Why does God care so much about His name? Why is there such emphasis here, and such dire consequences? In part, it’s a matter of respect. Have you ever heard a sassy child yell to his/her friends “that’s my name, don’t wear it out”? There is some of that here, in a much more serious way. God doesn’t want us flippantly using His name. If we do use it, it should be with the respect He and His name deserves. I’ve read that the Mongols wouldn’t speak Genghis Khan’s name out of respect. If people would so revere another person’s name, shouldn’t we give God’s name proper respect?
But there is far more to it that just giving God the proper respect. His name is used to represent more than just His renown. For one thing, His name represents the Covenant between Him and His people.
Ex. 6:6-8 “Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am Jehovah.”
In this rather short passage we see God’s name tied to the idea of covenant in at least three ways. His name is connected to the promise of freedom from Egyptian bondage. Notice that they will know that He is Jehovah when He releases them from the burden of bondage. His name is also connected to the promise of a covenant relationship between them and Himself. Finally, He connects His name to the promises made to their Patriarchs. So, in three different ways His name is attached to promises or covenants. Then, looking throughout the Pentateuch, we see His name routinely connected to mentions of the commandments from Sinai (the covenant), the blessings and the cursings (of the covenant), and to the Patriarchal covenant. So His name is attached to and represents the covenant between His people and Himself. That attachment is the guarantor of the covenant relationship. So, when we profane His name, we cheapen the very covenantal relationship with Him that we so rely upon for our hope of Heaven.
But that’s not all. God often uses His name to stand in for Himself. I could probably write a book on this, but I’ll try to be brief.
Worshipping God is referred to as calling upon His name in innumerable passages. E.g. Gen. 4:26 “. . . Then began men to call upon the name of Jehovah.” Also, Acts 22:16 “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.” Notice, not calling upon Him, but upon His name.
Praying is also referred to as calling upon His name. E.g. 1 Kings 18:24 “And call ye on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Jehovah; and the God that answers by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.” Also Eph. 5:20 “giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” Here, thanks is given in His name. Not calling on God or giving thanks to God, but calling upon His name and giving thanks in His name.
His name was personified as if it were Him in at least one passage. Isa. 30:27 “Behold, the name of Jehovah cometh from far, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue is as a devouring fire.” Notice that it is the name of Jehovah that is burning with His anger, rather than Jehovah Himself. The Name seems to stand in as substitute for God in this passage. Sticking with the theme of anger, His name was also used to curse His enemies: 2Ki 2:24 “And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of Jehovah.”
More pleasantly, His name also brought blessings. Exo 20:24 “. . . in every place where I record my name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee.” Also Num. 6:23-27 “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel: ye shall say unto them, Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee: Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. So shall they put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” The very presence of His name brought blessing. And John 20:31 “but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.” In His name we have life. Surely, that counts as a blessing.
Finally, note that God’s own glory is said to be partly due to His glorious name. Ex. 33:18-19 “And he said, Show me, I pray thee, thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Notice that part of showing Moses God’s glory was proclaiming His name to Moses. In Ex. 34:5-7, this takes place with the Name being proclaimed before Moses repeatedly. Also Ps. 48:10 “As is thy name, O God, So is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: Thy right hand is full of righteousness.” His praise is attached to His name.
So, it should be clear from all these things that God’s name represents Him in a way much more closely and more fully than a simple designation. His name almost IS Him. So, to profane God’s name is to profane God Himself.
This almost seems silly to mention after the weighty matters just discussed, but if we wear His name as His followers, then to profane His name is to profane ourselves. We make ourselves smaller when we diminish His name, and as His agents and representatives on this earth, how much more harm can we do to His cause?
And, finally, lest someone claim that the commands against taking His name in vain or profaning His name are just Mosaic Law and do not apply to those of us under the Perfect Law of Liberty, let me make clear that this command was brought forward to the New Testament era. First note that in the Lord’s sample prayer, the first thing He mentions, His highest priority, was the state of God’s name: Matt. 6:9 “After this manner therefore pray ye. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” As mentioned earlier, to hallow is to make holy and is the exact opposite of profaning. So Jesus taught that care was to be taken with God’s name. Then there is this, referring to Jesus: Heb. 1:4 “having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they.” As the Son, He would naturally inherit from His Father. Part of that inheritance was the Name. Which I’ve already shown is to be honored. So, that Name is brought out of the Old Testament Era and given to our Lord who instituted the New Testament. Finally, His earthly name was also elevated – because of that inherited Name – to heavenly status: Phil. 2:9-11 “Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So, maybe I need to be more careful about using “Jesus!” as an expletive when I hit my finger with a hammer, hmmm?
God’s name is to be honored, not profaned or used falsely. As Christians, we should wince every time we hear people fouling His name. We should be examples of proper respect in our speech. We should always be careful not to allow such blasphemies to enter our own speech. Frankly, I’d much rather know that a brother uses curses and profanities regularly than to know he peppers his speech with misuses of the Name. I’m in no way condoning such speech, but from what I’ve studied, cursing is safer for your soul!
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy Name.”