In this conclusion to our series of notes on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, we are examining the two major themes of this Prayer (and its surrounding narrative): (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the name of YHWH. Last week, the theme of centralization of worship was discussed; today, we will be looking at the second theme.
The name of YHWH
Throughout the Prayer, there is a strong emphasis on the Temple as the place where God’s name resides—vv. 16-20, 33, 35, 42-44, 48. In this regard, 1 Kings 8 is simply continuing an important theme and motif of the Deuteronomic history. Beginning with the book of Deuteronomy, the idea of a place for God’s name is used to designate the city of Jerusalem (and the specific site of the Temple), and, by extension, the territory/kingdom of Judah as a whole. The presence of His name indicates that YHWH has chosen Judah and Jerusalem for His dwelling-place among His people. For the key references, see Deut 12:11, 21; 14:23-24; 16:2, 6, 11; 26:2; 2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kings 9:3, 7; 11:36; 14:21; 2 Kings 21:4, 7; 23:27.
There are three principal aspects to this emphasis on YHWH’s name that need to be noted:
- In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name stands for the person, representing and embodying his/her essential nature and character. I have discussed this in the earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. There was thus a quasi-magical quality to a person’s name; in dealing with a person’s name, one could effect or relate to the actual person. This was especially true in a religious context, when dealing with the name of God.
- Along these same lines, the name represents the presence of the person, even when he/she cannot actually be present physically. This is equally true in the case of God. As the Prayer points out repeatedly, though YHWH actually resides in heaven (vv. 27, 30, 32, 34-36, 39, 43, 45, 49), His name resides in the Temple sanctuary.
- The presence of a person’s name also serves as a mark of possession or ownership. So the symbolic presence of YHWH’s name is a mark that the Temple belongs to Him; and, not only the Temple, but the sign of possession radiates outward to include the entire city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah, and indeed the whole Kingdom of Israel. This aspect of the Temple is a sign that the people of Israel belong to YHWH, as His people. And, when the people pray in the direction of the Temple, where His name resides, they are essentially recognizing and acknowledging this fact.
When we turn to the New Testament, and the beliefs and practices of early Christians, we can see that this emphasis on the name of God has been developed and adapted in a number of interesting ways. I would point out three, in particular, that I wish to discuss briefly:
- Jesus as God’s chosen representative, who comes and acts “in His name”
- The Johannine theme that Jesus, as the Son of God, makes God the Father known to believers in the world—this can specifically be understood in terms of making known the Father’s name.
- The importance of the Jesus’ name—specifically for prayer, but also for other aspects of the religious life and experience of believers.
1. The principal Gospel passage(s) that expresses the idea of Jesus as a Divine representative who comes “in YHWH’s name”, involves the tradition of his entry into Jerusalem. This episode occurs in all four Gospels—both in the Synoptics (Mk 11:1-10; Matt 21:1-9; Lk 19:29-38) and the Gospel of John (12:12-15)—and essentially marks the beginning of Jesus’ Passion. In the overall Synoptic narrative, the ‘triumphal entry’ stands at the beginning of a period of teaching and ministry in Jerusalem (Mk 11:12-13:37 par) that precedes the Passion narrative.
In all four accounts of the Entry, the crowd that receives Jesus is recorded as quoting Psalm 118:26:
“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of YHWH!”
I have discussed this tradition in earlier notes and articles, and will be doing so again in Part 3 of my study on the Sukkot festival. What is most significant is how the quotation of Psalm 118:26 relates to the Messianic identity of Jesus. There were a number of Messianic figure-types current in Jewish thought and expectation, and early Christians ultimately identified Jesus with all of them. I discuss this subject at length, including treatments of the different figure-types, in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Regardless of which Messianic figure-type Jesus was seen as fulfilling, the principal idea is that he was God’s chosen (“anointed”) representative, whose presence and activity on earth marked the end of the current Age and the beginning of the New Age for God’s people.
In the Entry episode, it is clearly the royal/Davidic Messiah that is in view (cf. Parts 6–8 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). In this respect, the use of Psalm 118 is especially appropriate. Even though this Psalm, as one of the Hallel Psalms (113-118), came to be associated with great pilgrimage festivals (esp. Passover and Sukkot), and were sung on those occasions, it is probable that the original context of the Psalm involved the victorious return of the Israelite/Judean king to Jerusalem (after battle). For more on this, cf. my article in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. Psalm 118:26 is also cited by Jesus himself, in relation to his Messianic identity, in Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35 (“Q” tradition).
2. The Gospel of John develops the Messianic significance of coming/acting in God’s name in a distinctive way, informed by the Johannine theology (and theological idiom). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is not only the Messiah, he is also the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God. He was sent to earth from heaven by God the Father, being given a mission from the Father to complete. This mission included speaking and acting in the Father’s name—speaking the Father’s words and doing His works (such as working healing miracles and raising the dead). Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example, doing what he sees the Father doing, and saying what he hears the Father saying. Thus Jesus (the Son) truly represents the Father, manifesting His presence and power to people on earth.
Two specific statements by Jesus may be pointed out:
The Son’s mission and work on earth culminates in his sacrificial death (19:30); all of this is done in the Father’s name, and the death and resurrection (i.e., the exaltation) of the Son serves to give honor/glory to the Father (12:28, note the context of v. 13). This theme finds its fullest development in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, where Jesus specifically refers to his work in manifesting the Father’s name to believers (vv. 6, 26; cf. also 11-12):
“I made your name shine forth to the (one)s whom you gave to me out of the world” (v. 6)
“and I made known to them your name…” (v. 26)
3. Finally, it is important to consider how, for Christians, the Son’s name came to replace the Father’s name. This is particularly notable in relation to the tradition of prayer by early Christians. Even though believers were still directed to pray so as to give honor to the Father’s name (Matt 6:9 par), at an early point there came to be a strong tradition of praying (to the Father) in Jesus’ name. There is surprisingly little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself; we see it most clearly in the Gospel of John (in the Last Discourse, 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26), where the tradition is rooted in the Johannine theology and Christology (i.e., the Son’s abiding relationship to the Father). Of particular importance is the idea that the Father will send the Spirit to the disciples/believers in Jesus’ name (14:26); on the sending of the Spirit as the goal (and result) of prayer, cp. the context of Luke 11:13.
Another Johannine theme which is more firmly rooted in the wider Gospel tradition is the idea of the disciples (believers) continuing the (Messianic) mission of Jesus on earth. This goes back to the early tradition of the choosing of the Twelve and their initial mission (Mark 3:13-19; 6:7-13 pars). The disciples were specifically chosen by Jesus, and were allowed to share the same authority (and ‘anointing’) that he possessed, so that they would proclaim the good news (Gospel) and perform healing miracles, etc., in his name. The particular association with Jesus’ name is seen more clearly in the Gospel of Luke (10:17; 24:47; cp. 9:49; 21:9 pars), after which it occurs frequently throughout the book of Acts (3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 17-18, 30; 5:28, 40-41, etc).
Part of this ministry involved the baptizing of new believers, as a ritual symbol of their belonging to Jesus, and of their participating in the life-giving power of his death and resurrection. One trusts in Jesus’ name (i.e., his identity as the Messiah and Son of God; cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 4:12; John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18), and so is baptized in that name (Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16, etc). Everywhere that believers work or gather together, they are representatives of Jesus, and so act in his name (Matt 18:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 5:4; Col 3:17, etc). The identity of belonging to Christ, conferred and realized through the baptism ritual, governs and informs all aspects of our life as believers.