If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.
Just about everyone who knows anything about God has heard it said that we must not use the name of the Lord in vain. This is the 3rd commandment given by God on Mount Sinai.
But what does it really mean, to not take the name of the Lord in vain?
I have looked through “Strong’s Concordance”, the “JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh”, my Soncino edition of the Chumash, and the “Complete Jewish Bible” to find an answer. What I found were, from these different sources, all different versions. And when this commandment is repeated later in Deuteronomy the Hebrew is identical but the English interpretation was a little bit different.
I “Googled” the term “in vain” and this is what I got:
Vain is from Latin vanus “empty,” and in English it originally meant “lacking value or effect, futile”; we still say “a vain attempt” using that sense, and the phrase “in vain” means “without success.” Normally, though, vain means “conceited, too proud of oneself.”
There is an additional part of this commandment which (apparently) doesn’t get as much attention; God further states that he will not hold anyone taking his name in vain guiltless. Clearly, God doesn’t take this lightly.
Lightly….that is the way the JPS Tanakh interpreted the commandment. In other words, don’t just throw God’s name around like it doesn’t mean anything. Don’t use it in an oath, don’t use it as a way to demonstrate importance and don;t use it flippantly.
The Chumash states that this commandment deals with oaths and vows, in that we shouldn’t use God’s name for vanity or falsehood. His name must not be used to testify to anything that is untrue or empty or in a manner that renders it useless by joining it with anything that is insincere or unimportant.
The rabbinical tradition states the name of the Lord is not to be used or uttered unnecessarily in common conversation. The only valid use of God’s name is when taking an oath in a court of law.
God’s name is the Tetragrammaton, the four letters that are printed in the Torah that God first gave to Moses. Those letters are Y-H-V-H (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh) and Jews pronounce it as Adonai, which means “Lord.” There are no vowels in Hebrew so we don’t know how it was originally pronounced, but that is God’s Holy Name, his “first name” (if you will) and the one that definitely is the one he means when he gave the third commandment.
We use the term God, but that isn’t really a name- it is a descriptive label. Lord, HaShem, Adonai, Father, Creator…all these “names” for God are really labels, in a way- they are what he is and what he does, but they aren’t his name. If we use any of those in a false oath or a lie, we are still violating the third commandment.
I see all too often God’s Holy Name, the 4-letters, being used left and right, being plastered on someone’s Face Book page, and being pronounced in (at least) 5 different ways, each person adamant that they are saying it correctly. Not to sound bigoted, but the ones using God’s name are, overwhelmingly, Gentiles. And in my opinion people who constantly use God’s name are being disrespectful to God. No Jewish person would think of using the Tetragrammaton as a Face Book avatar, or in a banner for a discussion group, or in conversation.
I understand that Gentiles have grown up using God’s name and calling on Jesus constantly, in everything they do, in their prayers, as an expletive, and as a means of getting someone’s attention in a conversation. Since most of the Torah is ignored by the Christian world, this commandment is often known but not obeyed. I understand that is how they were brought up, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Not to God.
The name of the Lord is to be respected and used only when absolutely necessary, as in making a sincere oath or when swearing to a truth in a court of law. That is what Jews have done since God told us not to use it vainly.
Let’s not forget that using something vainly also infers a conceited attitude. I have seen, way too often, arguments by people who are using God’s holy name as a means of showing off how much they know. They argue that their years of study justify their pronunciation and they flagrantly announce God’s name every chance they get. They are using God’s name to show how much they know, with no respect for the name or who’s name it is. That is the ultimate “use in vain” as far as I’m concerned.
One of the great methods for preventing sin that the Rabbis have created is called placing fences around the law. To prevent trespassing (violating) the law they put a “fence” around it. For instance, to make sure we do not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk (Lev. 11) we will not boil any calf in milk at all (first fence.) But that may not be enough, so let’s not have meat and dairy together (second fence.) A fence around the fence around the fence around the law. It is a good way to prevent accidentally violating the commandments, but the downside is that it is also a snowball rolling downhill, and the good idea became a terrible burden on the people, which is the argument Yeshua had when he talked against the traditions of the Pharisees. Traditions are not bad, but the ones that add to God’s laws so much they become an additional burden, are.
To those that are thinking about Joel 2:32, or Romans 10:13, or 1 Cor.1:2, or whatever other verse you find that tells us we should “call on the name of the Lord” it doesn’t mean we are commanded to use the Tetragrammaton. To “call on the name of the Lord” does NOT mean that we are to use his actual name, the Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh: it means to ask him for something, to open our hearts to him and approach him with a humble and contrite spirit in repentance. It is more of a metaphor than a commandment, and it is not justification for using the holy name of God.
I will never try to pronounce the Tetragrammaton. I respect the Lord too much to try to get on a “first name” basis with him. The tradition not to use the holy name of God that Jews have followed for millennia is, for me, a really good one. It is not burdensome and is (in fact) an excellent way to avoid accidentally violating the Third Commandment. I think that if you also do not ever write, use or pronounce God’s holy name you will be blessed.
Try it- what could it hoit?