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Taking God’s Name In Vain

By: David Lyda (From: Volume 1 - Issue 3)

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

What does it mean to take the name of the LORD thy God in vain? “To take” can simply mean speaking or using, but it can also mean to lift, carry, bear, or take away. “In vain” is using something like it has no value, it is emptiness of speech, or it is even lying. As the third commandment of the Ten Commandments, the Hebrew people held God’s name in high regard. According to our authority (the Bible), misusing God’s name is serious business.

The Jews knew there was power in God’s name, and even speaking it had power. Israel considered His name holy and went to great lengths to preserve it. One particular form of God’s name that was so cherished was the Hebrew form of Yahweh, or the tetragrammaton (YHVW). When praying or reading God’s Word, a devout Jew would not even pronounce it. Instead they would often use Lord (Adonai) in its place, even when Yahweh was written in scripture. In conversation about God, they would commonly use The Name (Hashem). Such great lengths were set forth to preserve His name, that a piece of paper with God’s name on it couldn’t even be destroyed. When a scroll of scripture containing God’s name became too worn to be used anymore, it was buried.

Do we hold God’s name in such high regard? A quick observation of our everyday speech and our entertainment reveals that we clearly do not. How empty is our speech when we declare “Oh, my God!” or “Oh, Lord!”? We are taking God’s Name in vain, and no one seems to care. When is the last time you heard someone exclaim “Oh, my Prophet Mohammed!” or “Oh, my Buddah!”? God’s Name is used as if it has no value, and Exodus 20:7 clearly warns against that. “..the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” We will be held accountable.

“And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I [am] the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:12)

Again, scripture warns us against the misuse of God’s name. Many people automatically think of the profanity G.D. in reference to profaning His name, but it goes much deeper than that. The aforementioned exclamation of “Oh, my God!” or simply saying “God” in exasperation is misusing and profaning God’s name. People say His name as if it is the vilest word they can think of. Black magic is no exception when it comes to profaning God’s name. Casting spells or conjuring spirits in God’s name is of the devil.

What about swearing by God’s name? To swear, put simply, is to give an oath. The pagan nations around Israel would often swear by their gods, which was to give a conditional self-curse by invoking deities that were asked to inflict punishment upon oath-breakers. Oh, how serious it is in reflection to swear not to false gods, but to the true living God! Do we really want God’s punishment if we break an oath to Him?

Swearing by God’s name is putting His character on the line. We too often hear, usually from liars, the phrase “I swear to God!” The Jewish people had their equivalent in “As surely as Yahweh lives!” We are selling God short with such speech and too often presenting Him as a liar. God says to “…not swear by my name falsely.” Is it ever ok to swear by God’s name?

“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” (Deuteronomy 6:13)

There is a huge difference between the commands of Leviticus 19:12 and Deuteronomy 6:13. We are first warned in Leviticus to not swear falsely by God’s name. In truth, reverence, and service to God, we are commanded in Deuteronomy to swear or take an oath by God’s name. This is not a contradiction, but it is a truth that we should respect and honor God’s name. If we speak falsely by His name, we are sinning. If we speak truth by His name, we are in His will. This is most definitely not a flippant call to go around swearing by God’s name though.

There are situations in modern day life in which we may be asked to swear by God’s name, such as in court. If it is in truth, no fault should fall on a brother or sister in Christ who may choose to accept “so help me God” in a court oath. Likewise, a fellow Christian that feels led to affirm the truth only and not swear by God’s name in court, should not be looked down upon. We have to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in such situations, and we should always be telling the truth! God will not lead us astray. The Lord confirms over and over again that speaking His name is a serious matter.

“15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, [and] all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name [of the LORD], shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:15-16)

Israel knew that falsely swearing to God, or in turn cursing Him, would invoke punishment by bearing their sin with their self curse. Look again at today’s courtroom situation of swearing to God. Liars in court receive punishment. Just the same, God will not allow blasphemers to go unpunished. The Old Testament demanded death for the misuse of God’s name. It was the judicial standard of an “eye for an eye.” Swearing falsely by God’s name was killing God’s character, and the guilty person would likewise be killed in return. Misusing God’s name is serious business! Maybe you don’t literally speak His name in vain, but as Christians there is a higher standard.

“33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

Christians should not be liars. We represent God and His character in this world. As professing Christians, we are swearing by God’s name in accepting Him. If we are not truthful in our speech, we are swearing falsely by His name. Jesus was not condemning all oaths here, as He spoke under an oath in court (Matthew 26:63, 64). God also confirmed promises with an oath (Hebrew 6:13-18). Take note that Jesus does not forbid swearing by God’s name in this passage, but rather He was addressing the actions of deceptive people. They were swearing by anything they could other than God’s name to fool people. Were they really avoiding profaning God’s name by swearing upon His creation? Absolutely not! The world should be able to trust Christians. If we are saying anymore than “yes” or “no,” our motives may be hidden.

People try to show their credibility by swearing to God or His creation. Let your lives as followers of Christ show your credibility. We are to honor God and His name just as Jesus did. “…Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9). No matter if we say God, Jesus, Lord, Father, Yahweh, etc., we are to speak forth His name in truth and praise Him. Give Him adoration for who He is and thanksgiving for what He does. As Christians, our lives swear by the Name that is above all names!

“1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights. 2 Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. 3 Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. 4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that [be] above the heavens. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created. 6 He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: 8 Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word: 9 Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars: 10 Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl: 11 Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth: 12 Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children: 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory [is] above the earth and heaven. 14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; [even] of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the LORD.” (PSALM 148:1-14)

From: Volume 1 - Issue 3


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