“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field” [Genesis 2: 19-20].
In the book, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor, Pastor Mark Labberton spends many pages describing the power of words. In Genesis [as we see in the opening quote], God gives Adam the power to create words as he names the livestock, birds and beasts of the earth. Labberton makes a good case that in everyday life, naming is important. What we call things can draw us closer or repel us. What we call things can help us to take action or walk away. What we call things can build bridges between people or create barriers between people.
Then he continues commenting on the Old Testament and develops his thesis that God has always taken naming [or use of words] very seriously. “The faithfulness of God (hesed) means that what God says and what God does are one. The reliability between God’s word and deed, between God’s promise and action, forms the origin and potential for being human in speech as well as action” [Labberton, 113].
God intends us to “say what we mean and mean what we say” but do we?
You know the answer: oftentimes we don’t.
With the entrance of sin into life [of course via Adam and Eve], the breakdown of a close connection between word and deed began to happen. We have the freedom to sin, the freedom to choose, the freedom to misname, the freedom to misuse our words. How we use our words reveals how much of a separation there is between man and God. Early in the Bible [in Genesis 4], the word “brother” becomes a mere label. Man destroys the Godly meaning of the word through the behavior of Cain and Abel. In their brotherly relationship, love was not of utmost concern and certainly the idea of being my brother’s keeper did not apply to their situation.
Turning to the Tower of Babel, Labberton points to the fact that man was overreaching. Man wanted to make a name for himself. But his pride got the best of him. “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we can make a name for ourselves” [Genesis 11: 4]. God’s response to this effort was to cause the people to stop building the city and tower and He confused the language of the whole world. In one fell swoop, God erected barriers to understanding throughout the world [and we still suffer from those language barriers today].
God explained to Abram that the hope of the world hangs on the covenant. You will have a son, your offspring will be as numerous as the stars, your descendants will be given the Promised Land. What God said, He did. However, Abraham and Sarah scheme with Hagar because they doubted God’s word, but God was faithful. God said what He meant and meant what He said. Not trusting Abram, God tested him with his only son. How far would Abram go in obeying God’s commands? The way Abram responds results in a name change and the beginning of the nation of Israel.
After Abraham, man still did not get it so God has to help man understand. With Moses, God remembers His promise to His people. When they are in bondage, He states “I am the One who is and who will be there for you.” Moses had a ministry only because he lived and served in the name of the Lord. When he uttered the words “let my people go” he did so under the authority of God. Those words from God [via Moses] were so powerful that Pharaoh’s hold over the Israelites was moot. God’s desire for their freedom overpowered the mighty Egyptians and swallowed the power of mighty Pharaoh’s army .
Living God’s way means living under God’s law, enacting the character of God. The more man can do that, the more man can live the life that God intended all of us to live.
The trick [if I may be so bold to use such words] is that God intends all Christians to put Him first. If we do that, all the other aspects of life will fall into place [ourselves, our neighbors, our world]. The problem is that too often we don’t put God first. Our desires take center stage. Our need to sin overwhelms our need to obey God. Our weakness leads us astray and we moan like the Israelites.
We fail to mean what we say and say what we mean. And when we have a chance to get the power of God to help us, we forget to ask the One who says “I am the One who is and who will be there for you”…
We just don’t use the right words; we just don’t say: “Please help me Lord.”