“All Who Call Upon the Name of the LORD . . .”

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Nick Norelli has continued the debate on praying to Yeshua with a post defending his favorite textual variant and another on the issue of calling upon the Name of the LORD.  I had mentioned in a previous post of my own that I needed to spend a bit more time discussing exactly what “calling on the Name of Hashem” actually means, so I decided to write this post without actually reading Norelli’s on the same subject.  That way, I can approach it fresh instead of simply debating his post point-for-point.

“All who call upon the Name of the LORD will be saved,” Joel 2:32 tells us, “for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the remnant, those whom the LORD calls.”  And in Romans 10:8-13, Paul applies this passage to calling on Yeshua:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart” (Deu. 30:14); that is, the word of faith, which we proclaim: that if you will confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed” (Isa. 28:16).

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him.  For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So what does it mean then to call upon the Name of the Eternal One?  Let’s start off by examining what it doesn’t mean:

First, it doesn’t mean pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the holiest Name of God, correctly, or else Paul could not have applied this passage to Yeshua.  Sacred-namism simply makes no sense in this context.

Second, it cannot simply mean invoking the name (i.e. the syllables) of “Jesus” or “Yeshua” in a ritual fashion, for two reasons:  First, because that would make hash out of the original prophecy in it’s context and second, because Yeshua Himself says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 7:21).

Third, it cannot refer to prayer per se, both because of Yeshua’s “Lord, Lord” clause (does anyone doubt that there are a lot of people who pray to Jesus who have never known the Second Birth?) and because, as I explained in my previous post on the subject,

I did a word search for the Heb. word palal (“pray,” from which we get t’philah, “prayer”) and the phrase “call upon.”  I found only one instance, in Jer. 29:12, which reads in the NASB:  “‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.”  The word “upon” is actually a translator’s interpolation, as the Hebrew, uqratem ati, literally means simply “call Me.” [Minor edit: “And you will call Me” would be a more complete translation.]  There were no instances where calling upon the Name of Hashem and prayer were equated.

Now that we see what it isn’t, let’s do some digging into where the phrase “call upon the name” appears in Scripture.  But first, let’s consider what the term “name” (Heb. shem) really meant to the ancients.  It wasn’t just the sound or syllables of the way a name is spoken.  To quote Unger’s Bible Dictionary (“Names”):

The name in Heb. is sometimes used to signify the collected attributes or characteristics of the object named.  This is particularly the case with the divine name (Ex. 34:5-6).  Our Lord says, “I manifested Thy name,” etc. (John 17:6), where name embraces the whole divine nature revealed by the Son.  The expression “name of God” indicates the entire administration of God by which He reveals Himself and His attributes to men: the gory and power of God displayed in nature (Ps. 8:1); God’s revelation of Himself to His people (Zech. 10:12); and when God announces His mighty presence it is said, “Thy name is near” (Ps. 75:1).

Likewise, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Name”) states,

Besides designating persons, the name also stands for fame, renown, reputation, character gained or expressed, etc. (Gen_6:4; 2Sa_7:9, 2Sa_7:23, etc.); it might be an “evil name” Deu_22:14, Deu_22:19; the “name” is also equivalent to a “people” or “nation” (which might be “blotted out,” i.e. destroyed (Deu_7:24, etc.)); to speak or write “in the name” signified authority (Exo_5:23; 1Ki_21:8, etc.); to “call one’s name” over a place or people indicated possession or ownership (2Sa_12:28; Amo_9:12, etc.); to act “in the name” was to represent Deu_25:6; to be called or known “by name” indicated special individual notice Exo_31:2; Isa_43:1; Isa_45:3-4. Gen_2:19-20 even displays a conception of identity between the name and the thing.

So with that in mind, let’s do some delving into the passages in which the particular phrase “call upon the name” are used:

  • When David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, he praised the Holy One, saying, “Oh give thanks to the LORD. Call on his name.  Make his doings known among the peoples” (1Ch. 16:8).
  • When Elijah issued an honor-challenge to the prophets of Baal in 1Ki 18:24, “You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The God who answers by fire, let him be God.” 
  • Namaan’s expectation of Elisha when he went to be healed in 2Ki 5:11: But Naaman was angry, and went away, and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leper.’” 
  • Psa 79:6f –  Pour out your wrath on the nations that don’t know you; on the kingdoms that don’t call on your name; For they have devoured Jacob, and destroyed his homeland. 
  • Psa 80:17-19 – Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we shall not turn back from You; Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.  O LORD God of hosts, restore us; Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. 
  • Psalm 116 twice refers to calling on the Name in the context of obtaining salvation and in offering up sacrifices (probably the closest we come to connecting this phrase with prayer in the Bible).
  • Isa 12:3-4 –  Therefore with joy you will draw water out of the wells of salvation.  In that day you will say, “Give thanks to the LORD! Call on his name. Declare his doings among the peoples. Proclaim that his name is exalted! 
  • Zep 3:8f –  “Therefore wait for me,” says the LORD, “until the day that I rise up to the prey, for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour on them my indignation, even all my fierce anger, for all the earth will be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.  For then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that they may all call on the name of the LORD, to serve him shoulder to shoulder.

