Names and the Name – 17

On Blasphemy 2

Because God’s has attached his name to Israel, to mock Israel is to blaspheme God’s name. ‘“Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised” (Isa 52:5; cf. Mal 1:11–14). The LXX adds the phrase evn toi/j e;qnesin, an addition that Paul adopts in Romans 2:24, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (evn toi/j e;qnesin) because of you.’ Clearly, as we shall see in further posts, there is a link between God’s name and his self-witness to the nations.

Blank notes that divorced from its context, the assertion that God’s name suffers profanation because of his people can mean either of two things: either a) that God is defamed by the shameful conduct of his people, or b) that God is disgraced because of the shameful condition of his people. He contends that the context of Isaiah 52:2 ‘proves’ that the author intended the latter meaning, whereas Paul misquotes the text in order to critique the Jews’ behaviour.

It seems clear to me that both readings are not only possible, but intricately related and implied in both texts. However, even if Blank is correct, the significant thing is that God has so attached his name to Israel that he is both shamed by Israel’s conduct and so sends them into exile. But their being in exile also defames his name among the nations for in their defeat, the nations see the defeat of their God whose reputation, fame, prestige and recognition is concerned. As Blank asserts, ‘To profane the name of God is to do damage to God’s reputation, to defame him, to lessen his prestige, to retard the process by which he receives recognition, to put off the day on which it shall be known that he is God.’ Likewise in Romans 2, Israel is again in exile (not only is Paul’s audience presumably in Rome, but even those Jews in Palestine strive under foreign occupation which is sign of their being under judgement) and called in exile to be ‘a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness’ (2:19), that is to the nations, a calling that is apparently being undermined by their breaking of God’s law and so of dishonoring his name.

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