What is in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?7 Names are important, we each have one or more and it is part of who we are. In ancient times, names were even more important. Our Heavenly Father has a name too. His name is not God, the word god is a title, not a name. There is much debate about how to pronounce the name of our Heavenly Father. This article is NOT about this topic. Instead, we will look at what it means to bring honor to our Father’s name as opposed to how His name can be profaned. We shall first look at the third commandment because this relates directly to the Father’s name.
Taking the Father’s name in vain
The third commandment reads that we are not to take the name of our Father in vain.
7 “You shall not take the name of YHVH your Elohim in vain, for YHVH will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
What does this mean?
I don’t know about you, but I have been taught as a child that it means we are not to use His name as a swearword. Having studied the Bible more, made me realize that it goes much wider than that. Let’s look at the Hebrew word:
8736 שָׁוְא (šāwe(ʾ)): n.[masc.]; ≡ Str 7723; TWOT 2338a—1. LN 65.30–65.39 vanity, futility, worthlessness, i.e., that which has no result or use and so worthless (Ex 20:7), see also LN 89.39–89.54; 2. LN 92.11–92.25 nothing, i.e., a negative reference to an entity, event, or state (Job 15:31); 3. LN 72.1–72.11 falseness, i.e., that content which is not true, with a special focus that this content is worthless for ascertaining the truth (Ex 23:1), see also domain LN 70; 4. LN 6.96–6.101 idol, formally, vanity, i.e., an image of a pagan god, with a special reference to its worthlessness (Ps 24:4); 5. LN 33.161–33.177 empty plea, i.e., a request which is not responded to, and so of no effect (Job 35:13)2
Taking the Father’s name in vain means to make it worthless, bring it to nothing, associate falseness with Him, or making a representation of Him like an idol. It generally means misrepresenting Him or to bring Him in disrepute.
There is another interesting interpretation by Mowinckel (Ps. Stud. 1: 50-57,) he interprets the word as injustice and deception, triviality and lying, but also as follows:
Just think about this, you probably have heard someone say that you have to use the name of YHVH or your prayer will not be answered, or you have to use a certain pronunciation of His name for the same reason. This is using the Fathers name as magic. So using His name in this way, is also taking His name in vain.
This already gives us a good understanding as to what it means not to dishonor YHVH’s name. However, there is more. A name in ancient times was much more than something you called someone. We shall now look at the meaning of the Hebrew word “shem” translated as name, to see what we can learn from this. The historical and textual context is very important for our understanding. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has a very comprehensive explanation of the historical and textual context of the word “shem.” We shall use this as our basis and then search the Scripture to see if it is applicable to YHVH’s name also.
A name reflects the character, personality and destiny of a person
In many places throughout the OT šēm serves no greater purpose than to identify some person, place, or thing, and to distinguish this one from other persons, places, or things. But it would be quite incorrect to say that in the OT a name was just an identity tag and no more. There, as in other ancient literature, the name of a person sometimes revealed his character, his personality, even his destiny. In fact, a person’s name was often considered to be but an expression, indeed a revelation, of his true nature, as the many popular etymological explanations of names given to people in the OT makes clear. These explanations may be correct or fanciful, but they bear witness to the widespread belief that name and nature should correspond. For example, Esau can say of Jacob: “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times” (Gen. 27:36; cf. Hos. 12:2–4 [MT 3–5]). And Abigail can say of her churlish husband: “As his name is, so is he; Nabal [= “fool”] is his name, and folly is with him” (1 S. 25:25; cf. also Gen. 3:20; 11:9; 21:3, 6; 1 S. 4:21; Isa. 7:3; etc.). That “name” on occasion is synonymous with “person” (Nu. 1:2; 26:53) and that to speak or act in the name of another is to speak or act as that person (Ex. 5:23; 1 S. 17:45; 1 K. 21:8; etc.) also indicate the close association between name and essence.
But a person does not need to remain what he has been, nor is his nature forever determined by the name first given to him. This can be seen in those several OT references to a change in one’s name, and with it a concomitant change in character and conduct. The new name signifies a new beginning, a new opportunity, a new position, a new person. For example, Jacob, “the crafty one, the overreacher,” is renamed Israel and thus becomes the one who has “striven with God and … prevailed” (Gen. 32:27f.). Abram is renamed Abraham (17:5), Sarai is renamed Sarah (17:15), Joseph is renamed Zaphenath-paneah (41:45), and Jerusalem, purged of injustice, is renamed “the city of righteousness” (Isa. 1:26), or “Yahweh is there” (Ezk. 48:35; see also Isa. 62:2; 65:15; Dnl. 1:7).4
So, how does this relate to YHVH’s name? YHVH’s name as given to Moses is:
14Elohim said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 Elohim, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘YHVH, the Elohim of your fathers, the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.
