01 Oct What’s In a Name?
It is one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines in one of his most famous plays. Juliet asks of Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Juliet probably didn’t realize it, but in just those few words she launched a debate that has endured for centuries. It has crossed all kinds of cultural barriers. It has caused students to lose countless hours of sleep as they fervently tried to finish their essays on the meaning of it all.
What’s in a name?
I’m preaching a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. Last Sunday we looked at the third commandment which is about God’s name: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” One thing all human beings share in common is that we are named by someone else. We don’t emerge from the womb and name ourselves. But, no one ever named God. God’s name is chosen and revealed by God himself. We do not tell God who he is; God tells us. This is one of the ways in which God’s name comes before all other names.
One of the remarkable things about this commandment is that God is sharing his personal name with us which is a sign of God’s love for us. But, God is doing much more than that. In the ancient world of the Hebrews, a name was not just a name, a la Juliet. It was inseparable from a person’s identity. A name expressed the core essence of a person, so to share one’s name was to offer oneself in deep personal relationship.
The flip side of that meant that to use someone’s name in vain was to dishonor them. A more literal translation of this commandment is, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God for nothingness.” To use God’s name in an empty, thoughtless or flippant way is to treat God as if God doesn’t matter much or doesn’t really exist. When we dishonor God’s name we dishonor God’s holiness. It is a way of saying that God himself is worthless.
Remember, God had just rescued the Israelites from the backbreaking, soul-crushing bonds of slavery. They were free people through none of their own efforts, but solely as a result of God’s grace. And, God was now offering them his personal name and a personal relationship, as well. How could they turn around and show blatant disrespect for this loving, saving God by trashing God’s name? For that matter, how can we?
Yours for the Kingdom,