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Does God’s Name Matter?

Does God have a name? Is God the name for God? Is God bothered what I call him? Does God care about it at all? And if he does, why does God care? Am I obligated to care for God’s name? How do I know when I am not caring for God’s name? What happens if I don’t care for God’s name? These are important questions! Questions that boil down to a single one: Does God’s name really matter? The third commandment provides the clearest instruction in the Bible concerning God’s name. Among the Ten Commandments that Moses delivered to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai contained this injunction: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” [Exodus 20:7] There are three observations we can make about God’s name from this verse.

First, God has a name. Exodus 20 begins with God making himself known to His chosen people Israel. He declares, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”. This declaration of God as “the Lord your God” is repeated in v7. In short, God revealed himself to them in a personal way (your God). He was their God. They knew Him and He knew them. He knew them both as individuals and as a community. God always knows us personally and as a community. A key part of Israel knowing God is the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God makes the point of reminding them this and in doing so, he reminds us deliverance is prior to knowing God. Every child of God has encountered God in a unique way. They have left their spiritual Egypt and have a new covenant in Jesus Christ!


God’s self revelation came with clear statement of His specific chosen name. In both v2 and v7 God made it clear that His name is “the LORD” or Yahweh. It is this name that He expected the people of Israel to use in worship and in all their speaking of Him. God therefore is not a His name. His name is Yahweh which is translated in capitals LORD to distinguish it from the title “Lord”. The key point is that it is a personal name! God has a name and his name is Yahweh. This name of course is first mentioned in Genesis 2:4, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”. We also meet it again when Genesis 4:26 explicitly makes it an object of worship, “Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord”

God having a name has important implications. For one thing, we can be confident that because God has a personal name we must reject all suggestions that God is nameless, as “nature worshippers” try and tell us. God having a personal name means that we must reject all other names not found in the Bible which are not consistent with His. So uses of names from other religions must be quickly rejected. It is important that everyone recognises that there’s only one true God, with one unique name. His name is Yahweh our God.

Secondly, God cares for his name. We know God cares for his name because in v7 he issues a direct command against misusing it! “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. It is a non-optional command! It is also very specific – “the name of the Lord”. God is commanding His chosen people to hold his name in high esteem. We should not miss that this is directed at them because only they knew God’s name, not the surrounding nations! Only they understood that God cared about His name. God’s specific command to them shows that that God cares about His name and how it is used! But why does God care for His name? Is God merely obsessed with His image?

The answer is that God cares for his name because it is fundamentally an expression of God. His name is God Himself. Naming something is not merely sounding off words. It communicates something! God’s name communicates fundamental aspects of His being and His relationship with His creation. Names the near East , and other parts of the world today, carry meaning and are important.

Naming is an exercise of control over something. The things we name, we control! When new countries become independent they immediately change names. When my country was colonised by Britain, it was called Northern Rhodesia. Immediately after we got independence in 1964, we changed the name to Zambia. In the Bible God names Himself to communicate that he in charge of all things! His name assures us that God is in charge of our lives! So we call on His name! And because God’s name communicates His control, misusing it is a rejection of His control! We misuse or take his name in vain at our own peril!

Naming is an exercise of characterising. It describes traits of the person. The Bible tells us that Eve called by that name because she was the “mother of all living”. I am called Chola because I was born after twins. Similarly in the Bible God’s name reveals his character. We say compounds of God’s name revealed in the Bible like Yahweh Jireh” (provider); “Yahweh Rapha” (healer); “Yahweh Shalom (peace); “Yahweh M’Kaddesh (God is Holy); and “Yahweh Tsidkenu” (Lord our Righteous). All of these names remind us of His character and moves us in awe and worship at His Majesty! And because God’s name communicates His character, misusing it is a rejection of all He is!

