Carmen Joy Imes. Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2019. 240 Pages. $18.00 (Paperback).
Many Christians struggle to see the relevance of the Old Testament for their daily-lived faith. Yes, all Christians have their favorite inspirational texts that motivate them to slay their giants and embrace God’s plan to prosper and not harm them. But preaching and teaching from the Old Testament today may feel like putting expired milk into new milk cartons. What does Sinai have to do with new covenant saints? Carmen Imes, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Prairie College, addresses this very question in Bearing God’s Name. Contrary to the counsel of some contemporary preachers, she calls for Christians to “re-hitch” themselves to Israel’s Scriptures, recognizing that this story is their story.
After an introduction, the book divides into two parts. In Part 1, the author sets a narrative frame for Israel’s Sinai experience. She shows the central role of the law in the covenant relationship. Rather than standing as an oppressive and arbitrary list of rules, the law, Imes argues, was a gracious gift given to a redeemed people. The law functioned like “house rules” for Yahweh’s family. She gives particular attention to the second commandment (according to her numbering), which prohibits the misuse of Yahweh’s name. This command called for Israel’s actions to match their covenant status as God’s people. As she says, “To bear [God’s] name in vain would be to enter into this covenant relationship with him but to live no differently than the surrounding pagans” (53). This command was to shape everything about the people as they marched toward the Promised Land.
Part 2 traces the significance of the law throughout the rest of the Old Testament and into the New. Imes stresses the continuity between the old and new covenants in passages such as Jer 31:31–34. Looking at the Gospel accounts, the author states that Jesus perfectly embodies what it means to bear Yahweh’s name. He lived out Israel’s vocation as the perfect covenant member, died, and was raised so that Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God by faith. Thus, Israel’s story is every Christian’s story.
The book provides a helpful approach by contextualizing the law in its narrative frame. Readers, especially those who are more unfamiliar with the Old Testament, will see that commandments given to Israel are not isolated instructions. The author’s sweep of the biblical material, both Old Testament and New, demonstrates the progression of redemptive history, culminating in the work of Christ. The clear prose and structure will make this book accessible to audiences of all levels. Links to further reading at the end of each chapter, as well as to related Bible Project videos (conveniently grouped with QR codes in an appendix), provide additional avenues for those interested.
While some may appreciate more discontinuity between the old and new covenants (Imes maintains that the law is still in some ways binding on Christians), readers from all perspectives will glean great wisdom on the trek from Sinai to Mount Zion with Imes as their guide.
CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Dr. Andrew King, Assistant Dean of Spurgeon College and Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College.