You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain Deuteronomy 5:11
In Vain – Let’s settle this one right up front. This commandment is not about swearing, foul language or cursing. Cleaning up your vocabulary is socially proper and relationally correct, but it won’t get you any closer to obedience. Using God’s name in vain is about personal manipulation, not about four-letter words.
The Hebrew is la-shav (root word shav). If you want to see what it really means, take a look at Psalm 127:1-2. There you will find the same word with its proper context: uselessness, vanity, deceptiveness, without proper result and fraudulent. La-shav means using God’s authority, identity or character to endorse purposes that are not His. That is blasphemy! It is to appropriate God’s name for your personal gain or leverage. It is to represent what is not from God as though it is what God says.
Who breaks this commandment? Well, how about all those religious leaders who claim to be speaking a “word from the Lord” in one breath, and asking you to pay for their Lear jets in the next? How about the zealous practitioner who prays for God’s blessing on plans that ignore God’s compassionate heart? How about you and me when we ask God to grant the desires of our hearts by stamping His approval on what we want before we know what He wants?
Let’s get a Hebrew perspective on this. Phillips points out that this commandment is unnecessary if it is narrowly defined as cursing God. Why? Because every Jew knew that cursing God was a death-wish. Job’s wife says as much, “Curse God and die.” Many ancient religions believed that blaspheming the gods would result in immediate punishment. You don’t need a commandment about what is patently obvious. No, this commandment stretches the idea far beyond shouting curses at a deity. This commandment is about honoring God’s name. God’s name is the summary of His identity. That’s what a Hebrew name is all about; the true essence of the person. God’s very essence is tied up in His name. That means that His name is the summary of what is true, what is righteous, what is faithful and reliable, what belongs to covenant obligation and what is holy. Whenever His name is used in circumstances that do not honor His identity, He is slandered. The power in His name belongs exclusively to Him – and we are not free to wield it as though God were nothing more than our personal genie.
In the ancient near-east, the names of gods were often linked with magical properties like spells and curses. The Hebrews were freed from this demonic mythology because God reserved the use of His name only for those purposes that were initiated by Him for His glory. We need to remember that. “In Jesus name,” is no magical formula. In fact, any use of God’s name for any purpose, whether in business, politics, war or religion that is ultimately concerned with human leverage or effort is forbidden. And God says that those who ignore this will be punished. Think about that for a year or two.