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Friday, January 2, 2015

Reflections on the ACNA Catechism: The Third Commandment




Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name…

In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord our Righteous Savior. Jeremiah 23:6

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Luke 2:21



What is the Third Commandment?

The Third Commandment is: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

What does it mean not to take God’s Name in vain?

All forms of God’s Name are holy, and those who love him should use his Name with reverence, not lightly or for selfish purposes. (Leviticus 19:12; Psalm 29:2; Psalm 99:1-5; Revelation 15:3 – See Questions 169-175)

Comment: The Semites in Jesus' time believed that a person whose name was spoken with reverence and love was actually present to one speaking the name. This belief was also held by the early Christians. In the monasteries it became the practice during prayer for monks to synchronize their breathing with the repeated invocation of the holy name of Jesus.

During the theophany at the burning bush (Exodus 3) God declares, "I am that I am" (Ehye aser ehye). The entire narrative is limited to the location of this mountain sacred to the Horites in that region. Moses' father-in-law Jethro was the ruler-priest of Midian. His status is designated by the initial solar symbol: Yetro. He is a descendant of Abraham’s son Midian, born to his cousin wife Keturah. God tells  Moses that the sign by which he will now that it is the Lord who sent him would be his return to worship once again on that mountain.

And He said, "Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain." Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Moses is concerned that his Habiru (Hebrew) people might not recognize the Lord. To this God responds that Moses is to tell them that he was sent by "I Am" and yet when Moses tells Pharaoh that it is Yahweh who commands that the people be allowed to go three days journey into the wilderness to worship, Pharaoh appears to be familiar with the Holy Name.

In Exodus 3:15 we find the narrative as a polished creed: "And again Elohim said to Moses 'You shall say this to the sons of Israel, Yahweh Elohi of your fathers, Elohi of Abraham, Elohi of Isaac and Elohi of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever and this is my title from generation to generation." Here the divine name Yahweh is associated with another divine name: Elohi/Elohim, as in Genesis 24:7.

It is evident from these references that there were various names and attributions for the Creator among the Habiru. These include El, Elohi, Elyon, El Shaddai, I Am, and Yahweh. Abraham bargains with Yahweh over the fate of Sodom (Gen.18:1). He utters the name Yahweh in Genesis 24:3 and 24:7. In the latter instance he recognizes "Yahweh Elohim" as the one who called him out of Mesopotamia. Hagar the Egyptian recognizes her angelic helper as the angel of Yahweh (Gen. 16:7), and Abraham's servant invokes the help of Yahweh no less than ten times in his quest for Isaac's cousin bride.

Numerous ancient seals include the holy name Yahweh or the element Yahu. Yahu seals were used to identify kings and ruler-priests of Judah. There are many ancient seals that bear such inscriptions. They have been found in Ethiopia, Judah, Samaria and Jordan. One seal appeared on the lintel of a priest’s tomb at Siloam in Jerusalem. His name appears as Shebna-yahu and he was the High Priest Shebna. Shebna is mentioned in II Kings 19:2. Another seal with the divine name is from the 7th century B.C. and names Hanan, son of the ruler-priest Hilqiyahu. Hilqiyahu is better known as Hilkiah, the High Priest who served during the reign of Josiah. He is mentioned in II Kings 22:8.

Two hieroglyphic references dating to 1400 B.C. refer to “the land of the Shasu of YHW.” These are the oldest references to Yahweh outside the Bible. The "Shasu of YHW" is found on inscriptions from the Nubian temples of Soleb and Amara West and corresponds to the Biblical name Yahweh. 

More than any other name for the Creator, the name Yahweh came to express the divine nature: eternal, immutable, incorruptible, sovereign over all, jealous for his people, commanding obedience, purity, mercy and justice. This God is holy and so is His name.


How can you use God’s Name irreverently?

In false or half-hearted worship, oppression of the poor, and conflicts cloaked with divine cause, people use God’s Name without reverence for him, and only to further their own goals. (Ezekiel 36:22-23)

Comment: In the ancient world assertions made in court, in public deals, and even in ordinary conversation were often backed up with conditional self-curses. These curses were believed to take effect if the one swearing the oath failed to fulfill the terms of the contract or if their testimony proved to be false. Typical assertions were: “By the life of the Lord I will (or will not)…” or “May the Lord do such and such to me if I do (or do not…). These oaths were a serious matter. A false oath showed contempt for God. The commandment appears in a slightly different form in Leviticus 19:12 – “You shall not swear falsely by My Name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.” This is why our Lord Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, commanded: “Swear not at all” (Matt. 5:34).

George Washington set a good example in this regard. When he learned that some of his officers were given to profanity, he sent the following message to them on July 1, 1776:

“The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice heretofore little known in our American army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the officers will, by example as well as influence, endeavor to check it and that both they and the men will reflect that we can have little hope of the blessing of heaven on our arms if we insult it by our impropriety and folly. Added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense and character detests and despises it.”


How can you use God’s Name lightly?

