“You Shall Not Take the Name of the Lord Your God in Vain”

A Common Problem

Vain expressions that misuse the name of God are more difficult to recognize than blasphemy because they are more prevalent and more subtle. In fact, so common is this practice that it affects even those who affirm to be followers of Christ. Many today are convinced that such phrases are completely innocuous.

The idea of ​​taking the name of God in vain comes from Exodus 20:7. It says, “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.”

Meaning of the Word “Vain”

Of the word “vain,” the dictionary says, “Hollow. It is applied to shell fruit that has no nut. Without material or spiritual utility. Frivolous, light, insubstantial or superficial. Lacking serious moral qualities” (Maria Moliner Dictionary). It comes from the Hebrew word SHAV, which means “emptiness” or “falsehood” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Gesenius Hebrew Aramaic English Lexicon).

While the prohibition of taking the Lord’s name in vain may refer primarily to using it to commit evil or feign allegiance to God, nevertheless, it still refers to an incorrect use of His name. It’s possible to use God’s name in such a way that we make it empty of true meaning. Instead of this, we should ask Him that His name be “hallowed” (Matthew 6:9), that is, worshiped, revered, respected, and glorified. This is achieved only when we speak of God and live in such a way that others realize that He is worthy of our humble obedience.

Not only must we reject all blasphemous expressions against God, but also the frivolous or careless use of His name that may make it void of its meaning. We shouldn’t use it as a cheap commodity to fill our phrases whenever we’re surprised or upset about something.

Examples

We hear the frivolous use of the name of God by people numerous times each day. Sample expressions might be:
— “I tore my pants! Oh my G**!”
— “The store is closed. J**** C*****!”
— “It’s so hot outside! OMG!”
— “The TV’s on the blink. J****!”
— “Carl broke up with Laura. Oh my G**!

Possible Exceptions

Granted, there are times when it would be appropriate to say “Oh my God,” especially in prayer. Also, if one finds out about the death of a loved one, he might exclaim in anguish to the Father, “Oh my Lord, help me!” However, this does not describe how many today are using these phrases.

Avoiding Euphemisms

We might also do well to consider whether or not such expressions as “oh my goodness,” “jeez,” etc., etc. are appropriate for those claiming to wear the name of Christ. Wiktionary states that “my goodness” is a “minced oath for my God.” Merriam-Webster says that “jeez” is a “euphemism for Jesus.”

Lights Also in Our Speech

Let’s be different in the way that we speak. Let’s avoid using the name of God carelessly or lightly. Let’s also be careful with euphemisms which are merely substitutes for other frivolous expressions.

“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” (Deuteronomy 5:11).­

–Jerry Falk