June 4, 2019

Taking YHWH’s Name

Category: Bible - OT - Deuteronomy,Bible - OT - Exodus,Ethics :: Permalink

What does the Third Commandment mean when it says not to “take the name of YHWH in vain”? It doesn’t say “Do not say the name.” It says not to take it in vain, using a verb that normally means “to pick up, take up, bear, carry around.”

Many treatments of this commandment assume that “take up the name” is an ellipsis, that is, that there are missing words. The full form, they say, should be “take up … on your lips,” so that the commandment has to do with swearing oaths or even just with speaking the name “YHWH.”

Others think it’s an ellipsis where what’s missing is “your hand,” so that the expression in full form is “lift up your hand in YHWH’s name.” Lifting up the hand in the Bible is sometimes a way of taking oaths. And again, this commandment is taken to prohibit certain kinds or ways of using YHWH’s name in taking oaths.

But what if there’s no ellipsis? What if it really is speaking of bearing or carrying around the name?

What’s interesting is that that exact expression does occur elsewhere in the Bible. As Carmen Joy Innes (Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai) says,

“The high priest was to ‘bear the names’ of the 12 tribes on his person to signify his role as their authorized representative before YHWH (Exod 28:29)” (2).

Innes goes on to explain the parallel:

“While he physically carried, or bore, their names, he served as an analog of Israel’s bearing of YHWH’s name, which was conferred on them by the high priest when he blessed them (Num 6:27). As YHWH’s chosen people and ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod 19:5), they represented him among the nations” (2).

I learned to read the Third Commandment this way from Jim Jordan, and it’s also found in John Frame’s treatment of the Ten Commandments.

But — surprise! — you don’t find this passage about Aaron’s garments discussed in most treatments of the Third Commandment. In a footnote, Innes writes:

“Most interpreters routinely overlook these passages. For example, Miller … dismisses Exod 28 as ‘not relevant’ to the interpretation of the NC [Name Command] without explanation, even though the description of Aaron’s high priestly garments offers the closest lexical and contextual parallels to the NC” (2n5).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:43 pm | Discuss (0)

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