Psalm 20: What’s in a Name?

May 6, 2012                Psalm 20:  We boast of the name of the Lord

Acts 8:26-40               Psalm 20                      1 John 4:7-21              John 15:1-8
What’s in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  So what’s in a name?  Our psalmist would beg to differ with this statement.
Psalm for today, 20, is a royal psalm (other royal psalm 2, 28, 45, 72, 101, 132, 144).  Format is similar to a lament.  A king is about to go into battle, he makes a request of God (vs. 1-5) then thanks God already in his confidence that God has heard him and will grant his request.
Psalm starts by calling upon the name of the God of Jacob, not Baal, not Zeus, the God of Jacob.  It makes a difference.  In early times it was thought that divine names had power, i.e. the name of Yahweh, I Am, was not to be spoken.  Later names became regarded as representative of God, almost a second self.  And still later it was considered a mediator.  The name, God of Jacob, identified him as Israel’s God, the God who had delivered his people and whom the king expected to deliver a victory today.  “In biblical thought a name is not a mere label of identification; it is an expression of the essential nature of its bearer.  A man’s name reveals his character.”  (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 500)  “As such, a name is regarded as possessing an inherent power which exercises a constraint upon its bearer:  he must conform to his essential nature as expressed in his name . . . Hence a change of name accompanies a change in character.” (p. 501-502)
“To know the name of God is to know God himself as he is revealed.” (p. 502) no light matter.  It made a difference what name we use – remember shouts of “Heil Hitler” in nazi Germany? It is important that we call upon the right name.
In vs. 2-3 we see that the king is offering burnt offerings in the sanctuary, the king goes to the Temple to present his cause before God.  As one commentator states, “The only causes, therefore, for which we may fight are those which we can take into God’s house; the only swords we can draw are those which we can lay on the altar.  We cannot expect help from the sanctuary if what we bring to the sanctuary is hateful to the Lord of the sanctuary.”  (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4, p. 109)  A helpful guide for those who would go into war – is this truly a just cause?  Is this a fitting cause to present before our God?
Verse 4 in KJV reads “Grant thee according to thine own heart and fulfill all thy counsel.”  In the New American Bible, “Grant what is in your heart, fulfill your every plan.”  Not my will, or the king’s will, but your will, the king prays. A prayer of abandonment to divine will.  The king humbly asks that God’s will be done.  An interesting prayer for a king going into battle, shows him to be a man of great faith and trust in God.
Verse 5 we see name of God again.  We are to set God’s name on our banners to indicate that we are marching under the banner of God.  Soldier going into battle go under the banner of their king or country.  Our soldiers go under the banner of the American flag.  It’s important to know whose banner we are marching under.  Ignatius in his spiritual exercises asks us to make a choice – are we under God’s banner or Satan’s.  Important choice to make for as we chose, our actions will follow.
Verse 6 shifts to thanking God in advance for victory.  Everything that could be done, has been done, the king is ready for battle.  Now it is up to God.  Reminiscent of saying, “Act as if everything depended on you, pray as if everything depended on God.”  The king puts his trust in God, so much so that he thanks him in advance.  The king surrenders to God’s will.
In verse 7 we see how some put their trust in, or rely on chariots and horses, but we trust in God.  Revised Standard translation says they boast on their chariots and horses, but we boast of the name of the Lord, relying on God’s name again.  As Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 10:17, “whoever boast should boast in the Lord.”  The king puts his trust in God, that the enemy will eventually collapse and fall.  Even if we fall, we will get back up again.  Psalm ends with a final, confident appeal to God.
This psalm is a beautiful prayer of trust in God.  The king going into battle, does all he can to be prepared, he makes offerings at the Temple, then places himself under the banner of the name of the Lord, trusting in God to give him victory. 

So what’s in a name?  In our reading from Acts of the Apostle, we hear the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who is baptized by Philip.  Prompted by an angel, Philip goes to a road in the wilderness from Jerusalem to Gaza.  There he sees the Eunuch, seated in a chariot and reading from the prophet Isaiah.  The spirit further prompts Philip to go up the Eunuch and ask him if he understands what he is reading.  “How can I, unless someone guides me?” the Eunuch responds.  At this Philip proceeds to teach him about the gospel.  The Eunuch is so touched by Philip’s words that he wants to be baptized immediately.  And so Philip baptizes the Eunuch and goes on his way.  The early church baptized in the name of Jesus, thus testifying to the power of a name, the power of words, the power of the gospel.
In John’s gospel, we hear Jesus, the great I am, saying “I am the true vine.”  Last of seven “I Am” statements:  bread, light, gate (for the sheep), good shepherd, resurrection & life, way, truth and life, true vine.  All reveal an aspect of who Jesus is/who God is.   When Moses asked the burning bush God’s name, God’s response was “I am.”  Jesus’ use of this term would not be lost on those following him, it was why he was brought before Pilate and the Sanhedrin, because they claimed his was blaspheming in saying he and the father are one, claiming for himself the term “I Am.”  As Jesus says in John 8:58, “before Abraham came to be, I AM.” 
Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, the Father is the vinedresser who prunes back the branches lest they stray too far away and die.  The vinedresser knows just how deep to cut back the branches in order for them to bear the best fruit.  I’m no good at this.  When I prune back bushes in the yard, the best I do is a little off the top.  If we try to prune ourselves, we won’t cut deep enough.  As soon as it hurts we shout, “enough!”  We say, take away anything but that, God; that hurts too much.  We don’t readily give up that which we have become accustomed to, which we think we need.  But God, the good shepherd, knows what we need and so knows precisely what is necessary if we are to bear good fruit.  As branches, we need to stay close to the vine yet it is so easy to go our own way, stray off in various directions, we need to remain under the name of God.
In I John, John continues to speak of God’s love, saying that God, who is love, abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God.  “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.” We see yet another name for God, another aspect of who God is – love.
If we are going to call upon a name, it’s important we call upon the right name.  If we are going into battle, it’s important we know under whose banner we fight.  Jesus is the God of Jacob, the God of Moses and Elijah, the great I AM.  And this God is love.  What’s in a name?  A lot.  So if we are to boast, let us boast of the name of the Lord..  Let us do everything under his banner, putting our trust in God, abandoning our own will for God’s will, staying close to the vine. What’s in a name?  Everything, for that name is Love.

Copyright, May 2012, Robertson

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