“keep them in Your name; those you gave to Me, that they may be one as We are.” John 17:11
Keep – If you listened to Jesus praying in the Garden, you would have heard some very familiar words. In this verse, that familiarity could only remind you of one thing – Deuteronomy. “Keep” is the often-resounding cry of shamar – to preserve, guard and observe. It is most notably applied to God’s instructions. Hundreds of times in the Scriptures, God instructs His people to keep His word. Of course, the Hebrew idea of a name would also be clearly understood. Names were not simply convenient labels attached to people, places or things. In the world of ancient Semitic cultures, a name was a shorthand description of the essential character of the object. When it comes to God’s name, His very personal name, the word itself is holy. Its sound carries with it the sum total of God’s majesty, glory and holiness. For Jesus to pray that we be kept in His name is to say a good deal more than some sort of guardian angel invocation. It is to enlist the Creator Himself, and all that His name implies, as the guardian of His children. Of course, that is essentially what God promised to do in the covenant with Abraham. And God does not break a promise.
Does this mean that God stands over us, scanning the horizon for attacking forces? No, I don’t think so. That God is merciful and compassionate is beyond question, but when it comes to keeping us in His name, I imagine that the first thing that would cross the mind of a Hebrew would be the instruction book of life that was authored by God. After all, His name is eternally attached to this manual. To keep me in His name is to push me onto the path of His operational plan and make sure that I stay there. Essentially (a good Hebrew concept), Jesus is saying that His disciples are to be divinely assisted in keeping torah.
Now, why would He say that? Every Jew of the first century knew that keeping torah was important. In fact, Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees usually involved an over-zealous application of additions to the torah. If there was one common theme in Israel in the time of Jesus, it was the torah. The memory of the devastation of the Babylonian captivity made an indelible impression on Hebrew consciousness. Never again! Or so it seemed. The “Law” was elevated to the holiest place, and bolstered with hundreds of “extras” just to make sure that Babylon stayed in the past.
Jesus has something else in mind. This night Jesus prays that the new covenant prophesied in Jeremiah would begin. Jesus prays that the Father will write the covenant on their hearts. He is about to seal the new covenant agreement in a sacrifice that guarantees a new heaven and a new earth. As He initiates this monumental shift in history, He prays for the first sign of the renewal to be manifest – the covenant written in flesh and blood, not on stone.
When we come to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, when we are grafted into the family tree of God, we experience a new life, a life that manifests itself with a desire to do God’s will. And that is the sign that the covenant is being written on your heart. It might take awhile, but God has all the time He needs to finish the job. All you have to do is let Him etch His words where no man can write.
Topical Index: Covenant