What does YHVH’s name tell us about His character? To me, it means that He is different to us, He is not a man, He is an eternal Being, He does not change and will do what He said He will.
19 “Elohim is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
27 “But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.
4 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, YHVH, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’ ”
YHVH also calls Himself Jealous.
14 —for you shall not worship any other god, for YHVH, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous Elohim—
19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of YHVH before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”
And when YHVH proclaimed His name, this is what was revealed about Him
6 Then YHVH passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “YHVH, YHVH Elohim, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
So, the name of YHVH is associated with all this and so much more. We will surely be able to find more, but this gives us a glimpse of His character that is revealed to us through His name.
A name is related to a person’s reputation
In Genesis, YHVH promises Abraham that He will make his name great.
2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;
That meant that Abraham will have a good reputation which was very important in ancient times; it still is today.
1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.
We recently listened to a teaching about honor and shame and how this is the way society, to a great extend, still functions in the Middle east . You are either honored or dishonored in the community. When you do right , you are honored before the community, but when you do wrong you are publicly shamed. Keep this in mind as we proceed.
To YHVH it is important that His name be proclaimed through all the earth.
16 “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.
This is what YHVH requires of us:
11 “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says YHVH of hosts.
The opposite of honoring or proclaiming YHVH’s name is to profane it. A number of things are specifically listed in Scripture that profanes YHVH’s name. The first is a continuation of Malachi 1
Profaning the name of YHVH
12 “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of YHVH is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ 13 “You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says YHVH of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says YHVH.
YHVH is speaking to the priests here, but we can apply it to our observance of His commandments as well. A way of profaning His name is by not giving Him our best or complaining about how tiresome it is to do what He requires of us. The next example relates to being obedient.
31 “So you shall keep My commandments, and do them; I am YHVH. 32 “You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am YHVH who sanctifies you,
Not keeping YHVH’s commandments profanes His name. So whenever we sin(which is the transgression of his commandments) we profane His name.
Of the priests it is commanded:
6 ‘They shall be holy to their Elohim and not profane the name of their Elohim, for they present the offerings by fire to YHVH, the food of their Elohim; so they shall be holy.
Swearing falsely by YHVH’s name profanes His name.
12 ‘You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your Elohim; I am YHVH.
Giving any offspring to Molech profanes YHVH’s name. YHVH gives children as a blessing (Ps 127:3) and if their lives are taken we are throwing His blessing back to Him.
21 ‘You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your Elohim; I am YHVH.
3 ‘I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name.
The next verse explains this concept of profaning YHVH’s name very well.
20 “When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of YHVH; yet they have come out of His land.’
The phrase“‘These are the people of YHVH; yet they…” is key to our understanding. We, as believers, are part of the heavenly Kingdom, YHVH’s Kingdom. We are representatives, ambassadors if you will, of this Kingdom. Whatever we do, will be a reflection on YHVH’s Kingdom, it will either bring honor or dishonor to His name. If we keep YHVH’s instructions, we are bringing honor to YHVH’s name, but if we break it, by sinning, we profane His name.
When we get upset while waiting in a row and starts misbehaving because of the long wait, we are profaning YHVH’s name. Someone who knows who we believe in may recognize us and say “These are the people of YHVH; yet they swear and shout when they have to wait in a queue… This is just an example, I am sure you get what I am trying to say. We are to be careful to conduct ourselves always in such a way that we bring honor to our Father’s name.
A name also lives on in our descendants.
Your name lives on in your descendants
YHVH is our Father, we are His sons and daughters. He promised to give us an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
5 To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
We often read in the Bible that someone or something is called by someone’s name. What does this mean?
Called by someone’s name
Notice that when David takes a city and establishes his right of possession over it, he does so not simply by naming it, but by giving to it his name (2 S. 12:28; cf. 49:11). Further, in times of national distress, when the male population has been decimated by war, seven women will take hold of one man and seek to become his possession by being called by his name (Isa. 4:1). And Yahweh lays claim to Israel, the temple, the ark, and Jerusalem, not by naming them but by calling out His name over them (2 Ch. 7:14; Jer. 7:10f.; 2 S. 6:2; Dnl. 9:18). Thus, God’s bringing the beasts of the field and the birds of the air (Gen. 2:19f) and even the woman (2:21–23; 3:20) to Adam to see what he would name them was not to establish Adam’s dominion over them by the act of naming (cf. Gen. 1:26f), but through that act to discover what impression these would make upon him and how he would regard them in relation to himself.
