Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Taking the Name in Vain

In Bible Study Fellowship this past week, we studied Exodus 19-20: YHWH descending upon Sinai in a fiery maelstrom to deliver the Ten Words to Israel.* The third (or second, if you're Lutheran) commandment stopped me and made me think a bit. "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold guitless anyone who misuses his name" (20:7, NIV). This makes it seem like what is forbidden is to use God's name to curse someone, or to make oaths in a cavalier fashion, or to elevate your own teaching's authority by claiming the name of God.

Older translations, however, phrase the commandment as "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain." Could this mean something different? I recalled an old podcast sermon by Jeff Oschwald about this commandment in which he said "taking God's name" was to be called by God's name--to belong to him or to identify with him. Women take their husband's names at the wedding rite. In a few months Barack Obama will take the name President Obama.

So could it be an altogether different thing than simply employing God's name in an unworthy manner? Certainly this interpretation would still make sense. But could it be that as the new nation Israel was coming under a new status as the living God's "treasured possession," his "kingdom of priests," and his "holy nation" (Exodus 19:5), that they had therein also "taken on" God's name? To them alone had Yahweh revealed himself truly; and it was Israel alone who could say they were the one people set apart by God. They had his promises and his Law by which they were to live, with all the resources of the Almighty backing them. How could they take such a name in vain--that is, to no profit--by turning back on God and forsaking his Law in culpable disbelief and rebellion?

In the same way, all of us baptized into the church have been baptized into (eis) the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have a new name; we're called Christ-ians, those who belong to Christ and live under his kingship. Could this third commandment mean for us today not to disbelieve the God-reality, the salvation-reality, we're baptized into? To turn our backs on God, to love sin more than the Master who bought us (2 Peter 2:1), to fail to come to the obedience of faith despite all that is pledged to us?

I'm not saying that all who are baptized are necessarily "saved." First Corinthians 10 dispels that myth; many will "fall in the desert." But in the church, where we go by the name Christian, we have so many benefits that the rest of the world lacks: preaching of God's Word and the "visible word" of the sacraments, the love and prayers of the saints, the revealing of heaven in worship, the presence of the Holy Spirit, church discipline, and so on.

Anyway . . . it's just a curious thought. And how often my thoughts get me into trouble!


*The ten "words" take the form of ten "covenant stipulations" by which Israel was to pledge her loyalty to her Redeemer and Sovereign, who brought them out of Egypt's slavery and delivered them from the plague of death.


Doug P. Baker said...

Hmm, that idea of 'taking the name' in the sense of a wife taking her husband's name is interesting. I'll have to ponder that. Wish my Hebrew was better!

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I think you're right on here - and certainly that aspect was brought out in class discussion for us. To do something "in vain" indicated fruitlessness and that fits well with your hypothesis. If we take His name as His bride and yet do not become one flesh with with Christ, we must, by definition, live a life "in vain".