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The Holiness of God’s Name

One of the great marks of unadulterated repentance is that believers begin to hold the name of the Lord in much higher regard than they did previously. As the next part of Isaiah 26 states, “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” Years ago, an Orthodox Jewish friend assured me that we Gentile Christians do not comprehend how holy the name of the Lord is to religious Jews. He suggested that Christians handle the Lord’s name too lightly. For a religious Jew Ha Shem (שם), the Name, is to be honored above all and is not even to be spoken lightly. The Name of the Lord represents the Person of God Himself: who He is, His character, His purpose, and His power. Strong’s Concordance to the Bible describes Ha Shem as, “an appellation, as a mark or memorial of individuality; by implication honor, authority, character…” The very nature of the Lord of Israel is contained in His holy name.

Spanish Hebrew Bible, Solsona,
Catalonia, Spain 1384

The most holy form of God’s name in the Bible is the Hebrew tetragrammaton. It consists of the letters yud, he, vav, and he (יהוה) and no Orthodox Jew ever pronounces it. Instead, when a religious Jew reads the Hebrew Scriptures aloud and this name appears, he will use the names Adonai (the Lord) or Elohim (the supreme God) in its place. As my Jewish friend pointed out, no Jew alive today or for many centuries past would even know how to pronounce this holy name. Yet along come Gentile Christians who claim to know with authority that the name represented by these four Hebrew letters is pronounced Jehovah or, more recently, Yah-weh. If Gentile Christians sometimes shake their heads at Jewish unbelief in the Messiah, how do Jews feel when Christians claim knowledge that they cannot possibly have? We who are Christ’s servants are called to “provoke” the Jews to jealousy after their God (Romans 10:19 and 11:11)—not to make them shake their heads!

Why should this matter to us today? As Jesus stated in Matthew 12:34, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (NKJV) What we speak and how we speak reveals much about the attitude of our hearts. Every day in our beloved land sinners use the name of the Lord as a curse! I remember years ago sitting on some steps on the Old Campus at Yale, hearing a young woman hold an animated conversation in an Asian language. The only word that I could understand was when she cursed using the name of Jesus! At the time I thought, why not use the name of Buddha or some Eastern god? Why did she have to use the name of Jesus? Where does such cursing come from? It comes straight out of hell! The devil knows how holy the name of God is, and wants to drag that name down in the streets. Yet, when revival comes, people honor the name of the Lord; they fear the name of God. His Name is no longer just a word that has scarcely any real meaning to them.

Believers can also be careless about their use of God’s name. As a freshman at Yale University in 1971, I took part in morning prayer meetings six days a week in the old Dwight Hall Library. My brothers in Christ and I prayed with all the vigor we could muster at 7:15 AM—but we had a lot to learn! Proverbs 27:17 states that, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We were so serious about praying that, in our youthful enthusiasm, we sometimes pounded hard on the arms of the library’s poor old overstuffed chairs. It was a wonder that the padding did not come out!

Worse yet, we outdid one another with, “O Lord… Father God… Jesus…Lord… Heavenly Father… O Lord…,” until we began to wonder about the propriety of such abundant use of the names of a Holy God. Thereafter, we counted one another’s use of God’s name in every prayer, until one of us was caught using the name of the Lord 104 times in a single session! We all finally realized that something was amiss, that we needed an entirely new respect for the Lord’s name, and a more humble way of praying! In the months that followed, the Lord was no slower to respond to our prayerful requests, just because we used His name more sparingly and respectfully.