No, this isn’t a guest post by John Piper. But I will admit that I’ve been hugely influenced by Piper over the years. When I first became a Christian, I starting reading and listening to everything that Piper put out, and I was quickly convinced of his God-centered vision of—well—everything.
But a few years after I got saved, I decided to set aside all the theological hobby horses I was indoctrinated in, and riding, in order to comb through the text to see if these things are so. In many ways, I’m still combing. Thumbing through passages, reconsidering cherished doctrines, and making sure that what I believe has firm roots in the Bible. It’s a never ending journey and I’ve found that seeking to be biblical is incredibly hard work.
This led me to scrutinized Piper’s claim that God ultimately does all things to glorify himself. I have to admit, it does sound a little selfish of God—a God who gave everything to those who deserved nothing. A God who is near to the broken hearted and walked with Adam in the garden. Does this God really do all things to bring himself glory?
It wasn’t until I started working through the Old Testament years later that I became more and more convinced that he does.
For instance, Israel’s exodus from Egypt is a fundamental event in the Old Testament story. In many ways, it’s the “cross and resurrection” of Israel’s history, the grand act of salvation whereby God redeems his people for himself. Now, throughout the so-called plague narrative (Exod 5-14), Moses salts the narrative with a bunch of purposes clauses—statements that tell us why God is rescuing Israel from Egypt. Over and over, God says that he is turning water to blood, blackening the bright sky, and parting the Red Sea in two “in order that they may know that I am Yahweh” (Exod 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:22; 10:2; 14:4, 18). Sometimes the “they” (the Egyptians) is changed to a “you” (the Israelites). Either way, God desires to make himself known to the world—in judgment and in salvation.
Even that hard-hearted pharaoh is swept up into God’s plan. Why did God harden pharaoh’s heart? Some people say He didn’t. Others say God did it so that pharaoh would repent. But God gives us his own “so that” right there in the text:
For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exod 9:16)
Why did God raise up pharaoh and harden his heart? “So that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” And Paul agrees:
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Rom 9:17-18)
God is ultimately for God. And he intervenes to judge and to save “so that you may know that he is Yahweh”—the one and only God of all creation. Such is the theological engine that drives the central act of salvation in the Old Testament. But there’s more.
Towards the end of the Old Testament, there’s another grand act of deliverance envisioned by the prophets and fulfilled in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 9:31). It’s often referred to as the “second exodus,” because the prophets clothe their prophecies about this event in language drawn from the first exodus. And again, this second exodus highlights the God-centerdness of God.
In fact, the same purpose clause that saturates the first exodus (“so that you/they may know that I am the LORD”) occurs more than 70 times in the book of Ezekiel alone. In almost every instance, it’s attached to some statement about God’s judgment or his future salvation. Why will God redeem his people? To make his name known:
It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. (Ezek 36:22-23)
I’ll never forget sitting in my dorm room in college reading Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad and seeing him quote this passage from Ezekiel. As much as I wanted to buy into what he was saying—it probably had more to
do with the way he says it—I remained a bit skeptical. Is Piper not just cherry picking a verse from some random Old Testament book to support his point? Anyone can do this to back up virtually any theological claim.
But half way through my PhD, I spent a few months studying the book of Ezekiel. I read it cover to cover many times. I read books, articles, and commentaries that deal with the original Hebrew. I worked through Ezekiel’s argument with a fine-toothed comb. What did I find out?
Piper is absolutely correct.
The God-centeredness of God is not just evident in a few verses here and there. It’s integral to the entire message of Ezekiel. The God of the prophets desires to disclose his name and character before all nations. That’s why he saves. That’s why he judges. The twin events that envelope Israel’s story—the first and second exodus—display this fundamental theme. God desires to showcase his name throughout the world.
And that’s why he brought you into a covenant relationship with himself. To make his name known among the nations.