A StubbornThings Symposium 5/29/15
Introduction • How blissful was my ignorance of the true essence of God’s Third Commandment. Such ignorance kept me concentrating on bottling up that stream of “damns” and “mother oaths” that flowed like a polluted river through a heart undergoing reluctant reconstruction. But in digging deeper, it soon became clear that treating the symptom instead of the disease could never be sufficient – for God, or frankly, even for a wretch such as me.
We are hypocrites all. And if our hypocrisies are fueled by the natural homage that vice owes to virtue, then we soon find ourselves trading in an array of masks intended to obfuscate or deceive — and starring as both the subject and object of our religious charade. It is this mask of religion that wears increasingly thin as we pawn ourselves off as “good” to a jaundiced world. Indeed, it is that same mask that causes others to revile or curse the notion of God, as our inconstancy reveals that our entire exercise was saturated with the acid of human pride and presumption.
If one takes into account the potential number of people who have written off the Christian “pilgrimage” because they could discern little evidence of God’s transformative power in lives that were supposedly surrendered to the Cross, then the 3rd Commandment becomes that proverbial millstone around our necks as punishment for causing others to stumble. Whether one be a bishop or layman, no man is immune to the powerful witness that his life holds over the decisions of others. One need only watch a man closely for a brief span of time in order to discover the dimensions of his god.
If judgment begins with the House of God, then that which we do and say is of vital importance, lest we tempt others to revile the Deity as capricious, unholy, or unjust. If we infer to others that God’s character is somewhere on the continuum between being a mollycoddler and a brute, then are we not in spirit “taking his name in vain” and attaching it to some transitory moral cause or passion rooted in flesh and self-interest?
Once again I have been honored with the task of presenting StubbornThing’s symposium on the Christian Commandments. The gifted writers that follow have labored long in teasing out the 3rd commandment’s wisdom. Enjoy.
— Glenn Fairman
Number 3: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
YOU SHALL NOT SWEAR FALSELY BY THE NAME OF THE LORD YOUR GOD; FOR THE LORD WILL NOT CLEAR ONE WHO SWEARS FALSELY BY HIS NAME. (Deuteronomy 5:11, TANAKH Version, JPS )
What does it mean to swear falsely? Is it just a matter of lying or is it more? If you promise to do something, is that the same as swearing to do so? Or if you swear to uphold or protect something is it the same as taking an oath? An oath occurs between two or more people, groups or nations, and is a symbol of an agreement or covenant. For instance, marriage is a covenant, the terms of which are sworn to before an authority of some sort. One group or nation may swear an oath to protect and defend another, or they may make a covenant of peace with each other.
An oath was once considered unbreakable and an oath breaker was the lowest of creatures. The punishment for oath breaking could be exile or even death. Adding GOD to the mix means that when you swear before HIM you are making a very serious commitment to do as you say you will.
The Third Commandment as given in the King James Translation of the Bible gives a slightly different slant to the matter. Deuteronomy 5:11 reads:
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.
The word “vain” as given here means “useless”, or “of no power.” If the oath is vain it means nothing on either side of the agreement is valid. It would be wrong to ask a blessing from the Lord without making it an oath that you will do well with what you request. It is also true that using the Lord’s name unthinkingly as a epithet would be in vain.
In an age of casual promises and lies, oath breaking seems almost quaint to consider. But in the Third Commandment God says he will not clear the person who swears falsely by His Name, or will not find him guiltless. And HIS word is eternal.
Historically in Western Society it is customary for people taking a public oath to place their left hand on the Holy Bible and raise their right arm “to the square.” In the United States of America elected and appointed members of the government place their hand upon a Holy book to swear such an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” and also covenant with the people they serve that they will uphold and sustain the law according to the Constitution.
How seriously do those who take that oath mean it? Is it just pro forma these days? Do they even consider the consequences of swearing falsely? There seem to be so many liars and oath breakers in government that one must conclude most no longer take their oaths seriously.
