01 February 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law------- "You shall not take My name in vain"

We’ve looked at the first two Commandments in the Law of God. In the first commandment, we are forbidden from worshipping any other God but God. Exodus 20:2-3--“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” Then in the second commandment we are forbidden from making anything that we would call a “representation” of God, since God is perfect and holy and sinless, and anything we make would be imperfect and would be made out of material that has been cursed by sin. Exodus 20:4-5--“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” And in this third commandment, God makes it clear that His name is a very sacred and very holy name, and that we should treat that name with all the honor and reverence it deserves. Not only should we be careful to not go around using it like it’s just another word, we should be careful in saying something like “I swear to God…” Exodus 20:7“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.” We’re going to talk about the name itself—what that name is, what it means, and how it is used in Scripture. Next week, we’re going to talk about what it means to “take the name of the LORD in vain.” We tend to think that means using phrases that start with “GD” or “JC”. That’s part of it, but there is more to it than that, and we’ll discuss that next time. But this morning we are going to talk about the name of the LORD.

In most Bibles, when you're reading the OT, you may see the word “LORD” in all capital letters. When you see that, that is how the translators render the Hebrew word “YHVH”. Sometimes you will see the word “GOD” in all capital letters, and this means the same thing. “YHVH” is the name that God uses to refer to Himself. It comes from a Hebrew word that means “I will be.” YHVH literally means “I AM.” The name is made up of the Hebrew characters י-ה-ו-ה (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey). In English, these come out to roughly the letters Y-H-V-H. Before we go any further, just a very quick lesson in Hebrew—and by “quick” I mean “microscopic.” The Hebrew language has one vowel, א (Aleph). The other 21 characters are consonants. The way they make vowels is by taking a consonant and putting either one, two, or three little dots, under or inside the letter, in a certain pattern, and these are called “vowel points.” And that is what creates the vowel sound.

Now, what they did for the name of God was, they took the י-ה-ו-ה (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey) and they used the vowel points from the word “Adonai” which is the generic term for “lord.” And what you wind up with is a word that sounds like this: “YaHoVaH.” I want to share with you a little something I read recently about this subject. Zola Leavitt is a Hebrew scholar, and a professing Christian Jew. I don’t know all of his theology, but I can tell you this much—he knows a whole lot more about the Hebrew language than I do. I'll let him explain a little (emphases mine):
“The Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7) states, "Thou 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." On account of this, the Masoretes [Jewish scribes of the 700’s-1100’s] ensured that the Name of the LORD would not be taken in vain by substituting the vowel marks for Adonai and putting them under the letters …and this has led to the obviously incorrect pronunciation of the Name as "Jehovah" (in older English, "J" had a "y" sound)…Yahweh is most likely also an incorrect transliteration, since there is no "w" sound in Hebrew. Since ancient Hebrew did not use any vowel markings, the actual pronunciation of the sacred Name is simply not known. In ancient Temple times, only the Kohen Gadol (high priest) would utter the Name during Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement; the one day when he would go into the Most Holy Place]. The Jewish tradition is to not pronounce the sacred Name at all, but to substitute the word Adonai ("my Lord") in its place. Thus, when reading Torah, you do not attempt to vocalize the Name, but say Adonai instead. When not reading Torah, most observant Jews refer to the sacred Name simply as Hashem or "the Name" (Lev. 24:16). In Hebrew the sacred Name is called Shem HaMeforash, "the unspeakable Name." (Zola Leavitt Ministries)
Here's a little video, I'm sure many of us have seen this at some point in our lives. It's from the movie "The Ten Commandments", the famous scene from Exodus 3, the first time that God reveals Himself—and His name—to Moses, at the burning bush.

