Names and the Name – 16

‘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’. (Exod 20:7). With this post we return back to our series on the Name, the next few posts of which will focus on the issue of blasphemy.

Of course God need not protect himself, but he does protect His name, and so seriously that he adds to this simple commandment a special threat. This is done because within the name that which bears the name is present.

So writes Paul Tillich. Whilst it is true that in the Scriptures the object of mocking profanation and blasphemy is God’s name, rather than God himself, the two cannot be separated. To blaspheme God’s name is to blaspheme God (Isa 37:23; Ezek 13:19; 22:26; Rom. 2:24 [quoting Isa 52:5; 1 Tim 6: Rev. 13:6; 16:9). And as Leviticus 24:10–16 shows, blasphemy was not treated lightly. The offender, whether sojourner or native, was brought out of the camp and justly accused by those who heard him before being stoned to death by ‘all the congregation’. The nation itself was to take responsibility for blasphemy in their midst for their own integrity and glory depended upon God’s name being holy.

Twice in Nehemiah 9, the Levites remind the returned exiles of their blasphemous past. The God who had ‘made a name for himself’ in the liberation of an enslaved people from an arrogant Egypt (9:10), himself had to in turn deal with an ‘arrogant’ people who refused to listen and obey him. The epitome of their rebellion is illustrated ‘when they had made for themselves a golden calf’ and attributed to it their rescue (9:18). This and other great blasphemies’ were met by God’s forgiveness, grace, compassion and mercy which refused to ‘abandon them in the desert’ (9:17–19). Later on during this same time of the worship, the eight Levites recalled how Israel ‘captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance’ eating their fill, becoming fat and delighting in God’s goodness (9:25). Yet they were disobedient and rebelled against God, casting his law behind their backs and killing the prophets who had warned them with a view to turning them back to God. And, the Levites said ‘they committed great blasphemies (9:26b). This time their ‘great blasphemies were met by God’s act of judgement expressed via the giving of them ‘into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer’ (9:27a), out of which they cried out again to the Lord who heard them, had compassion on them and, again rescued them from their enemies’ hand (9:27b). It would seem that it is not without significance that the Levites begin their praise in v. 5 with the words, ‘Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise’ (9:5b).

PS. There’s at least 2 articles in the latest edition of Time that are worth reading: This one on The Psychology of Fatherhood and this one on Rowan Williams (who features on the front cover of the Aussie edition) (HT: Aaron). From the Williams article:

Anglicanism matters, and not just because it is one of the largest Protestant denominations. It matters because, like Roman Catholicism, it is global, uniting varied ethnicities, economic levels and social attitudes in an overarching understanding of faith. But Anglicans have foregone Catholicism’s useful authoritarianism, staking their unity on a seemingly more attractive continual conversation, based on mutual respect. The sharp debate over homosexuality threatens that unity, and crystallizes a challenge facing everyone in an uneasy, newly wired world: can the North — rich and imbued with an ethos of individual rights — and the poorer South find a constructive interdependence?

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