Even Supreme Court members, the president, congressmen and other leaders denigrate the Constitution publicly and place their own judgments above those of the Founders and the Constitution with no accountability. Once again, in their presumption, we let them sell our national birthright for a mess of pottage. They have not yet met their retribution, which is in the hands of The Lord God.
We will all stand before the Judgment Seat and answer for our own oaths and covenants.
Do not swear or take an oath you are not prepared to keep. You cannot lie to God and not pay a price.
— Anniel is a frequent contributor to StubbornThings and suggested this symposium.
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”
God gave The Ten Commandments to Moses after He had delivered the Israelites from under the bondage of their Egyptian slave owners. During their exodus, the children of Israel witnessed God’s countless miraculous provisions and protection. Because God showed His love for the stiff-necked Israelites, it is only natural that He would demand that they honor and respect His name. The third commandment focuses on showing respect for God’s name. God commanded that His people (Christians) not take His name in vain.
The Hebrew meaning of the word take is to lift up, bear, carry, use or appropriate. The word name in Hebrew is an outstanding mark, sign, or reputation. The Hebrew word for vain is lashav, an empty or thoughtless manner. The Greek word for vain is mataios, useless or without purpose. To use God’s name in a thoughtless careless manner is to show dishonor for Him. What are the ways that we can dishonor God’s name? When most people hear or quote “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain”, the first thing that often comes to mind is using God’s name with profanity. However, the most common but often not thought of, way of dishonoring God is when a believer (Christians) conducts his or her life in a way that is contrary to God’s teachings. In other words, a Christian will dishonor God’s name in the presence of unbelievers if his or her (Christian’s) conduct does not align with God’s teaching. Moses knew that in order for the other nations to honor God, it was imperative that the Israelites (whom God had delivered from slavery) conduct their lives in a way that would honor God. Christians are responsible for revealing and teaching unbelievers who God is. Living a hypocritical life blasphemes His name.
Well then, you who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you teach against stealing, do you steal (take what does not really belong to you)?
You who say not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery [are you unchaste in action or in thought]? You who abhor and loathe idols, do you rob temples [do you appropriate to your own use what is consecrated to God, thus robbing the sanctuary and [h]doing sacrilege]?
You who boast in the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law [by stealthily infringing upon or carelessly neglecting or openly breaking it]?
For, as it is written, The name of God is maligned and blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you! [The words to this effect are from your own Scriptures.]
We often think that anyone can take God’s name in vain. It is true that unbelievers carelessly use God’s name in conversation and often in connection with profanity. However, Christians are the ones that can truly take God’s name in vain because we are the ones that are in a relationship with Him. The world cannot honor God because it does not know Him (has no relationship with Him). Respect is the foundation of a good relationship. When unbelievers witness Christians showing reverence for God, that and only that will cause him or her to be convicted and refrain from profaning His name. However, no one that takes God’s name in vain will be found guiltless (free, clear, or unpunished).
Why is God’s name worthy of such respect? If we pose this question in reference to the Israelites, the obvious answer is that God brought them out of slavery. However; God not only brought them out of bondage, he protected them and provided for their every need. God showed them His love and faithfulness time and time again (even when they rebelled against Him). God does the same for believers today. His name is worthy of respect because of who He is and what He has done. No other name deserves the same honor and respect as God because no one has done what He has done. No one is able (regardless of claims) to do what God can do. There is no politician, minister, husband, wife, boss, father, mother or friend that can do for anyone what God can do. That is why His name is worthy of respect and should never be taken in vain.
El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El Elyona, Adonai (– with thanks to Amy Grant)
Recently I attended a baby shower for an ex-student of mine. She, and her old high school friends who were there, informed me that, even though it had been 20 years since their graduation, they couldn’t comfortably call me by my first name. We all laughed about that. It brought back the memory of a time when my students used to bow elaborately and call me “The Chad.” One of them did that one day in front of an exhausted first-year teacher and the baffled expression on his face as he glanced back and forth from me to my student was priceless and still makes me chuckle. My point here is that there is power in names and that’s the point of the third commandment.
