This week we are memorizing:
Do not use Yahweh your God’s name as if it were of no significance.
10 Yahweh’s name is a strong tower;
the righteous run to it and find refuge.
1 Jeremiah received Yahweh’s word: 2 Stand near the gate of Yahweh’s temple and proclaim there this message: Listen to Yahweh’s word, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship Yahweh. 3 This is what Yahweh of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, says: Improve your conduct and your actions, and I will dwell with you in this place. 4 Don’t trust in lies: “This is Yahweh’s temple! Yahweh’s temple! Yahweh’s temple!” 5 No, if you truly reform your ways and your actions; if you treat each other justly; 6 if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, 7 only then will I dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave long ago to your ancestors for all time.
Proverbs 18:10 pointed to one reason that YHWH (God’s personal name) occurred around 6500 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. “‘Name’ is an important concept in the Bible…. a person’s name says something about the essence of their very being to others.”* Yet by the time of the prophet Jeremiah, too many Israelites had turned that idea into a deceptive reliance on simply saying the right word, without any connection between the worshipper and the God whose name they used so liberally.
Eternal God, you offer to be the strong tower to whom I can entrust my life. But you’re not a magic charm. Give me a serious desire to live with you as Lord of my life. Amen.
* Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford, sidebar note “Name as Identity” in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 1032 OT.
*** Zondervan, NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 173907-173910). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
We call people we hardly know by their first name. That is a development of the late 20th century. Until the 1960’s, courtesy required using titles when addressing others, usually Mr. or Mrs. Even spouses used these titles--I remember my grandmother referring to her husband as Mr. Oden. This courtesy was required especially for those whom one respected; anyone older or in positions of authority were addressed with an honorific. Of course, this system of verbal deference supported status and power for some and not for others, especially in a racialized society. People of color were routinely called by their first name, regardless of their age, status or position. That’s one of the reasons titles have fallen out of use as we have sought greater equality among people.
Until recently, using someone’s personal name meant that one was on a “first name basis,” usually by invitation from another person. First names indicate friendship, close connection, even intimacy. That’s why Jews typically do not use God’s personal name, YHWH (pronounced Yahweh), as they believe that implies a presumptuous familiarity that can lead to disregard for God’s authority and mystery. On the other hand, Christians typically do use God’s personal name (Jehovah, Yahweh), though they are more likely to use descriptors (Lord, Mother, Father, etc). Christians tend to be comfortable being on a “first name basis” with God.
I’ve always struggled with names for God. Much of my struggle is intellectual. I know that God cannot be captured by any one name so I am suspicious of reducing God to one image or title. I want God’s mystery to be my first naming. Yet I want close connection.
So I wonder: what does it mean to be on a “first name basis” with God? What sort of relationship accompanies my use of God’s personal name? Does it lead me to presumptuous familiarity or loving humility? Does it convey that I take God for granted or that I seek close connection? Perhaps as importantly, when I use God’s personal name, what claims does this make on my life?
Do not use Yahweh your God’s name as if it were of no significance (Exodus 20:7).
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