The Psalms on the Name of God

King David, Westminster Psalter

King David, Westminster Psalter

Having entered the Temple, and worshiped both through actions (washing his hands, going around the altar) and through words (speaking praise and telling God’s wondrous works), the Psalmist now speaks of pure love:

“Lord, I love the dwelling-place of your house

And the place of the tabernacle of your glory.”

In the Jerusalem Temple of old, and then in Jesus and his Blessed Sacrament, God has come to dwell with us. This week we will consider the importance of his making himself present, by focusing on God’s “name.” Next week we will consider the place of his dwelling.

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The Psalms refer to the name of the Lord over a hundred times. Just in the first ten Psalms, for example, we get

“Let them also who love your name be joyful in you” (5:11).

“I will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high” (7:17).

“O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth” (8:1 and :9).

“I will sing praise to your name, O most High” (9:2).

“They who know your name will put their trust in you” (9:10).

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The Psalms give thanks for all that God has revealed to us – “Your Law is my delight!” (119:174). God has not left us to figure it all out by ourselves. He has shown us the way.

The Christian rejoices in the revelation of the Law even more than does the Jew. This is what Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about.

“The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good,” says St. Paul (Rom 7:12). The problem is “the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (7:14). “I delight in the law of God in the inward man; but I see another law in my members” (7:22-23). Thus he calls the Old Testament Law “the law of righteousness”; the problem is that the Old Testament people, without the grace of Christ, “had not attained to the law of righteousness” (9:31).

But now we have a new law, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (8:2). The Spirit is a “law written in their hearts” (2:15). He calls it the “law of faith” (3:27) and says “love,” the love of Jesus Christ, poured into our hearts by his Spirit, “is the fulfilling of the law” (13:10.

How good God is, to show us the way!

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But he has revealed even more than the way, the law. He has revealed himself, his “name.”

Last week we saw how we approach God through thanksgiving. Thanksgiving even gives us a kind of definition of God. What is God? God is the one who made the earth, who made the seas, who made the family, who made beauty, and the possibility of beauty. God is the one, too, who has given us all the help summed up under the titles “the Law” and “the word,” and who has died for us, and given us his sacraments. When we give thanks for all this, we get an idea of who God is.

But God is above all this, infinitely greater than all the gifts he gives. That’s what the Psalms point to when they talk about his “name.” He doesn’t just show us what he can do. He shows us who he is.

This is a mysterious thing. It isn’t contained in the un-pronounceable letters YHWH, though their mysteriousness points us both to the reasonable knowledge that he is above all our words and to the great wonder of faith that he chooses to reveal himself to us.

The Holy Spirit, the new law, takes us deeper into knowledge of him, beyond all words, as does the person of Jesus. Indeed, the “name” Jesus points precisely to him: he who comes to us, and he who wants not just to do things for us, but for us to know him, himself.

The name points us to reality of divine friendship: that, whatever friendship with God could possibly mean, he calls us into union with him.

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The name of God, it must be said, is not exclusive, it is inclusive.

That is, the purpose of revelation is not to create a club with a password. God’s name is not revealed as a way to keep people out: “if you don’t say the right name, we won’t let you in!”

No, God’s name stands for all the ways that God lets us in, calls us in to a divine closeness that would never be possible without his revelation and his Spirit.

O Lord, how excellent is your name!

Do we try too hard to reach God on our own? How could we better allow him to teach us to pray?

eric.m.johnston

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