In this interview with Dr. Carmen Imes, Tim and Jon discuss the command, “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” What does this mean? Carmen discusses how many people miss the point of this commandment all about who we are and what we’re called to do.
“[The Israelites are] already free, and the laws are a way of showing them how to live in freedom. And if we re-conceive that, it shifts it in a way that we can begin to see how it might be valuable for us as well—if it’s not meant to earn salvation and instead meant to shape the way we live as a grateful response to salvation.”
In this episode, Tim and Jon interview Carmen Imes, biblical scholar and author of the recent book Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters.
In part one (0:00–23:30), Tim and Jon introduce Carmen Imes and talk with her about her journey in biblical scholarship. Carmen shared much of the same journey as Tim and Jon and decided to focus her work on a commonly misunderstood commandment in Scripture.
You shall not take [carry, lift up] the name of the Lord your God in vain….
Carmen notes that there are 23 different ways to interpret this command from the original Hebrew. As she states, “The command is telling the Israelites not to misrepresent Yahweh.”
Just as Aaron and the priests in Exodus carried the name of Yahweh, so God commanded his people to symbolically carry his name.
Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.
The idea of taking God’s name “in vain” is the idea of representing God’s character to no effect or ill-effect.
Jeremiah 2:30a (NIV)
In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction.
Carmen shares, “[The command] is narrower in scope in terms of who it’s talking to, but way broader, and the stakes are higher.”
In part two (23:30–28:00), Carmen talks about the gift that God gave through the commands. Instead of leaving it up to chance, God gives us grace through the laws by showing his people how to live. These laws come after Israel is already brought into freedom. Instead of being used as a way to define salvation, the laws show how Israel can live as changed people in response to salvation.
In part three (28:00-45:45), Tim and Carmen talk further about the idea of God placing his name on key people and places, such as the people, the city of Jerusalem, the temple, and the Gentiles (from the book of Amos).
At the end of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6, God says, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27). This phrase is used both about the Israelites and later about the nations.
Tim asks about the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” To hallow God’s name is the opposite of profaning it. Why does God’s name need to be made holy? Carmen points to Ezekiel 36, where God’s name has been profaned and needs to be restored.
I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
What does Jesus mean when he says, “Hallowed be your name?” It’s not a vague hope; it’s a reminder and commitment to bear God’s name well. Carmen comments on the first commands of the Ten Commandments and says, “If you get your worship right, and you get your identity and vocation right as God’s name bearer, everything else comes from that.”
Tim also asks about the use of the name and “anti-name” in the book of Revelation. In this moment, John the Visionary describes the invisible name stamped on each person becoming visible—either bearing the name of God or the name of the beast.
In part four (45:45-end), Carmen talks about whether the Hebrew Scriptures’ prohibition on tattoos is related to the command to not bear God’s name in vain. She thinks it is.
You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God.
You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.
To our modern culture, the question becomes: Do our tattoos honor God, or do they send mixed messages about who’s name we bear?
Bearing the name is more than a trite command; it’s the answer to the question of who we are and what we’re called to do.
Additional Resources Carmen Imes, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters
Show produced by Dan Gummel.
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