Taking the “Lord’s name in vain” has been a strange “sin” for me, and, from what I can observe, for my culture and society at large. The commonality of calling on the Creator of the world to damn something or someone was astoundingly common in the ’80’s, and much less so in the ’90’s and early decade of the 21st Century. But, as the second decade comes to a close, embarking us on the third, it’s growing in popularity again.
Holy, versus common or profane use of God’s name, means to call on our Savior for something empty or without purpose. But it also means to use His name commonly. This is not to malign those with the Spanish/Hispanic name, Jesus; rather it could be argued that that naming your child this way is respectful, or at least, hopeful. I’m named for one of the disciples of Jesus, another common naming convention. But, when the name of my Savior is used as a common expletive, or even in some other form of a curse, then, perhaps, commonality and the profaning of what is holy has occurred.
Here’s the law as we have it in Exodus 20:
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.Exodus 20:7 NASB
There is a clear, unambiguous, threat behind this law. Yahweh will not “hold blameless” the one using His name vainly. To make sure this is clear, let’s look at the word, “vain” and the phrase “hold blameless”.
The word commonly translated as “vain” is the Hebrew word, shav (Strong’s H7723), and is different from the common “vanity” term used in Ecclesiastes (Strong’s H1892). The term used here, in Exodus 20, is based on a Hebrew word for “desolation” or “ruin”. The term in Ecclesiastes is based on a word for emptiness or vapor/breath. The word used in Exodus is much more substantial than the word used Ecclesiastes. Using the name of our Creator in a way that causes or intends ruin, is what is in view here. While the “teacher” has a more empty sort of meaning in view in Ecclesiastes.
But what about “holding blameless”? What does that mean? Here, the Hebrew word is naqah (Strong’s H5352) which has a range of meaning from desolation to cleanness, has, as its core meaning, empty or poured out. By extension, it can mean “empty of guilt”, and is commonly used this way. That’s how it’s used here, and in this form, always has God as the subject; either He does or does not allow them to be empty of guilt. Here, clearly, God does not allow them to be empty of guilt. It might be analogous to the current slang term, “free-and-clear” in reference to a debt or legal charges.
I suppose that the real problem I have is how offended I should, or should not, be when I hear someone use the name of my Savior this way. It’s clear that my Master will not clear their guilt. So, do I need to heap on my own judgement and disdain as well? I certainly don’t like it. It immediately gets my attention, and not in a good way. But should I be “offended” on behalf of my Master? Should I let the ignorant blathering of those without knowledge of their Creator set me off track of the goal of my Master? Or is addressing this mistake on their part the real goal of my Master?
I don’t have an answer for this, so, perhaps this is a good place to invite comment with different perspectives. Is there a Scripture reference that addresses this issue, besides the “Decalogue”? What is your experience, and what is your interpretation?
I’ll leave it at that, and simply invite views through the fence.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation
I’ve never considered “God” as His name, rather as a colloquialism we use to refer to the Creator (another colloquialism). God gave his name as Yahweh, Jews developed YHWH as a method of writing His name without really writing it. They also used various other “names” (Elohim, Abba, etc.) to prevent writing or speaking his real name. I see God as the English version of these other “names”, not His real name.
That’s a good point. I don’t hear the Hebrew name for our Creator “taken in vain” even in the media, so that’s a good point. How about Jesus’ name? How do/should we respond when His name becomes a pointless expletive?