I’ve left out Gen 4:26–“There was also born a son to Seth, and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the LORD’s name.”–because it is mistranslated.  The final clause is the Hebrew az huchal liqro b’shem HASHEM, which actually means, “then profaned he to call upon the name of Hashem.”

So let’s look at the legitimate examples.  I’ve noted what I think are the key passages by bolding the text: Make his doings known among the peoples” (1Ch. 16:8), Declare his doings among the peoples. Proclaim that his name is exalted! (Isa. 12:4).  To call upon the Name of the Holy One is to make His reputation, honor, and authority known by our actions.

So let’s see if that definition fits the rest of the examples (which are not exhaustive, but I’ve tried to be representative):

  • When Elijah challenged the 300 prophets of Baal and God responded with fire from heaven, He made His power known and the people responded, ““The LORD, he is God! the LORD, he is God!” (1Ki. 18:39).
  • Namaan’s expectation of Elisha was that the prophet would perform some ritual to cure him of he leprosy that would make it clear which god the healing came from.  He was shocked when the prophet merely said, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times.”  How would such a washing matter to Elisha’s God?  That’s why Namaan thought Elisha was just messing with him.
  • Psalm 79 is calling on the Holy One to avenge His people against the nations who do not, unlike Jacob, bring glory to His name and who indeed seek to profane His honor by attacking His people.
  • Psalm 80 parallels the previous psalm, asking for a Divine restoration of Israel despite our many sins, with the promise that if He will do so, “we will call upon your Name.”  Obviously, this shows that to call upon the Name does not in and of itself refer to prayer, since the psalm itself is a prayer.  Rather, the promise is that if the Holy One will revive Israel, we will make known His Name, His reputation, honor, and authority to those who witness the revival.
  • Psalm 116 has the same point:  If the Eternal One will save the psalmist, the psalmist promises to respond by offering up sacrifices of thanksgiving that will make the deed of the Holy One known to those who would witness those sacrifices.
  • Zep. 3:8 is, in effect, the Holy One’s agreement to the terms offered in the psalms–and moreover, a promise that He personally would purify the lips of the people so that they could offer up proper honor to Him.

So we see then that to call upon the Name of the LORD is to magnify it by both word and deed, to make it known among the peoples.  Now let’s see how that fits with the NT use of this phrase:

  • Acts 2:21 and Rom. 10:13 both cite Joel 2:32.  It is not the mere invocation of the Holy Name which saves, but it is those who make known the glorious honor, reputation, authority, and nature of the Holy One will will be saved in the Day of judgment.  And since the real nature of the Eternal One has been fully revealed in Yeshua–in particular, His attribute of perfect mercy–the Apostles could rightly apply this verse to all who spread the word of Yeshua, whether Jew or Gentile.
  • Likewise, 1Co. 1:2 isn’t merely speaking of those who invoked the Name of Yeshua (remember what happened to the seven sons of Sceva when they tried it?), but those who made Him known among Israel and the nations by their words and deeds.

All of this fits perfectly with Yeshua’s own words:  “I tell you, everyone who confesses me before men, him will the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God; but he who denies me in the presence of men will be denied in the presence of the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9).  That is, those who call upon His Name shall be saved, but those who deny His Name and thus shame it will be condemned.

And again, from Romans 10:8-13:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart”; that is, the word of faith, which we proclaim: that if you will confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.”

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him.  For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And how do we call upon the name of the Lord?  The text makes it obvious: “You will confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.”

The Scriptures never teach us to pray to the Lord Yeshua, nor do they ever say, “Invite Jesus into your heart to be saved.”  Rather, He Himself taught us as His disciples to pray in His Name, “Our Father, who is in heaven . . .” and that if we will proclaim His name without shame both by our words and by our deeds (“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mat 7:21)), we will be saved in the Day of judgment.

“By our deeds?” someone out there is asking, “Doesn’t that make our salvation by works?”  No.  The deeds that bring honor to the Name do not earn salvation, they are the fruit of salvation, the evidence of salvation.  We do not obey our King in order to be saved, but because we are already saved and He is our King and Savior.

Hopefully that will clear up some of the confusion surrounding prayer to Yeshua and also what it means to call upon His Name.  I’ll drop into Norelli’s blog later this week to see what my post didn’t cover and perhaps engage the subject further.

Shalom

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