This mandate is very interesting and one that feels curious to modern day readers. Other commandments deal with life-or-death, societal survival issues – murder, theft, adultery, lying, coveting, obeying parents, behaviors that if left unchecked can destroy a nation, as we are seeing happen here and now. This third command, however, seems to simply be a restriction that deals with God’s name, and yet it is the commandment that carries with it a threat of punishment. What’s with that?
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name,” (Exodus 20:7). The other laws can hurt people — can hurt you — if you break them, so this one seems pointless and petty. But it’s not. (It is also not a prohibition about profanity in general. It only deals with our understanding of and respect for the very name of God. So, we shouldn’t say, “God damn it!” or “JESUS CHRIST!” No, we shouldn’t, though I contend that isn’t the only point here.)
In earlier times a name was much more than a label; it was an indication of who you were, what your character was like, where you were from, who your parents were. It was a sophisticated tracking system; it explained where you fit into the community. We have lost much of that. In many societies you were careful about who you let know your true name; it gave the other person power over you. I saw the truth of that in the halls of the high schools where I taught. Any student I caught misbehaving in the halls was reluctant to tell me his name. If I knew his name, he was certainly in trouble.
In ancient Israel, and amongst the orthodox Jews of today, the name of God is never spoken nor written. “I am that I am” i.e. YAWH, the Tetragrammaton, or as we would write, Jehovah, was never pronounced. God was called Adonai, or El Shaddai, Elohim, or El Elyona. To this day a serious, English-speaking Jew will write the holy name “G-d” as a way to show that continued awe and respect for our Creator.
In a sense this tradition, this idea of the sacredness of God’s name, is the idea of the sacredness of language in general. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 1:1). After all, God spoke the universe into existence. He spoke us into existence, so we should use that name advisedly.
I like the New International translation I quoted above. I like the word “misuse” – it makes much more sense than “in vain.” But how does one misuse the Name of God?
There are several ways:
Of course there’s the usual – don’t swear using God’s name. For one thing, that’s just common courtesy, but as I said earlier, it isn’t the main problem here. One could assiduously avoid doing so and still violate this prohibition.
It’s more important by far to avoid using God’s name as a means of guaranteeing the veracity of some statement or contract you make. “I swear to God – it’s true!” For one thing, I’ve rarely heard someone say that who was telling the truth; the truth can stand on its own and doesn’t need enhancement. To use God’s name to back up some false allegation is just nasty.
But, if the third commandment is about veracity, why isn’t it a part of the 9th commandment? — because it is about the essence of God. Who is He? To use any of His attributes as an excuse for activities or attitudes contrary to the Word of God is to misuse His Name, His eternal perfection, His omnipresent omnipotence. Now, that’s huge, and more than worthy of guilt and its ramifications. To say, “God is love and so He must love people to love, so I’m going to marry my gay lover, “ is to misuse God’s name, His character. Likewise, to say, “God is perfect righteousness so He must hate gays, so I’ll hate them too,” is equally awful, in fact, may be worse. The Westborough Baptist church makes this kind of mistake often. To think, “Jesus helped the poor so I’ll support whoever will use the government’s power to help them,” is way off the mark. Anytime we misuse His Word to back some false idea we are misusing His name. We are claiming that He is what He is not. Given the meaning of Jehovah, that’s dangerous stuff.
It is easy to clean up our language, but to strip our very thoughts of all misstatements about who and what God is, what His opinions might be, and who we are in relation to Him, is a vast and arduous task. For one thing we need to know what God’s character truly is. We need to “study to show [our] selves approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, “ (2Timothy 2:15). God is not a figment of our imagination, He is not tailor-made for us to use to bolster our whiny egos. Elohim (which is plural in the Hebrew) is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Commander in Chief of the Armies, the Bright and Morning Star. We should be in breathless awe when we utter His name.
— Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com.
The Tenth Commandment Symposium
The Ninth Commandment Symposium
The Eighth Commandment Symposium
The Seventh Commandment Symposium
The Sixth Commandment Symposium
The Fifth Commandment Symposium
The Fourth Commandment Symposium