Exodus 3:14-15God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’” Now, it was not as though the people did not know the name of God. In fact, this was not the first time God had revealed His name. We see that as far back as Genesis, people were calling on His name. Genesis 4:26And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of YHVH [the LORD]. God spoke this name to Abraham in Genesis 15:7Then He said to him, “I am YHVH [the LORD], who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” So when Moses asks God, “When…they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?” It’s not that the people would not have any idea what name God used to identify Himself. He was, after all, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. They had known His name for hundreds of years. So the question became a matter of the meaning of the name God used to refer to Himself. Keil and Delitzsch explain it like this:
“God therefore told him His name, or, to speak more correctly, He explained the name, יהוה, by which He had made Himself known to Abraham…in this way, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, “I am that I am,” and designated Himself by this name as the absolute God of the fathers, acting with unrestrained liberty and self-dependence.”

John Gill said it like this:
“This signifies the real being of God, his self-existence, and that he is the Being of beings; as also it denotes his eternity and immutability, and his constancy and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, for it includes all time, past, present, and to come; and the sense is, not only I am what I am at present, but I am what I have been, and I am what I shall be, and shall be what I am.”
God does not depend on anyone for anything, and He is self-existent. That is, His existence is dependent upon nothing and no one. Skeptics and atheists like to ask the age-old question, “Who created God?” No one! He IS. He is eternal, He is uncreated, He IS. Period. Revelation 4:6-8And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back…The four living creatures, each having six wings…do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” The fact that His name is “I AM” speaks to His eternality—that is, from eternity past to eternity future, all time is the same to Him. To us, yesterday was yesterday and tomorrow is tomorrow. But to God, every day is today. He is an eternal being, and from eternity past to eternity future, He will always be the same. And since mankind was created in the image of God, man is an eternal being as well. We did not exist from eternity past, but we will exist in eternity future. And yes, it is all one “eternity” but since we humans are stuck in time and are bound by time, we see things as past, present and future, whereas God sees it all as being in the present. And even though our bodies may stop functioning and “fall asleep”, our spirit will exist forever in one of two places.

This is the point Jesus makes in Matthew 23:23-32The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: "Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her." Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' ? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." The point that Jesus is making here is this: God does not stop being the God of His people simply because their bodies fall asleep. When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, He did not say, “I WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He said, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Psalm 90:2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. Notice the Psalmist does not say “You were God and You will be God.” From eternity past to eternity future—He IS God. Present tense. Eternity past, eternity future—it’s all the same to God. In Hebrews 1:10, the writer shares with us these words that God spoke concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, and quotes Psalm 102:25-27— Keep in mind, this is God the Father talking about God the Son—“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.” So we see God the Father saying that the Son laid the foundation of the earth, the heavens are the works of the Son’s hands, and that the Son is the same forever and His years will have no end.

Keep in mind that Jesus Christ is God. That He has existed since eternity past with the Father. The apostle John opens his account of the gospel by referring to Jesus as The Word. And in John 1:1, when John says In the beginning was the Word, “was” is in a tense which one fellow says “conveys no idea of origin for God or for the Logos, simply continuous existence.” And the Word was with God—not just “with” the Father, as though He were simply in the same general vicinity—but with the Father, “not merely as being near or beside, but as a living union and communion; implying the active notion of [harmonious relationship].” And this relationship between the Father and the Son, again, goes all the way back to eternity past. They have shared this love, they will forever share this love, it has never changed and it will never change. And the last part of John 1:1And the Word was God. And that is, in fact, the proper way to translate that last part. (See my post on this matter here). And being God, we can see why the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is also eternal, and shared the same love and communion with the Father and the Son. Hebrews 9:13-14For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer…sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Acts 5:3-4Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?...You have not lied to men but to God." And we can also see how all three members of the Trinity were involved in creation. Psalm 33:6By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. And then we could go all the way back to Genesis 1:1-2In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. So now, if we put all of this together—that God the Father is eternal, that God the Son is eternal, that God the Holy Spirit is eternal, and that these are always the same and have never changed and never will change—now we see why God calls Himself YHVH, “I AM.”

Jesus is Lord.