The Wheel of Religion
Dr. Jim Denison
“Wheel of Fortune” is one of America’s favorite game shows, and the simplest. You merely guess the words or phrases behind blank squares. If it’s your turn and you guess the words, you win.
Of all our game shows, this is the one the ancient Jews would most likely have understood. “The Dating Game?” “Jeopardy?” Not likely. But a show about words? Absolutely.
They were fascinated with words, even to the point of veneration. They knew the power of words—once spoken, they can never be taken back; they have the ability to injure, to bless, to condemn, or to save.
And they knew that no word is as powerful as the name of God. I want to show you why that’s so, how we’ve lost that power in our culture, and why getting it back is so important to our souls.
Know the name of God
You shall not, the commandment begins.As with last week, “you” is plural, so that this commandment applies to every one of us, with no exceptions.
“Shall not” shows that this is a commandment, not just a suggestion or principle for life. It is as important to God as the commandments not to murder or commit adultery. This is crucial to God.
Misuse means to take his name “in vain.” The word means “groundlessly, emptily, without basis,” and includes frivolous, insincere, or unjustified use of the name of God.
The original context was legal in nature. When a person testified before the elders or council, he was to speak “in the name of God.” This was something like our oath “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” The commandment was not to promise truth “in God’s name,” then lie or deceive.
The name of the Lord your God is the central phrase of the third commandment.
Jewish people associated the “name” of a person with his or her basic identity. For this reason, biblical characters were often assigned names to describe them (“Esau” means red, because he was red-headed; “Isaac” means laughter, because Sarah laughed when God said she would have a son).
And so the “name of God” deals of his basic character and identity. To speak of the “name of God” was to deal with his very nature, being, and person. For this reason, the names of God in the original biblical languages were sacred to the Jewish people. Each of them said something important about God.
YHWH means “the One who was, is, and ever shall be.” This name showed that God is eternally the Lord. As C. S. Lewis said, if time is a line on a page, God is the page.
“God” here is Elohim, literally “the God of gods.” This says that he alone is God, above all other deities worshipped around the world. In a day of polytheism and henotheism (each country had their own god), he alone is the God of the universe.
El-Elyon (Genesis 14:22, Deuteronomy 32:8-9) means “God most high,” showing that God rules the world today.
El Shaddai (Exodus 6:3) means “God Almighty,” and shows that he has all the power of the universe, and we have none.
Pahad means “the One to be feared” (Genesis 31:42; 1 Samuel 11:7). We are to approach him with awe and reverence.
Adonai (Isaiah 6:1) means “Lord of all,” the one who reigns.
Jehovah-Jireh (Genesis 21:22; 22:14) means “the Lord who provides” for our every need.
Jehovah-Tsidkenu (Jeremiah 23:6) means “the Lord is our righteousness,” so that we can be holy and righteous only as he makes us so.
Jehovah-Shalom means “the Lord is peace” (Judges 6:24), pointing to the fact that only God can give us peace.
These are just some of God’s names in the Scriptures. As you can see, the “name of God” describes his character, identity, person. In other words, the name of God means God himself. Listen to some examples:
Psalm 8:1: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Psalm 20:1: “May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”
Psalm 68:4: “Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him.”
Psalm 111:9: “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name.”
Proverb 18:10: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”
Malachi 3:16: “A scroll of remembrance was written in [God’s] presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.”
Matthew 6:9: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Matthew 18:5: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”
Matthew 18:20: “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 28:19: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
John 12:28: “‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.'”
John 20:31: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 5.41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Acts 9:15-16: “The Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'”
Philippians 2:9-11: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”