In this hopeful word to the whole house of Israel, foretelling the restoration of fortune, the final phrase may strike us as odd. “And I will be jealous for my holy name.” We tend to think of jealousy as a negative attribute, something to be avoided. The most common usage is defined by Webster as, “resentfully suspicious of a rival; resentfully envious.”
However, Webster also gives the additional definition, “very watchful or careful in guarding or keeping.” This, certainly, is the way in which the Lord GOD will be jealous for His holy name—being very watchful and careful in guarding and keeping it holy. This would be in accordance with the second commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Martin Luther explains this commandment by saying, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not use his name superstitiously, or use it to curse, swear, lie, or deceive, but call on him in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.” (The Small Catechism)
And what might this have to do with our Lenten observance? Maybe I’m speaking more to the men reading this devotion than to women, but perhaps Lent could be a time for watching our language, especially with regard to God’s holy name. I’m well aware that many of us, the men in particular, are much more careful with our language at church than at home, at work, or at the gym. I’ve worked in a hardware store, on a farm with hired hands and in a factory, and I know that even regular church-goers will take the name of the Lord our God in vain, when not at church or around the pastor! As Lent is a time for re-orientation and, we might say, “spiritual re-training,” this might be a good time to repent of misusing the Lord’s name and commit ourselves to only using God’s name in “prayer, praise and thanksgiving.”
Almighty God, this Lenten season, cleanse our hearts, our minds, and our mouths, that we may not use your name to curse, swear, lie or deceive, but only call on your name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prepared by Rev. Dr. David Wendell, North American Lutheran Church