Profanity, careless speech, broken vows, open sin, and meaningless exclamations all cheapen God’s Name. These treat God’s Name as “empty” of the reality for which it stands. (Matthew 5: 33-37; Articles of Religion, 39)

XXXIX. Of a Christian Man's Oath.

As we confess that vain and rash Swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge, that Christian Religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the Magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet's teaching in justice, judgment, and truth.

Comment: It is evident that swearing an oath using God’s name was a practice in the 16th century or this Article of Religion would not have been necessary. First established in 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the Church of England as it related to Calvinism and Roman Catholicism.

Late Elizabethan drama contains a profusion of oaths using the words Jesus or God. Swearing on stage was so common that it was officially banned by the Act to Restraine Abuses of Players in 1606. Examples include 'slid for "By God's eyelid" (1598) and 'sfoot for "By God's foot" (1602); Gadzooks for "By God's hooks" (the nails on Christ's cross) and, egad for “oh God” in the late 17th century.


How can you honor God’s Name?

I honor and love God’s Name, in which I was baptized, by keeping my promises and by upholding honor in relationships, charity in society, justice in law, uprightness in vocation, and holiness in worship. (Deuteronomy 12:11; Psalm 138:2; Proverbs 30:7-9; Matthew 5:22-23; Ephesians 4:25; James 5:12)

Comment: Christians should be people of integrity. We should not enter in contracts or marriages, or commitment to serious endeavor lightly. Our word should not be flippantly broken. A Biblical view of promises calls us to a higher commitment to our word and involves calling upon God for help, but not uses God’s name in a profane way. We need God’s help to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth..." or "to faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States..." "to be my lawful wedded wife” and “to promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be thy loving and faithful husband, in sickness and in health..." 

In the Book of Common Prayer the people of the local parish are called upon to do all in their power to support the newly married couple in upholding their promises.

In Romans 13, St. Paul makes this argument: Honor and respect are due to earthly rulers not because they are powerful and influential men, but because they have been appointed by God. It follows that to treat them with less than their due is to dishonor God. Jesus likewise told Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:11


Summary of this five week study of the first three Commandments

The first three commandments are of central importance for Christians because they are part of what makes our Faith distinctive. They set the standard of righteousness that we are to seek in our own lives. Contemplation of these commandments reveals that only love can activate in us the yearning to fulfill these commandments. Jesus told his followers, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”

The Ten Commandments constitute the heart of the Law. They are of universal application while the ceremonial or ritual laws applied only to Israel and to those who attached themselves to Israel. These made the Habiru/Hebrew unique among the other peoples of the ancient world. They were known to be fastidious in the performance of their religion.

The truth can be known because God has revealed truth by various means and most especially in the person of Jesus Christ. One measure of truth is the divine moral code delivered to the Hebrew people through righteous rulers appointed by God. Among these righteous men were Enoch, Abraham, Job, Moses, and David. Analysis of the kinship of the Horite rulers named in the Bible reveals that all these were of the ruling lines that can be traced back to the Neolithic rulers named in Genesis 4 and 5. These are the rulers to whom God made the first promise of Scripture in that a Woman of their lines would be overshadowed and conceive the “Seed” of God who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Jesus claims to be this Seed in John 12. Speaking of his death, the Lord told his disciples, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

Paul makes this connection in Galatians 3:16 and 29: Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy Seed, which is Christ… And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

None of the Hebrew/Habiru rulers fulfilled righteousness perfectly. That can be said only of Jesus Christ. He embodies the righteousness of the Law and he fulfills the Law. His sacrifice and resurrection are proof that He is the long-expected Righteous Ruler. The proof of that is His resurrection.

Some laws attributed to Moses were already observed by Jesus’ ancestors who served as priests at the most prestigious shrines of the ancient world. Two of these – Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) and On (Heliopolis) were on the Nile during the African Humid Period (Neolithic Subpluvial). These have been definitively identified by archaeologists and anthropologists. The people living there had a distinctive red skin tone like that of the rulers of Edom: Abraham, Seir the Horite (Gen. 36), and later the Nabataeans of Idumea. Idumea was the Greek word for Edom. It means "land of red people."

Jesus is a direct descendant of these Horites (what Jews call their "Horim"). Their red African ancestors were a cattle herding people who sacrificed calves. Abraham sacrificed a calf when the Lord in three persons visited him at Mamre (Genesis 18). In Numbers 19:9 we read of a statute that Jews selectively ignore though it pertains to a "perpetual sacrifice" of a red calf outside the camp for the purification of the people. This points to Jesus, the Calf of God, who like David and Esau had a red skin tone. He is the red calf sacrificed “outside the camp” for the purification of the people.


Lord, incline our hearts to keep this law.  Increase in us the yearning to love you more perfectly. Write these commandments on our hearts that we may fulfill your law through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Related reading:  Reflections on the ACNA Catechism 1; Reflections 2: The Law and Righteousness; Reflections 3: The First Commandment; Reflections 4: The Second Commandment; Righteous Rulers and the Resurrection; Adam Was a Red Man; Solving the Ainu Mystery


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