Emor — “Say”
Portion for the week leading up to May 13, 2017
Profaning the Name
Several things are spoken of in this week's portion which are considered profanity. This doesn't mean profanity as in abusive or improper language as the term is mainly used today, but rather refers to defilement. So what does this mean, and how does this apply to us?
God gives Moses specific instructions about the priests. He tells Moses that they are not to mourn for family members as the rest of the people do, but may only openly mourn for a close family member, such as their mother or father. The way in which they are to mourn is also limited: they may not shave their head or cut themselves in mourning. God explains the reason for these stringencies: "They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the Lord, the food of their God; so they shall be holy" (Leviticus 21:6). Because of their chosenness and their separation from the rest of the people, they also have an elevated responsibility to carry out their duties before God.
What does it mean that the priests are not to profane the name of God? The English definition of the word "profane" according to Merriam-Webster is, "to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contempt." God is instructing the priests how they are to conduct their mourning in a holy way. The priests are God's representatives to the people of Israel, and thus they must be holy in order to express the holiness of God. If they act in a way that is common or in a way that God has commanded them not to, then they are improperly bearing God's name, thus defiling it. Because they are held to a different standard, if they act like the rest of the people then they will be guilty of profaning or defiling God's name.
This is not the only action that God says can profane His name in this passage. If the high priest marries a woman who is not a virgin, if a priest who has a physical deformity enters the sanctuary, if a priest's daughter becomes a harlot, if a person who is ritually unclean eats of the offering: these all are said to be profaning sins. Each of these sins reduce the sanctity of either the service of the tabernacle, which bears God's name, or they profane God's name directly.
The priests were not the only ones who could profane God's name. While the priests were called to be holy among the nation of Israel, the nation of Israel was called to be holy among the nations of the world (Exodus 19:6). Therefore when the people did not obey God's commandments, they were profaning God's name: "Also I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the lands. According to their ways and their deeds I judged them. When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD; yet they have come out of His land.'" (Ezekiel 36:19-20). God punished His people for their sin by exiling them among the nations, but the nations saw this as the God of Israel not being strong enough to protect His people and keep them in their land. Thus by their sin the people led to God's name being profaned by the nations. We see throughout Scripture this same concept: when a person claims to serve God yet acts immorally, people will see this and believe God is unworthy of worship, thus profaning His name (Leviticus 19:12, Proverbs 30:8-9, Ezekiel 20:39).
In the same way, we have been called to be holy: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). Since this is the case, we also have the responsibility to not profane God's name. A few verses later we read, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation" (verse 12). Instead of profaning God's name, our actions are to bring glory to God's name even among those who do not believe the same way as us.
We must all be careful to watch our actions closely. If we are acting hypocritically or are living in sin while proclaiming to follow Yeshua (Jesus), then is this bringing glory to God's name or profanity? Even if we feel we are acting righteously in our own eyes, our attitudes and actions may be profaning God's name in the sight of unbelievers. Since we cannot trust ourselves to act righteously through our own efforts alone, let us commit ourselves fully to God through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we will not profane His Holy Name: "Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man" (Proverbs 3:3-4).