A Pepper Grinder Post

You Will Know I Am the Lord

Recently I've been reading through the book of Ezekiel in Hebrew. At some point, it struck me that I was seeing the same Hebrew phrase over and over. I was seeing something that would be translated like, "then you will know that I am the Lord*."

Out of curiosity, I decided to count how often some variant of this phrase occurred in Ezekiel. I found 55 occurrences in this book alone. (Actually, if you include almost identical Hebrew phrases, the number is even higher!) That's enough that I imagine some Bible scholar somewhere has declared this to be a central theme of the book. If not, I am proclaiming it now!

I was interested in the phrase because of the different ways it is used. It's easy to imagine God saying this when talking about a good or miraculous thing he has done for his people. In fact, there are a number of times it is used this way in Ezekiel. The second most common place this phrase occurs is in Exodus (10 occurrences by my count), where God is talking about the miracles surrounding the Exodus and the years in the desert, and how these will cause the Israelites or the Egyptians to know that he is the Lord.

plantHowever, what really struck me in Ezekiel was that there were about four times as many instances of this phrase where it referred to something BAD happening as there were where it referred to something good. Take this passage from Ezekiel 6, for example:

"Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the LORD. But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me--how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them."

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out 'Alas!' because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. He that is far away will die of the plague, and he that is near will fall by the sword, and he that survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I spend my wrath upon them. And they will know that I am the LORD, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak--places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah--wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD." (Ezekiel 6:7-14, NIV)

I remember talking to someone in my church years ago who told me his wife felt closest to the Lord when things were going well. He, on the other hand, tended to draw closest to God when things were going badly. Much as I wish it weren't so, I am much more like this man than I am like his wife. When things in life are going smoothly, I can just feel this inner part of me pulling back from God and saying, in effect, "I'll take it from here." When troubles come, I remember I am powerless without God. In the same way it seems to me that in Ezekiel, when God is talking about bringing disaster on people, his overall aim is not just to blow them away, but to make them remember he is the boss and they need him.

statueAnother thing that interested me was that about two-fifths of the usages of this phrase in Ezekiel were referring not to the Israelites, but to other nations. Whenever I read the Old Testament, I tend to think of the Jews as the heroes, and all the other people as either villains or incidental characters. The use of this phrase made me re-think that assumption. If God only cared about the Jews, why was he being so careful to make sure that the Egyptians, for example, would know that he was the Lord?

Finally, we need to ask what is meant by this phrase. What is God really looking for? Is God like the neighborhood bully, who wants everyone to know he is the toughest kid around? Is he an egomaniac who wants to be famous?

We need to be careful when thinking about God's actions. My natural tendency is to think about what I would be thinking or feeling if I did or said some of the things God did or said. However, God's position is vastly different from mine. If he says his power is greater than anyone else's, it isn't boasting; it is true. If he wants people to know that everything we see and experience was created by him and exists only at his pleasure, he is not being an egomaniac; it is true.

I believe that what is revealed in God's repeated use of this phrase is his desire for people to know the truth about him. I believe that God is looking not for fame or cringing obedience, but for relationship. I believe that God wants people to know who he truly is because they must know who he is to have a true relationship with him. I believe that the same desire for relationship with people that led God to sacrifice his only son many years later was at work in the Old Testament as well.

Why did God do many of the powerful, wonderful, terrible, and kind things we read of him doing? So that people would know that he is the Lord.


*"Yahweh" in the Hebrew