Read: Exodus 20:7; Ezekiel 36:16-27
We honor God’s name not just by the words we use, but also by the way we live.
I. Connect to My Experience
Most people are familiar with and will automatically bring images to their minds when they hear the names Elvis, Beyoncé, Mr. Rogers, and Oprah. What makes a name famous (or infamous)?
Think for a moment what name you would choose for yourself if you could choose your own name.
If you could choose a first and middle name for yourself, what would you choose?
Do you have a nickname? If so, what is it? How did you get the nickname?
What does your name mean to you? To others?
Names are important to us. In today’s session, we will look at the ways God’s people bring honor or shame to the name of God.
In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Our names identify us as belonging to a certain family. Romeo was of the house of Montague and Juliet of Capulet, two families at fierce odds with each other. If Romeo had not been a Montague, the two would have been able to marry. A name can often carry immense meaning.
The kings of Mesopotamia as early as the second millennium BC set up steles (large inscribed stone slabs used for commemorative purposes) with their names engraved on them. The stele declared that the king was claiming authority over the region and anyone who did not respect his name would be punished. Hammurabi, the king of Babylon (ca. 1792—1750 BC) set up a stele engraved with a code of law. His name carried the authority to establish the law and rule over his kingdom. A person’s name was important, whether king or god.
A. Respect for God’s Name (Read Exodus 20:7; Duet. 5:11)
We have never miraculously delivered a people from a ruthless Pharaoh, brought them through numerous other trials, and gathered them together to be a unique people in the world. If we had, and we were giving them commands that would shape their relationship with us and one another, would our third command that we would give them be a prohibition against misusing our name?
Why would God place this commandment in such a prominent position? (We honor God by not dishonoring His name.)
In the formation of a people, why would it be important for the people not to misuse the name of God? (The people needed to understand that the people could honor or dishonor God’s name by the way and the circumstance in which they spoke His name and by their conduct.)
The word Lord in most English versions of the Bible takes the place of the Hebrew name “Yahweh.” This is the name that is not to be misused. To purposefully misuse the name “Yahweh” would be to use God’s name in a curse or, after being sworn in by a court clerk, to give false witness. God’s name is not to be used for any harmful purposes. Even the person who makes a casual offense will be held accountable by God.
Our modern culture is steeped in misusing God’s name. It is shameful that even Christians are too casual in using foul language and appending the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to their cursing.
B. Punishment for Israel’s Misuse of the Holy Name (Read Ezekiel 36:16-21)
One of the family rules God gave to His people at Sinai was that they were to be a people who, through their conduct and actions, would honor God’s name. God desired that His people would live in ways consonant with God’s character, and thus be a blessing to other nations. When they lived in ways that contradicted God’s character while claiming to be God’s covenant people, they misused God’s name and failed to be a light to the nations.
What does God cite as the reasons for God’s wrath being poured out on the people? (v. 18) (Yahweh’s wrath had come on Israel because of its shedding of blood and worshiping of idols.)
How does the shedding of blood and idol worship defile God’s name? (While ceremonial impurity can be cleansed, moral impurity such as shedding blood and worshiping idols cannot be ritually cleansed. It would take a serious act of redemption by Yahweh to cleanse the land and the people.)
C. Yahweh Defends His Sovereignty (Read Ezekiel 36:22-23)
Our lesson writer, Robert D. Branson, writes: “God told Ezekiel to speak to the Israelites about defending God’s holy name. What God was about to do would not be for the people, but for the reestablishment of the sanctity of His name. The quintessential nature of God is His holiness, which separates Him from all other forms of existence. God shares His holiness with those who follow His laws and do His will. Yet, it was the people of God who had profaned God’s name among the nations.
The Lord was now prepared to declare His sovereignty not only over His people, but over all the nations. They would know that Yahweh is the Lord. What was significant was that God would prove the holiness of His sacred name through His people.”
D. Yahweh Restores His People (Read Ezekiel 36:24-27)
What is the ultimate aim of God in this passage? Why does God act on behalf of and with the people?
What is it, finally, that will change the behavior of the people so that their words and actions are truly reflective of God’s character? (v. 26)
What is the significance of God removing the Israelites’ heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh?
The original command to Israel to revere the name of God was given externally on tablets of stone. The Israelites had disobeyed this command, but now the command would be internalized in their heart, so that they would have all the resources to keep God’s laws. This is a reference to the coming of the new covenant, completed in Christ.
It was thought—not only in Israel but in all of the surrounding nations, such as Egypt and Babylon—that since the heart was at the center of a person, it was the place where decisions were made; the heart was where the will and the cognitive functions existed. The heart and the spirit were not considered to be two separate entities but parallel objects where moral commitments lived.
In verse 27 there is another gift from Yahweh to help transform the people: His Spirit would be placed within them. The Spirit would enable them to obediently follow the Lord’s decrees and keep His laws. The Spirit of God has always been active among the people of God, not just beginning work on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The Spirit lives within us, guiding and empowering us to live a life of love and compassion.
II. Connect to My Life and the World
We may feel comfort in thinking that we see others in society break this commandment, but not us. Somebody else misused God’s name and someone else faced the consequences of those actions. It’s always someone else who’s guilty of breaking God’s commandments, right? Then we have one of those moments when we discover that we have attached God’s name to our purposes. We may not have used bad language and profaned God’s name in that way, but our actions have abused God’s name and character.
In what ways can a person’s actions, any person’s actions, dishonor God’s name?
Can a believer’s actions dishonor God’s name? If so, how?
How will a “heart of flesh” help us to live in ways that honor God?
Have you recently found yourself dishonoring God’s name through your actions? If so, how can God help you avoid those type of actions in the future?
In what ways can you honor God’s name this week in the things you say and do?
As we close our time together, ask that God would continue to soften your heart of flesh.
Pray that you will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and prodding in your life.
Pray that you will be quick to listen and slow to speak, so that your actions are measured and in alignment with the ways of Jesus, being led by the Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I want to use Your name only in ways that honor You. Please “set a guard over my mouth, O Lord,” and “keep watch over the door of my lips.”* Help me never to say or do anything that dishonors Your holy name. In Jesus name I pray this. Amen. *Scripture from Psalm 141:3
I encouraging you to pray this prayer daily for a week, and to be sensitive to what God shows you about your speech patterns. Bernard