy was intensified by the captivity in Babylon, when the prophetic and priestly instructors of the exiled Jews taught them that their calamities came upon them on account of their disloyalty to Jahweh and the ordinances of His religion, and because they compromised with idolatrous practices and heathen nations. It was in Babylon that Ezekiel drew up the programme of worship and organization for the nation after the Return, laying stress on the doctrine that Israel was to be a holy people, separated from other nations (see Ezekiel 40:1-49 ; Ezekiel 41:1-26 ; Ezekiel 42:1-20 ; Ezekiel 43:1-27 ; Ezekiel 44:1-31 ; Ezekiel 45:1-25 ; Ezekiel 46:1-24 ; Ezekiel 47:1-23 ; Ezekiel 48:1-35 ). Some time after the Return, Ezra and Nehemiah had to contend with the laxity to which Jews who had remained in the home land and others had yielded; but they were uncompromising, and won the battle for nationalism in religion.

Judaism was in even greater danger of being lost in the world-currents of speculation and religion soon after the time of Alexander the Great. Indeed, but for the brave Maccabæan rising in the earlier half of the 2nd cent. b.c., both the religion and the language of the Jew might, humanly speaking, have perished.

The Apocrypha speaks of the ‘nations’ just as do the later writings of the OT. They are ‘uncircumcised,’ ‘having sold themselves to do evil’ ( 1Ma 1:15 ); they break the Sabbath, offer no sacrifice to Jahweh, eat unclean food and such as has been offered to idols ( 2Ma 5:6 ; 2Ma 5:9 ; 2Ma 5:18 ; 2Ma 15:1 f. etc. etc.).

The NT reveals the same attitude towards foreign nations on the part of the Jews (see Acts 10:45 et passim ). In Rabbinical writings Jewish exclusiveness manifested itself even more decisively (see Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum , vol. i., esp. ch. xvi.). But, as in the OT a broader spirit shows itself constantly, culminating in the universalism of Christianity, so enlightened and broadminded Jews in all ages have deprecated the fanatical race-hatred which many of their compatriots have displayed.

T. Witton Davies.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nations'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/n/nations.html. 1909.

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