The Bible’s Viewpoint
Was Jehovah the Tribal God of the Jews?
IN MANY lands today, the name Jehovah is closely associated with the modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet, this name appears in some Bible translations that are used by religions besides Jehovah’s Witnesses. Indeed, the name Jehovah as represented by the Tetragrammaton has been in use for thousands of years.
Jehovah is sometimes called “the God of Israel.” (1 Chronicles 17:24) This expression has led some to believe that he was merely a local tribal god whom the Hebrews either borrowed from another culture or invented for themselves. “[Jehovah] began life as a very aggressive tribal deity of the Israelites,” claims Karen Armstrong, writer of the book A History of God. “Later, the prophets of Israel . . . , in about the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., made this tribal God a symbol for the absolutely indescribable reality.”
A number of religious historians have attempted to trace the origin of the name Jehovah to Canaanite or Egyptian sources. Others assert that it “is an old tribal name” and does not identify the God portrayed in the “New Testament.” Is that true? What does a careful reading of the Bible reveal?
Jehovah—The God of All People
The Bible acknowledges the intimate association of Jehovah with the Israelite nation. But this is no reason to consider him a mere tribal god. The Christian apostle Paul asked: “Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of people of the nations?” Paul’s clear answer? “Yes, of people of the nations also.” (Romans 3:29) Who was the God that Paul referred to? Well, in this same letter to the Romans, the name Jehovah appears 19 times. The apostle, quoting the ancient Hebrew prophet Joel, noted that not just the Jews but “everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.”—Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32.
The Israelites did not choose Jehovah as their God; rather, Jehovah chose them to accomplish his purpose—that is, to prepare the way for the Messiah. Furthermore, a tribal god’s destiny is bound up with that of its people. When the tribe is vanquished, the god too suffers defeat. This has not been the case with Jehovah.
Jehovah’s covenant with Abraham—put into effect centuries before the Christian era—promised blessings for people of all nations, showing God’s interest in all mankind. (Genesis 12:1-3; Acts 10:34, 35; 11:18) Israelite King David showed that Jehovah was proprietor of more than just the land of Israel: “To Jehovah belong the earth and that which fills it, the productive land and those dwelling in it.”—Psalm 24:1.
Later when David’s son Solomon dedicated a temple of worship to Jehovah, he showed that there was a way by which Jehovah could be approached by humble people of any nation. In his dedication prayer, Solomon said: “Also to the foreigner, who is no part of your people Israel and who actually comes from a distant land . . . and prays toward this house, may you yourself listen from the heavens, your established place of dwelling, and you must do according to all that for which the foreigner calls to you; in order that all the peoples of the earth may get to know your name so as to fear you the same as your people Israel do.”—1 Kings 8:41-43.
Regarding the relationship of Israel with Jehovah, Professor C. J. Labuschagne wrote: “Throughout her history Israel experienced again and again that the ‘national’ God could act in a most unnational and even antinational way.” In the first century when Israel rejected the Messiah, Jehovah rejected that nation.
However, Jehovah’s name was to continue to be used among Christians. As the Christian congregation grew, its membership came to include people of all nations. Presiding at a Christian assembly in Jerusalem, the Jewish disciple James spoke of God as having “turned his attention to the [non-Jewish] nations to take out of them a people for his name.” As proof that this had been foretold, James then quoted a prophecy in the book of Amos in which Jehovah’s name appears.—Acts 15:2, 12-18; Amos 9:11, 12.
Cares for All, Blesses All
Further confirming the universalness of Jehovah’s Godship, Paul wrote: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for there is the same Lord over all, who is rich to all those calling upon him.” (Romans 10:12) Yes, all obedient humankind can receive Jehovah’s blessing.
To all his faithful and obedient human children—regardless of their nationality or race—Jehovah promises a glorious future. His Word describes such people as “the desirable things of all the nations.” (Haggai 2:7) These people get to know Jehovah and come to love him. The last book of the Bible says about them: “All the nations will come and worship before you [Jehovah], because your righteous decrees have been made manifest.”—Revelation 15:4.
[Picture on page 20]
Moses holding the Ten Commandments