It becomes clear, therefore, that “to call [qārā&60;] one’s name over” a people or a place is an idiom that does not mean that these will henceforth bear the name of the person whose name was “called over” them. Rather it declares that they now belong to him. They are now under his authority and protection (2 S. 12:28; Ps. 49:11 [MT 12]; Isa. 4:1). This idiom is especially significant when used to describe the relationship of Yahweh to the people of Israel. They are His peculiar possession, subject to His rule and under His protection and care (2 Ch. 7:14; Isa. 63:19; Jer. 14:9; 15:16; Dnl. 9:19).4
This concept of being called by someone’s name was seen in marriage until quite recently. When a man and women get married, the woman takes her husbands name, she is now called by his name. She belongs to him (in a good sense) and is under his protection and authority. Feminism has changed this. In the Netherlands, for example, women officially keep their maiden name, they may use their husbands name if they wish, but they remain registered on their maiden name.
How does this relate to YHVH?
We are called by YHVH’s name
There are many references in Scripture that shows that YHVH calls those who believe in Him by His name.
2 Chronicles 7:14
14 and My people who are called by My name (lit over who my name is called) humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
19 We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, Like those who were not called by Your name.
9 “Why are You like a man dismayed, Like a mighty man who cannot save? Yet You are in our midst, O YHVH, And we are called by Your name; Do not forsake us!”
19 “O YHVH, hear! O YHVH, forgive! O YHVH, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my Elohim, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
What does it imply to be called by YHVH’s name? It means we belong to YHVH, we are His people, His children. He is our Father and our King, He rules over us. We are under His authority and what we do reflects on Him. When we obey Him, we bring honor to His name. Sinning or transgression of His commandments brings dishonor to His name. It also implies that He will protect us and lead us. He will guide us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
There is just one more important thing regarding YHVH’s name. Cursing Him or blasphemy against His name is not allowed.
Cursing and blasphemy
28 “You shall not curse Elohim, nor curse a ruler of your people.
15 “You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone curses his Elohim, then he will bear his sin. 16 ‘Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of YHVH shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.
Let’s look at the meaning of the word, blaspheme
5919 II. נָקַב (nā·qǎḇ): v.; ≡ Str 5344; TWOT 1409—LN 33.387–33.403 (qal) blaspheme, i.e., speak ill of another with slander and insults, with a focus on designating or marking one’s reputation and so doing harm to it (Lev 24:11, 16+), note: see also 59182
The word blaspheme is defined as follows in the Merriam Webster Dictionary.
blas•phemed; blas•phem•ing [Middle English blasfemen, from Late Latin blasphemare — more at BLAME] verb transitive 14th century
1 : to speak of or address with irreverence
2 : REVILE, ABUSE verb intransitive : to utter blasphemy — blas•phem•er \-ˈfē-mər; ˈblas-ˌfē-mər, -fə-mər\ noun6
This gives us more clarity as to what is meant with the word blaspheme. Even worse, to blaspheme against His Set Apart Spirit is an unforgivable sin.
Most of what is written here is not new, but we hope it has deepened your understanding as much as it has ours. A name is not just a label, it is so much more. It is representative of a person’s character and reputation. It is the same with our Father’s name. Our Heavenly Father wants to and deserves to be honored by us. There are certain things we do that honor His name and certain things that dishonor His name. Being obedient to YHVH’s commandments brings honor to His name. Sin dishonors His name.
We are also not to take His name in vain, bring it to nothing or misrepresent Him in any way. From this we learn that our behavior as believers in YHVH, the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Creator of the Universe, is more important than we think. We are ambassadors for His Kingdom and what we say or do can either bring honor or dishonor to Him. We hope this was a blessing to you and will help you as it helps us to make sure we honor our Father in everything we say and do.
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD, and Y’shua for Jesus.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1999). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.
- Hawthorne, G. F. (1979–1988). Name. In (G. W. Bromiley, Ed.)The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans.
- Hannah, J. D. (1985). Exodus. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 112). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
- William Shakespeare
Tags: blasphemy, called by His name, character, commandments, cursing, destiny, dishonor, honor, make His name great, Name, Name In Vain, personality, proclaim His name, profane, reputation, righteousness, shame, sin, Yhvh
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