As previously discussed in my other blog posts and podcasts, as well as in my book, Eyes to See The Revelation, A Spiritual Journey, we cannot hope to understand the Book of Revelation unless we have a considerable knowledge and understanding of the Old Testament. A recent book titled Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters by scholar Carmen Joy Imes provides an easy-to-read survey of the Old Testament Law, particularly the Ten Commandments (commonly referred to as the Decalogue).
Of particular interest, Imes makes a strong case that most of us have not properly understood the Second Commandment of the Decalogue: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…” (Exod. 20:7). Most incorrectly think that “taking the Lord’s name in vain” means using the name Jesus or God as a swear word or not abiding by an oath. Most think that the Second Commandment focused on something that was spoken. Of course, it is not appropriate or respectful to use God’s or Jesus’ name as a swear or cuss word (Lev. 24:10-16, a capital offense), but the true meaning of the Second Commandment is an incredibly important idea for every Christian. Exodus 20:7 commands that a believer should not bear the Lord’s name in vain. The best understanding of the meaning is provided by Exodus 28:29. As some readers may recall, the High Priest (as part of his uniform) was to bear or carry the ephod on his chest. The ephod contained 12 gemstones engraved with the name of each tribe of Israel. Literally, the High Priest carried the names of the sons of Israel on his chest. The High Priest represented all of Israel when he went about his duties. Additionally, the High Priest wore the name of Yahweh on his forehead. The actual words on the High Priest’s forehead were qodesh layahweh, which mean “Holy, belonging to Yahweh.” In other words, as explained by Imes, the High Priest belonged exclusively to Yahweh. Yahweh owned the High Priest, and the High Priest served only Yahweh.
Imes makes the important point that Yahweh referred to Israel as His “treasured possession,” a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy nation.” Israel’s vocation was to represent God to the rest of humanity. All of Israel was set apart for this special purpose, not just the High Priest. Israel had a holy calling to represent Yahweh to the world. They had a calling to bear the Lord’s name in a proper way. Imes summarizes the first two commandments of the Decalogue as “Worship only Yahweh” and “Represent Him well.” Imes says that the rest of the Ten Commandments flow from the first two.
In my view, all of Imes’ points are directly instructive to us Christians. Peter stated, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, A people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). I do not believe that New Covenant Christians have replaced Israel. I believe that we have been grafted into Israel (Rom 11:17). We are the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). It is our responsibility to bear the name of Yahweh and properly represent Him to humanity. Bearing Yahweh’s name is our vocation. As he bears the name of Yahweh, the believer’s experiential righteousness is manifested to the world.
In earlier blogs, I have argued the 144,000 mentioned in the Book of Revelation are an apocalyptic image of God’s true and faithful servants. The reader might recall that The Book of Revelation described the 144,000 as being sealed with a mark on their foreheads (Rev. 7:3). This hearkened back to the High Priest, who bore the name of Yahweh on his forehead. As stated above, the High Priest was a servant of God. In a similar manner, faithful believers are the authentic servants of God. They are owned by God, and they must properly represent Yahweh to humanity. The 144,000 are a biblical image that has its roots in the Old Testament. Carmen Joy Imes has provided another important piece of the puzzle. The Bible is a never-ending ocean of discovery.
Like Carmen Joy Imes, many others have given some consideration to the proper role of the Old Testament law in the lives of New Covenant Christians. In short, we should follow the principles, but not necessarily the same application. Clearly, we have no requirement to practice circumcision (now a personal choice), sabbath observance, animal sacrifices, dietary laws, hygiene laws, Temple service, or special feast days, etc. All of the foregoing were tools used to teach God’s holiness or other important spiritual lessons, ideas, and concepts. These applications are now passé.
In the Old Testament law, we see certain abiding principles that reveal and help form the shapes and patterns of the Divine Order. The unique and holy relationship between a man and woman is an important example. Today, we commonly refer to this relationship as marriage. However, the institution of marriage was something that developed over time. In Genesis, we simply see a man and women who have a special recognition of each other and then form a unique pair-bond. There was no hint of a special or official ceremony. Those traditions developed over time. However, the key idea is contained in Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Matthew 19:6 adds: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” This is a perfect example of the imposition of the Divine Order. This relationship is one of the basic building blocks for human society and culture. From the beginning He created us, male and female, and He declared His creation to be good. It is my opinion that the male/female pair-bond is a basic design feature of God’s creation, and it will continue as a basic design feature for the eternal ages to come. It appears that the institution of a formal marriage ceremony and contract was necessary as a conjugal boundary. As stated in an earlier blog, human desire easily drifts into lust and sin. Therefore, more formal ceremonies, contracts, and boundaries were needed to protect the relationship. Marriage as a formal institution was essentially a conjugal boundary, which was necessary because of our proclivity to fall into lust, sin, and societal destruction. Smart fathers reasoned that their daughters should not be available for sex by a suitor unless there was a formal commitment with certain understood rules. The various design features of God’s creation preceded the rules established by God, which were formulated to support and protect the design features. Therefore, it is imperative for us Christians to see the big picture. The purpose of individual laws is to support the Creator’s larger intent. Individual laws may change based on history and circumstances. For example, God’s law recognizes the right of individuals to own property (as opposed to Communism). The Decalogue included prohibitions against stealing and coveting your neighbor’s property. Intellectual property rights and modern patent offices are simply appropriate extensions of the Old Testament laws against stealing and coveting.
As a further example, the idea of family is an important design feature of God’s creation. The laws against incest are an important mechanism to protect the familial and platonic bonds of family (Lev. 18:6-18). Other than the male/female pair-bonds (of husband and wife), the family unit was designed by God to be a sex-free zone. The Old Testament laws included prohibitions against sex with aunts, uncles, sisters, and brothers, etc. The family was designed to be a unique place of refuge, protection, nurture, and support. From generation to generation, respecting one’s mother and father is a necessary condition for a harmonious family (Lev. 19:3, 32).
Deuteronomy 22:8 serves as another good example of the interplay between law, history, and circumstances. In the ancient world, Israelites performed a lot of activities on the roofs of their homes. If an Israelite built a new home, he was required to install a parapet or railing to protect the household members and guests. Typically, this is not an issue where I live, but the principle holds true. We all have the responsibility to act reasonably under the circumstances then and there existing to protect others. When we fail to act reasonably, lawsuits can follow in our modern society. If one is determined to be negligent, there can be an award of monetary damages to any victims of his negligence. The Old Testament law had much to say about the proportionality of the judgment or punishment. Again, the circumstances might change, but the principles abide from one generation to the next. We must see the big picture. The principles remain, but the circumstances and application may change.
In summary, although the application of God’s laws and designs has changed since the time of the Old Testament, the principles and spiritual lessons found in the Old Testament are not irrelevant to us New Covenant Christians. In fact, Jesus himself stated that the “whole law and the prophets” were summed up in the commandments to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:37-40). God’s design intent and the guiding principles of God’s law will continue to shape human existence and life unto the endless ages to come. We are challenged to bear the name of Yahweh and represent Him well to humanity.
 Imes, Carmen Joy. Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, IVP Academic, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois (2019).
 Please note that Imes, among other scholars, argues that this commandment should be counted as the second, not third, commandment. For more information, I highly recommend reading this insightful book.
 Imes, Carmen Joy. Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Ipad Ed, IVP Academic, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois (2019), pp. 48-53 of 225.
 Please see my blog post “Righteousness is a Continuum” on this website for more information about experiential righteousness.