What's In A Name?
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." This famous quote comes from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. It appears that the famous playwright didn't put much value in names. This seems strange for a man who is remembered throughout history for painting stories with words and developing characters we all know by name, like Hamlet, Lady MacBeth, and the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet, to name a few. It would seem that words...especially names, were very important to Shakespeare, and I suspect he's not alone. Regardless of where one might land on ol' Bill Shakespeare and his assessment of the value of names, as we learned this week in our study of the Ten Commandments, there is little dispute that when it comes to God, he takes the value of his name quite seriously.
In fact, there are perhaps as many as 1000 different "names" for God in the Bible. However, in the Old Testament, there are three distinct words (or names) that are most commonly used in reference to God. The most often used is YHWH (or Yahweh). This is the proper name for God, or it is how God identifies himself, if you will. In our English Bibles, this is typically translated as LORD in all capital letters.
The exact meaning of YHWH as we learned this week comes from earlier in Exodus when Moses encounters God in the form of a burning bush. When Moses asks God what name he should give to the Jews when they ask who sent him, God tells him to say that "I AM" sent him (Exodus 3:13-14) Thus God identifies himself as such. This name for God appears over 6500 times in the Old Testament and in numerous forms and combinations, such as: Yahweh Nissi (The Lord My Banner), Yahweh Raah (The Lord My Shepherd), Yahweh Shammah (The Lord Is There), Yahweh Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), and Yahweh Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts). Each of these names for God discloses important qualities and characteristics of his nature and how he relates to his creation.
The other two commonly used references or names we see for God in the Old Testament are El (and it's various cognates such as Eli, Eloah, and Elohim) which simply means "God" and appears over 2500 times; and Adonai which means "Lord" and largely replaced YHWH in later Jewish writing due to their deep reverence for the name of God and fear of breaking the third commandment. Adonai (in its Greek from Kyrios) is also the name of God most often associated with Jesus (over 700 times).
My point in sharing all of these [hopefully] interesting Bible facts is to illustrate one very important point...what God say's about himself, and what we say about him, matters very much! God has chosen to reveal himself to us on a personal level. By revealing his name to us, he has invited us into fellowship with him. He has introduced himself to us, so to speak. He is no generic, nameless, and distant god; but rather he is the eternally existent God of the universe. Furthermore, the familial (like Father and children) and familiar (like MY God and OUR Lord) references to, and surrounding God in scripture point to the deeply personal and intimate nature of the relationship he desires with us as his people.
At the same time though, like any relationship, their are appropriate levels of respect that are inferred and even expected. This is how we should understand the third commandment. For example, if I were to meet the Queen of England, the expectation would be that I would refer to her by some accepted title, like "Your Majesty." If I were a friend or acquaintance, it may be acceptable to refer to her by name, Elizabeth. Maybe if we were close friends I may call her by a nickname, like Liz or Beth. And yet, even further, if she were my mother, I'd call her Mom. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to call her Beth if I were a stranger meeting her for the very first time. We can all agree on that. But, what is also understood is, even for those closest to her, there is still an appropriate level of reverence and respect that is expected. For me, as a stranger, that respect and reverence is a result of her position as the queen. For her children, it is a result of her position as their mother.
So, how does this apply to the third commandment? God's command that we honor and respect his name isn't meant to keep us at a distance, but rather it is meant to establish what is pleasing and acceptable to him as we draw closer and closer. In the Harry Potter books, the name of the main antagonist is Voldemort. Whenever characters refer to him, they say "he who shall not be named." This isn't how we should treat the name of God, after all, he has introduced himself to us by name. At the same time, if the way we talk about God - the words we use and the things we say - don't honor and glorify him, regardless of what type of relationship we may profess to have with him, we have wandered out of bounds.
The very fact that God has a name and that he has shared it with his creatures is an invitation to draw near and worship him. His word reveals what is true about him so that way may know it and by extension know him. And yet, what we can grasp and understand of the character and glory of God is but a small drop in a vast ocean. This too should inspire awe and worship in us. That this God, majestic in splendor and glory, holy and incomprehensible, has lisped to speak to us in a way that we can apprehend even some small fraction of who he is, that we might know him and be invited in to worship him; moreover that he would condescend to redeem us unto himself when we have transgressed against him, is almost too much to fathom. And yet it is the gospel.
The third commandment doesn't prohibit us from using God's name. Nor is it merely concerned with us using it correctly (although that is surely a part of it). The third commandment, which follows closely with the first two, is about God occupying the proper space in our lives. Do we respect and honor him? Do we desire to bring him glory? Do we obey him? Do we worship him? Is he central in our hearts and minds? If nothing else, my prayer is that these lessons over the Ten Commandments would cause us to ask these types of questions of ourselves...like a check-up for our hearts, minds, and spirits.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 3 - The Third Commandment
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. What is God's name and who named Him?
2. How is taking God's name in vain explained in the Bible?
3. How do we still see this sin today?