"Bearing God's Name" by Carmen Joy Imes. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What, exactly, does it mean to not take the name of YHWH your God in vain? From the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms to our grandparents and Sunday School teachers, we have heard many applications of this directive. Is it a prohibition on the flippant or irreverent expressions of the name of our Lord? Does it include being disrespectful of the elements of God's communal and public worship? Could it also comprise the debasing of the Scriptures? Carmen Joy Imes, associate professor of Old Testament at Prairie College, in Three Hills, Alberta, contributor to "Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader," and recently elected member of the board of directors of the Institute for Biblical Research, addresses this commandment in her soon-to-be-released (December 2019) 240 page softback "Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Matters." This easily accessible volume is written for men and women interested in the Scriptures, whatever their background.
Imes takes on what is normally numbered as the 3rd Commandment by most Protestants (the 2nd Commandment for Catholics, Orthodox and a few others). The author is sensitive to the classic Protestant perceptions of the 10 Commandments, and this precept in particular. Rightly, I think, does she observe, show "me the inside of your sanctuary, and I'll tell you how your church counts the commandments" (47). Nevertheless she takes a bit of her own path and marches forward. For example, based on language and the structure of Exodus 20:2-7, she claims that these verses are not three injunctions but two, so that they essentially say "Worship only Yahweh" and "Represent him well" (52). And so, to represent Yahweh well is the overall focus of her analysis.
The author walks the reader through the story line of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, coming back around to rightly bearing YHWH's name. Her approach is a refreshing strategy to telling the old, old story. The way she shows the ongoing value of the Old Testament, as well as the Decalogue pleased my heart. Imes notes that the Sinai directives don't begin with the thunderous voice of God, but they spring forth from the redemptive hand of God. In other words, God first redeemed his people from their enslavement and then in essence says, "I've made you a free people; now here's how free people live." The author also keeps together what some modern day religious leaders put asunder; "God's grace coexists with his justice. They are both integral to his character" (79). The Gospel of Jesus is clearly announced in this volume as she proclaims Jesus is YHWH in the flesh and maps out the role of his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. In the end, as "believers we've been branded with his name, and that reality should change the way we do everything" (186). And this last line is the backbone of what it means to represent YHWH/Jesus well.
"Bearing God's Name" is a wonderful little volume, overall. I did take issue with a few of the author's moves (placing the command to not make images of God and worship them under the first commandment, and the Sabbath, to name a couple). But through-and-through Imes wove together a useful and valuable codex for pastors and people who want to grasp the Scriptures better, and especially for comprehending what it means to bear the name of God rightly. I highly recommend the book.
I'm ever so grateful that, upon my request, IVP Academic sent me a copy of the manuscript used for this review. And I'm just as appreciative that the publisher only asked me to put forth an honest assessment. I have dutifully and delightedly done so .
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