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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Nation

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Gôy (גֹּי, Strong's #1471), “nation; people; heathen.” Outside the Bible, this noun appears only in the Mari texts (Akkadian) and perhaps in Phoenician-Punic. This word occurs about 56 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew.

Gôy refers to a “people or nation,” usually with overtones of territorial or governmental unity/identity. This emphasis is in the promise formulas where God promised to make someone a great, powerful, numerous “nation” (Gen. 12:2). Certainly these adjectives described the future characteristics of the individual’s descendants as compared to other peoples (cf. Num. 14:12). So gôy represents a group of individuals who are considered as a unit with respect to origin, language, land, jurisprudence, and government. This emphasis is in Gen. 10:5 (the first occurrence): “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” Deut. 4:6 deals not with political and national identity but with religious unity, its wisdom, insight, righteous jurisprudence, and especially its nearness to God: “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Certainly all this is viewed as the result of divine election (Deut. 4:32ff.). Israel’s greatness is due to the greatness of her God and the great acts He has accomplished in and for her.

The word ‘am, “people, nation,” suggests subjective personal interrelationships based on common familial ancestry and/or a covenantal union, while gôy suggests a political entity with a land of its own: “Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people” (Exod. 33:13). Gôy may be used of a people, however, apart from its territorial identity: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6).

Gôy is sometimes almost a derogatory name for non-Israelite groups, or the “heathen”: “And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword …” (Lev. 26:33). This negative connotation is not always present, however, when the word is used of the heathen: “For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23:9). Certainly in contexts dealing with worship the gôyim are the nonIsraelites: “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence” (2 Kings 17:33). In passages such as Deut. 4:38 gôyim specifically describes the early inhabitants of Canaan prior to the Israelite conquest. Israel was to keep herself apart from and distinct from the “heathen” (Deut. 7:1) and was an example of true godliness before them (Deut. 4:6). On the other hand, as a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:2) and as a holy “nation” and kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6), Israel was to be the means by which salvation was declared to the nations (heathen) and they came to recognize God’s sovereignty (Isa. 60). So the Messiah is the light of the nations (Isa. 49:6).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Nation'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/n/nation.html. 1940.

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