EXPLORING THE WORD
Taking the Lord's Name in VainBy: Wendyl Leslie
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More and more, our society today is becoming godless and without shame. No longer is God's holy name being honored, but instead is used as a cuss word.
Biblical scribes so honored the name of God that they would wash their hands before and after they wrote it, yet today it is despised and ridiculed. People try to justify using God's name in vain by saying that God's name is "just a word" that they don't even think about when they use it. Their own mouth condemns them. His precious name rolls off their sinful tongue without a second thought, as though He didn't exist. By giving His name no honor, they certainly use His name "in vain." Humanity may take this sin lightly, but God doesn't. He gives it the death sentence.
Though the New Testament doesn't specifically record the third commandment as it's given in Exodus 20:7, it does have much to say about the use of God's name in an unworthy manner. And it applies to us today as it did during the time of the ancient Israelites.
Before we get into some New Testament passages that speaks to using God's name in vain, let's take a look at what some of the words in the original command means. This will better enable us to understand the gravity of this sin. The Old Testament rendering reads: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7).
As always, in the Bible the word choices of the Holy Spirit are very important. The Hebrew word nasa, translated "take," is widely used to describe willful misuse or manipulation of an item or idea. The Hebrew word for "name," shem, literally means "a position" and carries the idea of a mark or memorial, implying a description of character." It suggests something high or elevated, a monument implying majesty or excellence. It is an outstanding mark, sign, or reputation. As such, "name" is a word by which a person, place, or thing is distinctively known. A name identifies, signifies, and specifies.
Misusing the name of God is clarified by the final phrase "in vain," translated from the Hebrew word shav, which describes "a desolation, an evil, a useless or worthless thing." The Scriptures makes it clear: "And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:12).
Thus, making a false (untrue, unrealistic, unmeant) statement using God's name is wrong (Jeremiah 5:1-3; Matthew 5:33-37). Also, wounding the name of God through words or actions is equally wrong (Leviticus 20:1-5). A bad testimony (Ezekiel 36:20-23), improper service (Ezekiel 20:39-40), or giving the second best to God (Malachi 1:10-14) disobeys this commandment.
Furthermore, this commandment has nothing to do with the proper pronunciation of God's name, which no one knows for certain how to say anyway. It also has nothing to do with superstition or magic. This commandment's application is much broader, deeper, and more dignified than that.
This commandment is certainly against common swearing, including the use of euphemisms so common today such as "gee," "golly," "gosh," "doggone," or "Oh my God!" However, it also includes the light or disrespectful use of any of God's attributes or character traits. More directly than any other, the third commandment teaches how much God is to be a part of our every word, deed, and attitude.
In the Bible, a name is not merely a label of identification but also an expression of the bearer's essential nature. It includes its bearer's reputation, character, and distinctiveness from others. For example, in all probability Adam named the beasts based on his observations of the distinctiveness of their natures. Similarly, to know the name of God is to know God as He has revealed Himself, that is, to know some of His nature.
Additionally, in the Bible, a name is inextricably bound with the named thing's existence. Nothing exists unless it has a name, and its essence is concentrated in its name. Hence, creation is not complete until Adam names all the creatures. To cut off a person's name is to end the bearer's existence, or to change a person's name is to indicate a shift in his character and standing before God.
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