Have you ever had (or been) one of those parents who reminded their children that everyone’s behavior in a family reflected on the family’s reputation? Maybe this was a challenge to keep out of trouble so as not to embarrass the rest of the family, or maybe it was just a reminder to, “Make us proud”.
In the previous article, we learned that the Israelite’s behavior in the time of Ezekiel (a priest and prophet) had become pretty unpleasant. However, their behavior had a more significant side effect:
And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’ I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.
Ezekiel 36:20-21 NIV
So, besides their punishment, there was another side effect of the people’s disobedience (as described in these two verses): God’s name was harmed. The NIV and NASB use the term “profaned”, which might be related to the commandment (Exodus 20:7) about using His name in vain, but this seems even worse than just swearing or taking an oath.
There are potentially different aspects of why this was so offensive to God: For one thing, I think that we can imagine citizens of other countries (especially those who didn’t like the Israelites) bad-mouthing them, and saying that they got what they deserved. Matthew Henry (a commentator, cited at the end of this article) even suggests that some of the residents of the other countries might have thought that the Israelites were holy, and that God was wrong to kick them out. Maybe that’s what the scattered Israelites told other people (in whose country they were residing), but their actions seem to have proved otherwise, further making God look bad for having such a sinful people. In fact, these clearly-sinning people even had the gall to accuse God of punishing them unfairly! [Henry]
On the other hand, when the Israelites were sinful in other countries, that gave other people more reason to whisper that their exile was justified, and that they weren’t good enough to remain in their land, as a people with their own country.
Regardless, the Israelites were the true God’s people, and their behavior – along with their punishment – reflected on the character of God, too. Now, back in the time of Ezekiel, each country would have had its own god or gods (“small g” gods, that is), and the reputation of the people and their god would be intertwined. In fact, while these verses may not actually say so, some might have said that the Israelites’ God wasn’t powerful enough to save them from conquering forces.
Now, we might not talk about God’s name very often these days. I suspect that most readers know that taking God’s name in vain is offensive to Him (Exodus 20:7). We probably know what it means to have a good name (better to be desired than great riches – see Proverbs 22:1). But, what is God’s name?
My understanding is that God’s name represents His nature, His reputation, His attributes: all of who He is. God is referred to by many names in the Bible: not because He changes, but because He is complex and rich in His nature. He can be many things at the same time: Holy, Loving, Just, Redeemer, Avenger, and many other characteristics.
Remember when the idol of Philistine’s god, Dagon, fell down on its face before the Ark of the Lord, after the Philistines captured the Ark and put it in the temple to their god, Dagon? (See 1 Samuel 5) God’s name and presence command respect, even from idols of false gods…and from those who worship those idols.
As we appreciate that God’s name represents all that He is (even if we can’t fully comprehend all of that, and must do our best to understand Him based on what He has revealed to us), phrases used in the Psalms and Christian music that refer to God’s name should make more sense to us.
However, for those who are part of God’s family today (having accepted His offer to return to Him from a life of selfishness, pride, and sin), God’s name isn’t just something to use in our praise and worship to Him. It is also something that we should protect and not profane. Just as the Israelite’s behavior (and the consequences of that behavior) could reflect positively or negatively on God, followers of Jesus Christ – i.e., Christians – have a responsibility to live in a way that honors Him. This isn’t just for their own benefit (although God still disciplines those He loves – see Hebrews 12:4-6 and elsewhere in the Bible), but as a testimony to the rest of the world around them.
Of course, God doesn’t change. He is always perfect. However, what other people think of Him can be tainted and distorted when those who call Him their God don’t live as He asks them to. So, may we each bring honor and glory to God’s name today!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for September 11, 2022
- The Lookout, September 11, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.
2 thoughts on “Worse Than Just Unrighteousness”
Interesting: I didn’t get around to reading this post until today (11/19/2022), yet it was well timed to my hearing a podcast just this morning that said much the same about the Commandment in Exodus 20:7!
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Thank you for sharing that. It’s always great to hear that God used my work for His own timing. He gets the credit, but it’s encouraging to be part of His plan!