Book Reviews

Book Review: Bearing God’s Name (Carmen Joy Imes)

Who reads the Old Testament these days? After Andy Stanley told us to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament, who really needs 75% of the Bible anymore? Carmen Imes, associate professor at Prairie College, believes “that we need the Old Testament as Christians, not later, but now” (3). We need to “re-hitch” ourselves to Israel’s Scriptures to truly understand Jesus, who he is, and his mission.

But reading the Old Testament means reading laws. And laws are boring. Tedious. “Laws cramp our style–do not climb this or sit here and talk loud there. Silence your cell phone and no flash photography and don’t chew gum and don’t bring in outside food or drink and keep your hands and arms inside the car ” (4). Yet Moses’ response to the law is utterly confusing to us. God saved tens of thousands of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. Although he led them through the Red Sea and then has them trekk through utter wilderness in hunger and thirst (lots of hangry people here). Once they arrive at Mt. Sinai, God gives them rules. And in Deuteronomy 4:5-8, Moses praises God for giving his instructions to Israel. Moses tells Israel that if they follow these “style-cramping” rules, that the other nations will be jealous. Their gods are not near like Israel’s God is near to his people. And observing God’s instructions carefully will show their wisdom and understanding to the nations.

Imes splits her book into two parts. Part One looks at what happened at Sinai and why it is important. What happens at Sinai spans 57 chapters in the Pentateuch, so it is clearly important. Yes, even the laws and texts about building the tabernacle are important.

Bearing the Name

What’s the deal about bearing God’s name? Exodus 20:7: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” I grew up hearing that one should not use God’s name as a curse word. Certainly this is important, but Imes shows that there is much more to this verse than that.

The Hebrew word behind “to take” God’s name is better translated “to lift up” or “to bear” (as in, to carry) God’s name. Imes points to how the high priest in Exodus 28:12 and 29 would wear “an elaborate apron woven with gold threads and set with twelve precious stones, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes” (pp. 49-50). The high priest represents the twelve tribes of Israel when we stands before God. He is a pictures of what the entire community does when they live together or meet people from other nations. They carry God’s name. They represent God in every action and in every word.

The Bill of Rights

The Ten Commandments are a “bill of rights,” not just your rights but other people’s rights too. Not murdering means the other person has a right to life (and the right to a fair trial). Not committing adultery means that both you and your neighbor have the right to a marriage free from competition (55). Not stealing means you and your neighbors have the right to personal property, and so on and so forth.

With this in mind, the Ten Commandments and the entire law wasn’t merely intended on being just a bunch of rules so Israel would be “good.” Since God is Israel’s Father and they are his son (Exod 4:22), they represent their Father every time they speak with each other and every time they meet someone from another nation. Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God their Father gave these former slaves fatherly instructions so that they could know how to live wisely and justly.

Part Two looks at how Israel fails in their job of bearing God’s name (the third commandment). They don’t represent God well at all. In this section, she moves from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion, a biblically glorious mountain that, “[p]hysically speaking… is not an impressive mountain” (103). But she notes that “theologically speaking, Mount Zion is the tallest mountain on earth” (103). It’s lone reason for significance comes from God putting his name there (Ps 132:13-14; Isa 2:3; Zech 8:3). It is his mountain. His presence was in his temple, accessible to his people for worship.

Imes moves through David and Solomon, the prophets, and through the rest of the Old Testament. The covenant was broken, but the prophets promised a renewal. God would act for his sake because his people bore his name. She then looks at how Jesus, whose name means “Yahweh saves.” Imes writes that, “His behavior and character reflect God’s the way every covenant member’s character should” (139). Jesus fulfills Israel’s task in bearing God’s name faithfully, and how the Bible’s story opens up to include Gentiles into the fold of God’s people.

Throughout the book Imes has various gray boxes elaborating on something Imes wrote (such as the Lord’s name, Yahweh’s dangerous presence, or even his “long nose”). There are gray Digging Deeper boxes at the end of each chapter pointing to accessible and more critical commentaries, monographs, and The Bible Project videos (through QR codes) to assist in understanding the Old Testament text, as well as discussion questions for each chapter at the end of the book.

Recommended?

I thought this book was brilliant. Too many Old Testament introductions are big snoozefests. This book isn’t a book-by-book introduction. Imes focuses on the importance of Sinai and then gives us a bird’s eye view of how the theme of carrying God’s name runs throughout the rest of the Old Testament and into the New Testament. This book is enjoyable to read. Throughout the book Imes tells personal stories, cracks jokes, and aims to apply Scripture to your heart. This isn’t “scholarly” reading. It’s for the person in the pew wondering what we should do with the Old Testament.

You can tell by reading this book that Imes both cares about and thoroughly enjoys the Old Testament. God didn’t do something new in Jesus so that we could forget about the Old Testament. Christians stand in the line reaching back to Abraham. We carry on God’s story today.

Pair this with Sandra Richter’s “The Epic of Eden” (review soon) and Peter Leithart’s “A House for My Name” (review). Buy this book.

Lagniappe

Buy this from Amazon or IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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