This famous line from Romeo and Juliet attempts to downplay the importance of a person’s name. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” For Juliet, this may have been true – it definitely suited her desires for the time being (which happened to be a dashing young man, which I figure probably looked a lot like me…). But is this really the case? Is a name just a label given to someone, without any true meaning to who they truly are? Perhaps for humanity, this is true. Our names may not mean much, other than our family heritage and whether we get beat up on the playground. But I’m starting to see that God’s name is much more meaningful than that.
I recently began a new Bible study over prayer, and yesterday’s lesson from that study talked about the names of God. Up until that point, I had heard many sermons, read several articles, and even done studies over the names of God, but for some reason when I was reading this lesson of my study, I had a realization. Maybe it was a moment of revelation from God, or maybe it was just coincidence (I know, I know…there’s no such thing…). But I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly convicted about how I have used God’s name. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t use God’s name in swear words or anything. Somewhere a long time ago, a Sunday School teacher taught me that in the 10 commandments, God told us not to use His name in vain. And although I have broken other commandments multiple times (especially the murder one… just kidding…), I have always held some special reverence for the 3rd commandment. It goes like this in the version I originally learned it in, the King James Version:
7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7, KJV)
And although I may claim that I have always held special reverence for this commandment, looking back, I really didn’t have a clue what it meant. To me, this meant that I shouldn’t say bad words and link them to the word “god.” So, I’ve always said “Oh my goodness!” instead of the alternative, and “gosh darn!” instead of the alternative. To me, this was sufficient. And legally speaking, perhaps I would be right. But when Jesus came, he spoke about the heart behind the Law (the 10 Commandments included) and not just the legalistic aspects of doing the bare minimum to be righteous in the eyes of the Law. For instance, He equated hatred with murder, saying that whoever hates his brother in his heart has committed a sin equal to murder (Matthew 5:21-22). And He equated lust with adultery, saying that whoever lusts after a woman in his heart has committed adultery with her, regardless if he ever actually touched her (Matthew 5:27-28). The Law, it would seem, in the eyes of God, is a lot more than a set of rules or guidelines for behavior. It’s a complete way of being, a definition of who someone is supposed to be. And this, I suppose, is also true of the 3rd commandment – using God’s name in vain.
So what would be the heart behind the message of the 3rd commandment? I think the New International Version catches it well:
7 You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Exodus 20:7, NIV)
Misusing something means a lot more to me than using it in vain. If someone tells me that they were misusing a shovel, I would assume they were trying to dig with the handle, or perhaps using it for something other than digging – like as a baseball bat or something. But if they tell me they are using it in vain, I couldn’t assume how they were using it, but only that they were not getting much use out of it. The first is more informative to me. In relation to God’s name, this means that even just saying “God”, without any reverent regard to the awesome, holy being to whom I am referring might could be construed as misuse. This is something I tend to do a lot. In my prayers, I address Him as God, Lord, and Father. I don’t necessarily think through what I’m calling Him or why I’m calling Him that. Perhaps this is wrong of me, so I think it’s important that I spend time looking at exactly what God’s various names actually mean. I hope to do this over the next 2 or 3 days, taking various things that God calls Himself, and looking at that particular name from every angle. Hopefully I will gain not only a better understanding of the meaning of the name, but I will gain a better understanding of who God is as well. And as my study said, “knowing God is the most important element in learning to fellowship with Him through prayer.” And for right now, that is my goal – to get closer to Him through prayer.
How about you? Any particular name for God that has special meaning or holds a special place in your heart? Please share!