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Reference: Nations


In many places where in the AV we have 'Gentiles' and 'heathen' the RV 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 (only NT) we find 'Gentile' in the singular (Ro 2:9 f.) the RV has 'Greek,' following the original. In nearly every example the singular 'nation' stands for 'Israel,' though we have a few exceptions, as in Ex 9:24 (of Egypt), Pr 14:34 (general), and Mt 21:43. It is often applied to Israel and Judah when there is an implication of disobedience to God, sinfulness and the like: see De 32:28; Jg 2:10; Isa 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 'Gentiles' often corresponds to 'Greeks' in the original, as in Joh 7:35; Ro 3:9 etc. In the RV 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 10/5'>Ge 10:5,10 etc., Isa 2:4 (= Mic 4:2 f.), Job 12:23; 34:20; Ac 17:28; Ga 3:14. In other passages this general meaning is narrowed so as to embrace the descendants of Abraham, e.g. in Ge 12:2; 18:18; 17:4-6,15. 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 Ex 9:24; 34:10; Le 25:44 ff., Nu 14:15; De 15:5; 1Ki 4:31; Isa 11:10,12, and often. These are contrasted with Israel 'the people of Jahweh' in 2Sa 7:22; 1Ch 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 De 3:24; 10:17; 1Ki 8:23; Isa 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 Am 9 ff., Mic 7:18 etc.), the nations came to be regarded as worshippers of idols (Le 18:20), and in Ps 9:5,15,17 (cf. Eze 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. Isa 7:1 ff., and 2Ki 16:5 ff., Ahaz and Assyria against Israel and Syria), and by the needs of commerce (see Eze 27:11 [Tyre], 1Ki 9:28; 10:11; 22:28 etc.).

The reforms instituted by king Josiah in the Southern Kingdom (2Ki 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 (Jer 35), 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 Am 2:11; 3:15; 5:11,25; 6:8; 8:5; Ho 2:19; 8:14; 9:10; 10:13; 12:7 ff; Ho 14:4; Isa 2:6; 10:4; 17:10; Zep 1:8,11; Jer 35:1 ff; Jer 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 (De 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 Eze 40; 41; 42; 43; 44; 45; 46; 47; 48). 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 Maccab

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