Bearing God's Name
Why Sinai Still Matters
- ISBN: 9780830852697
- Published By: IVP Academic
- Published: December 2019
In Bearing God’s Name, Carmen Joy Imes has turned insights from her doctoral dissertation into an accessible book written for a larger audience. It should be noted that this larger audience is people who are drawn to “’thoughtful books that encourage readers to believe, and to bring their whole lives under Christ’s leadership’” (188–89). Therefore, the book should be read for what it is—that is, a book aimed at the edification of people with a shared religious belief. With this in place, Imes’ main aim is to show how the Old Testament is linked theologically and ethically by way of the New Testament to present-day believers through the theme of bearing God’s name.
The book’s ten chapters are organized in two equal parts that are divided by a brief intermission. Every chapter includes helpful references to both academic and popular works, and the entire book is equipped with a generous bibliography (216–20).
By taking the reader through the story of the desert-roaming Israelites found in the Torah, Imes uses part 1 to stress the relevance of the laws given at Mount Sinai and how these laws are intimately connected with bearing God’s name. However, before arriving at the law-giving and the Torah’s climactic center, Imes uses the wilderness narratives that frame the arrival at Mount Sinai to introduce the term liminality. The wilderness is the Israelites’ transitional and liminal space, and it is, according to Imes, “more than just a place to pass through, it is the workshop of Israel’s becoming” (18, italics original). The idea of liminality appears throughout the book, and it is used frequently to connect the Israelites’ experiences with the reader’s life since the reader might have experienced disorienting times of liminality (e.g., pregnancy). Imes uses liminality as a springboard to present God as a pedagogue who uses difficult and disorienting times for his people’s education. For the Israelites, the “wilderness is his [God’s] classroom” (22), and for the included reader, “God has lessons to teach us that can only be learned in a state of dislocation” (159).
Imes stresses that the placement of the law-giving on Mount Sinai appears after the liberation from Egypt, which underscores God’s grace, a grace we often miss “because we too often see the Ten Commandments without the glorious context of deliverance” (30). The laws are to be seen as a gift from God, and they are the boundaries “within which life can flourish” (35).
By engaging the Ten Commandments in chapter 3, Imes presents a novel interpretation of the prohibition for “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” a commandment that frequently is understood as a prohibition of using swear words. However, Imes shows that the commandment can be translated as bearing or carrying the name of God. In other words, the commandment is part of the covenantal relationship with God, and it is a command for the Israelites “to bear Yahweh’s name among the nations, that is, to represent him well” (51, italics original).
As Imes continues through the Israelites’ story, she describes how the people fail to bear God’s name. God, however, “provides clear steps for restoration of a broken relationship and forgiveness of sin” (74) through the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system meticulously described in Exodus and Leviticus.
Imes begins part two by traversing the story of Israel found in Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. This larger story describes how Israel is its own worst enemy and that Israel’s “tendency to sabotage itself” (107) remains a problem throughout the kingdom’s history. However, the God-sent prophets are a constant reminder to both the Israelites and the present-day believer to return to God and honor “the one whose name we bear” (134).
In the final three chapters, Imes turns to the New Testament, Jesus, and the believing reader. The author ties the Old Testament to Jesus by stating that “in some way, the divine name is transferred to Jesus” (137) and that “by bearing God’s name, Jesus lives out Israel’s vocation, showing us how it ought to be done” (139). Since Jesus is “Yahweh in the flesh” (154), the Christian who bears God’s name represents Jesus and is commanded to reflect his light by imitating him. By being conscious of bearing Jesus’ name, present-day believers are to live out the “vocation as his representatives” (166). Finally, Imes informs the reader that Sinai still matters because the laws still play a role for God’s representatives. The specific applicability of these laws is, however, mostly left to the reader’s imagination.
Imes writes in an accessible language, and the seamless shifts between the Bible, present-day examples, and personal stories can make it a valuable inspiration for many readers, for example, small groups (cf., the appendix with discussion questions). Part 1 of the book is highly recommended for the reader who desires to know more about the Old Testament’s cultural background. I do, however, have some critical remarks.
Imes’ final form reading of the Bible means that literary and redactional layers found within the Old Testament are neglected as the various books within the Bible are seen as a complete whole. While this might fit well with the target audience of Christian nonacademics, the reader is left with the impression that the Old Testament has one overarching story with a continuously failing people and an unhappy ending, an ending that Jesus redeems. However, the order of books within the Hebrew Bible, that is, the Masoretic text, ends with Second Chronicles (not Malachi, see page 136), a text that concludes on a positive high note with Cyrus the Great as deliverer.
Another critical point is the frequent presentation of God as a pedagogue that minimizes other nuances of the deity. For example, God can be seen as a cosufferer that has no pedagogical motive for using the believer’s hardships and as someone who partakes in one’s experiences of pain and confusion in liminal situations.
While there is room for nuances, the book provides a coherent and encouraging argument for bearing God’s name.
Søren Lorenzen is a research assistant in Old Testament studies at the Faculty of Protestant theology at Bonn University.Søren LorenzenDate Of Review:May 29, 2021