Q: #218. What is "taking the Lord's name in vain?
A: The Bible has a lot to say about the importance of God’s name. It is called “hallowed” (Mt 6:9), “holy and awesome” (Ps 111:9), and “majestic” (Ps 8:1), among many other descriptions. When God’s name is not treated with this respect, it is sin. This is stated in the 3rd Commandment: (Ex 20:7) “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 Hebrew word for “vain” is “shav.” According to Strong’s, this word can mean: deceit, deception, malice, falsity, vanity, and emptiness. Webster’s dictionary defines “in vain” as “to no end, without success or result or in an irreverent or blasphemous manner.
Taking God’s name in “vain” is generally done in three main ways: 1. Using God’s name when making a false oath (i.e. failing to keep the oath or swearing the oath is true when it isn’t)(see: Lev 19:12) 2. Using God’s (or Jesus’) name in a meaningless, frivolous, or profane way (i.e. swearing or cursing: “Oh, my G_d” would be one example)(see: Ps 139:20) 3. Making false prophesies (i.e. saying the Lord said something He didn’t)(see: Ezek 13:7). As stated above, God will not hold “guiltless” those who do this. And, as Webster’s says, a term for this is blasphemy, and it was punishable by death in the Old Testament (Lev 24:10-16). Obviously, people are not put to death today for doing this, but it does show just how seriously God takes this sin.
Apparently, the pagan nations around Israel would sometimes invoke the names of their false “gods” (i.e. Baal) when making oaths so that they would be taken more seriously or given more weight (i.e. By the name of Baal, I will conquer that city.)(Deut 6:13-15 points to this). Don’t we see this today too? Don’t people swear on all kinds of “important” (kind of like little “gods”) things to give credence to their vows. “I swear on my kids life.” “I swear on my mother’s grave.” The thinking being, “Well, they might not believe me, but if I swear on my mother’s grave, they MUST believe me.” And then, sadly, how often are they lying anyway?? However, when these oaths are made using the Lord’s name (or even when someone says “I swear,” God’s name is implied), it is VERY serious. If a person is not being TOTALLY truthful or willing to follow through on that vow, he is breaking this Commandment and God will hold him accountable. Jesus said in (Mt 5:34-37) that our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no. In other words, we should generally not be making vows at all (see: Q: #210 for more on this), but rather, our word alone should be good enough.
The Jewish people take this Commandment about hallowing God’s name so seriously that many won’t even write or speak His name! When writing God, they use G_d, when speaking about God, they use “Yahweh” (coming from YHWH- Hebrew has no vowels) or “Adonai.” Once the word “God” is written, it cannot be erased or thrown away without a proper ceremony. While this may be carrying it a little far, we certainly could stand to learn a lesson on respect from the Jews!
Did you know that the dictionary says that the word “Gosh” is a euphemism for God and “Gee” is a euphemism for Jesus and both are used as “mild” oaths or expletives! Taking this into account, we might be well off to avoid using these words too.
We should always remember that the Bible says that all that we say or do should be to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)(Col 3:17,23). What comes out of our mouth reflects what is in our heart (Mt 15:18)(Mt 12:34)(Lk 6:45), and can show how we feel about the Lord.