Bear the Name

Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh thy God in vain.

Ex 20:7

Who are the elect? or, rather, to what are they elected? From the beginning, God has made distinctions; he has chosen some and not others. Eve and her seed are chosen over the serpent and his. Seth was chosen, appointed, as a replacement for Abel, who was himself chosen over Cain. Noah was chosen from among his entire generation to be the one to build the ark and save the world through the flood. Abraham was chosen over all the other men of Ur, the one to whom God said, in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Sarah also was chosen, in her barrenness, to bear the son of promise. Jacob was chosen over Esau, not because of anything either had done, but so that God’s election might stand. Moses was chosen out of all the boy babies who were condemned to death to lead the people of God out of bondage and to give them a new law. The whole people of Israel was chosen, the least of all the peoples, to serve in the house of God, to bear the name of God, to guard the presence of God. Saul was chosen to give the people a king like the other nations. David was chosen over his brothers to shepherd the flock of God. The prophets were chosen to bring the word of God to the people of Israel. Mary was chosen to bring the word of God into the world. The disciples were chosen to bring the word of God to the ends of the earth.

What is all this? Some common threads run through the story. I will look at two: the thread of Adam and the thread of Eve. They are intertwined but distinct. God placed man in the garden sanctuary to serve and keep it. These are the priestly duties of the elect. The people of God are a kingdom of priests, which is to say, a people who are dedicated to service in the house of God. Israel was made up of concentric circles radiating from the tabernacle and temple. The priests were the closest and did the primary work in the house, keeping everything clean, trimming the lamps, stocking the loaves of “show” bread, and helping those who brought in their offerings. They also guarded the entrance to the house, ensuring that none who were carrying death entered. The Levites made up the next circle, aiding the priests in all of their duties of serving and guarding. The rest of the nation supported the Levites and the priests through the offerings brought to God. The failing of Israel (in this respect), and one of the things Jesus excoriated the Jews about, was their reversal of the role they had been given. Rather than seeing themselves as the servants of God and of the nations, they saw themselves as the special people, God’s favorites, lording it over others, oppressing the poor, and looking down their noses at Gentiles and Samaritans.

The thread of Eve begins when God tells the serpent that he is putting enmity—war—between the woman and the serpent, between her seed and his. From that point on, the struggle to bring forth the son of the promise is a continual theme in scripture. Sarah, out of her barrenness, bears  the promised son, Isaac. Rebekah suffers likewise for twenty years before she bears Jacob. Pharaoh attacks the sons of the Hebrew women. The virgin, Mary, finally brings the Christ into the world, and Herod, the new pharaoh, plots to kill the seed of the woman. In the vision of the Revelation, the serpent, that great dragon, is waiting for the virgin to bear her son so he can devour it. The role of these women, from Eve, the mother of the living, to Mary, the mother of our Lord, is the same role as that of the whole people of God: to bear Christ in the world. And this is true of all mothers. This is what motherhood is—bearing little christs, and through them bringing the light into the world.

This is, as far as I can tell, what the elect are elected for, what the church has been put in the world to do. And this is at least part of the significance of the third word. Thou shalt not take [upon yourself, bear] the name of Yahweh in vain [in an empty or deceitful or worthless way]. The people of God are chosen as Christ-bearers in the world. It is a weighty charge. There is work to do. Let’s get after it.