Naming is a way of marking someone out of the crowd! Names gives us presence and identity! It is interesting that when a child is rebellious they immediately adopt a nickname. To assert their independence over their parents. Similarly when man and woman marry the woman takes the name of her husband to show that they have a common identity! And when they sadly divorce, the woman who is keen to move on quickly re-establishes her identity by dropping the surname belong to the husband! In the Bible God’s name shows he is present among us. He is totally present everywhere! As Psalm 8:1 declares, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens”. His name assures us that God is with us in every situation! So we call on His name! Because God’s name communicates His presence, misusing it is a rejection of His presence!

So in short, God’s name is God himself! It is for this reason that throughout scripture we see that God’s name even has divine attributes. God’s names totally identifies God. As result we can call, trust and praise his name! And of course God’s name is located, par excellence in Jesus Christ - Jesus means Yahweh Saves! Jesus is the only name by which we can be saved [Acts 4:12]; every name must bow [Phil 2:9-11]. We must therefore recognise that this commandment is fulfilled in Jesus Christ! Without Jesus we can’t fully know and appreciate God’s name!

Finally, God’s people care for God’s name. God’s central command is that His people should not “take the name of the Lord in vain”. The word “take” is from the Hebrew Nasa which means to carry / lift. It is not just about speaking. It is largely about bearing God’s name. The other key word is “vain”, which comes from the Hebrew shav. This means empty / meaninglessness. In other words not just misuse but acting falsely and misrepresenting God. The command therefore is that God’s people were not to bear God’s name in a meaningless or false way!

In a narrow sense it meant they were not to speak falsely or empty of His name. This means that oaths and vows are not have an emptiness to them. We are not make false promises to God whether in our marriage, church member commitments or in other domains of relationship. This incidentally means even in our singing we must be sincere. It also means that we not to blaspheme. Using Jesus or God as an exclamation mark is forbidden. Same as using euphemism for God such as “gosh” or “gee”. In the church it also forbits heresy and all forms of error. We are used to hearing someone stand up and say, “God told me this”. If God has not told you, it is blaspheme. Claiming to have a special word of revelation is blaspheme if it is not sent by God. God speaks but we must be clear it is him speaking! In the broad and more intended sense, it means they are not to injure His reputation in any way! In other words, all forms of hypocrisy are forbidden here. All sin by God’s people brings shame to God’s reputation God. All is therefore a violation of God’s identity. We also damage God’s name by living so shamefully that it prevents others knowing God. All thse things are forbidden! And we must take them seriously.

Violating God’s reputation and character comes with serious consequences. The perpetrator stands guilty before the Lord. Blasphemy in the Bible was considered a serious capital crime as shown in Leviticus 24:15-16. Though we live under grace and not the law, it remains a serious thing for God’s people to damage God’s reputation! Christians who misuse God’s name are living dangerous. Christians who claim to carry God’s name but living contrary to him are living dangerous! The good news is that Jesus has freed us from death. We are not under death, we now live in Him and He in us! However, we are in danger of severe correction from God if we keep taking his name in vain. We are damaging our relationship with him! And we need to repent if we find ourselves doing that.

An illustration from from the world of business may help us think about God’s name. One way for us to understand this commandment is to treat God’s name as a branded and copyrighted property owned by God [it is his brand name]. In order to gain widespread distribution for His branded manual for life (“the Bible”) and also to capture a greater market share for His authorized trading franchise (“the Church”) God has graciously licensed the use of His brand name to anyone who will use it according to His written instructions. However, we need to understand that God has not released his name in the public domain. God retains legal control and authority over His name. And threatens serious penalties against the unauthorized misuse of this supremely valuable property. All violations of the brand will be prosecuted to the full limits of the law. The prosecutor, judge, jury, and enforcer is God himself.

So we must absolutely regard God’s name with the highest honour it deserves! God’s name does matter! It matters to God and for good reason. Because His name is Who He Is! He is Yahweh. There’s no other god besides him!

Note:

In thinking about God's name, I have benefited heavily from reading my favourite theologian's book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, by John Frame. I also enjoyed reading The Law of Perfect Freedom by Michael Horton. The two books compliment each other excellently. 

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