“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.” Ex 20:7
What is the most important word in the English language? Your name. The name given to you at birth is the name that defines you, the name most familiar to you, the one you may see and hear many times a day. Your name represents your total being and when spoken by others, identifies you with your actions, emotions, appearance, history, basically, everything a person knows about you they identify with your name.
I have been thinking about the name of Jesus and what it means to call upon His name. I really have not considered what this means until in a witnessing session, when the words that came out of my mouth helped allow me to understand a little more the importance of a name.
“I cannot physically show you Jesus on the cross. There is no film footage, no photos, no artistic drawings of the actual event. I cannot show you the empty tomb, and I cannot manifest Jesus in front of you, but what I can tell you is His Name, and with His Name we can identify Him with the acts He accomplished.”
What’s in a name? The Hebrew word for name is Shem שם, and also means fame, renown. In primitive Hebrew the parent root is defined as breath, the wind or breath, of someone or something is its character. It also meant for title, a word given to an individual or place denoting its character.
In looking at Hebrew word plays, I really didn’t find anything that stood out, except sometimes in the Bible the word name has a word (אֶת) that acts like an emphasis but is never translated into English. In our starting verse the name of the Lord is written: אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהוָה (Eth Shem Jehovah). Combining the first letters and the last letters of Eth and Shem makes the following word play:
תם Modern Hebrew: Innocent, simple, honest, ingenuous, naïve, artless, simpleminded,
Biblical Hebrew: Plain/Mild (KJV/NKJV Gen 25:27), Lexicons: complete, perfect, sound, morally innocent, having integrity, blameless.
What would this signal to me? God is sometimes identified with fire, yet in regards to his Shem, or character, the Hebrew word תם (Tam) sheds some “light” into His Name or Shem. Taking His name in vain is not just misusing the word (God, Jehovah, Adonai, etc), but is also misusing his Shem, which we will review below. I want to include a study from a Hebrew professor on the idioms for the word Shem, where literally it would be translated as name, but as an idiom would tell you it is more than a name. http://beth-abraham.org/shem.html
When the Bible speaks “In the name [SheM] of”, the word following tells you the source, the authority or originator. If there is salvation, healing, blessing, etc., “in His SHEM”, then He is the Source of all those good things. There is no real relationship here between SHEM and name.
In Exodus 33:12, the NASB translates, “I have known [yada’] you by name”; however, according to Hebrew experts this is silly to translate Shem as name. When the word yada’ appears, knowing God is not a matter of academic studies, the right sequence of Hebrew vowels and consonants, but a matter of a loving friendship. In the primitive Hebrew sense, I have known you by your character, by your breath. This goes back to the opening of the study. Name is more than just a title, but a reflection of everything about YOU or another person, thing or being. When I apply this to the relationship I have with my wife, there are certain hints in her breath, the way she characterizes some words with the alteration of breath, the way she sighs, that I know her and what she is thinking. Knowing your Shem on a personal level means, I know you in ways strangers do not.
Playing with Hebrew words, the emphasizer “eth” with Shem, showed me it is not something complicated when we call on the name of the Lord. When the Hebrew word Shem is paired with qra (to call), it is a prerequisite to a wonderful deep friendship He offers us. This does not simply mean, “call on His Name”, which would imply a knowledge of Hebrew and well-functioning vocal apparatus would be required for us to begin to know Him. Instead, a person praying earnestly may indeed “call out His Name” and that may be where the idiom comes from, but the real meaning of the idiom involves our heart-response to Him.
Did you see what word appeared in this study, a reoccurring theme in my bible studies? The word heart has surfaced again. This study did not go where I thought it was going, to the Hebrew name of Jesus, Yeshua, but is about knowing God’s heart and his connection with your heart.
From another Hebrew professor, Chaim Bentorah. In ancient times a name was given to someone because it would describe who they were, what was expected of them or what they would accomplish in life. Oddly, the name Yeshua (Jesus) was the sixth most common name in the first century.
Shem is more than just an identification, it is an expression of not only what one is, but what one desires. It is an expression of one’s heart. Hence the name of Jesus or Yeshua is an expression of what He longed or desired to be and that is a Savior. Ultimately shem is the expression of one’s heart. When you expressed a name you were expressing a passion of one’s heart.
Absorbing all this in, what is in a name, and the titles given to God and His Son? The Bible tells us, “Whatsoever you shall ask in my name [Shema in Aramaic], that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” In his Shem is a desire for everything he wants to be for his children. (The Lord will provide, The Lord Sees All, The Lord is my Banner, The Lord is Here.) I may not be able to physically show you Jesus, but I can give you His name, where we attach all that is good, righteous, holy to Him. To profane His Holy Name is more than just an ill-use of the word for his name, but more of misusing what He desires to be, your God, your Savior, your Friend, your Father, your All.