In Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11, we are commanded: “You shall not take the name of HaShem your God in vain, for HaShem will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
What Does This Commandment Mean?
The first thing to note is that this commandment is in fact referring to HaShem’s actual name, not a title (God, Elohim, Lord, etc.). There are many other verses in the bible that we can use to defend the idea of respecting His titles (more on that below), but this verse is clearly dealing with His proper name.
The Hebrew root for the word that is translated to “vain” is שׁוֹא (pronounced “sho”) which means desolate, waste, uselessness.
The way I’ve always interpreted this commandment was to not use His name in a common or unimportant manner.
What Standard Should We Apply to This Command?
Let’s be honest: We are left to fill in the blanks on many of the Torah commandments.
For example, we are told that we should honor our parents. But what is HaShem’s standard here? Should we always give them the best seat in the house? Should we give them the head of the table when having them over for dinner? Are we allowed to ever express our disagreement with them?
Whatever standard was originally intended, we can be certain that the standard of a 21st-century Western culture is much more lenient with the interpretation than a Semitic culture over 3000 years ago.
And this can be problematic because we know that HaShem doesn’t change just because we do.
So then what standard should we apply toward HaShem’s name? How should we fill in the blanks without going crazy with it?
Let’s think in terms of this: How would we treat the name of a righteous king in his presence…let’s say for example, King David? Thinking of it in this way really does raise the bar, doesn’t it?
Because if you fail to give the honor that is expected of the king, there could be some very serious consequences.
So then would it make sense to apply a lower standard to the name of the Creator of the universe than that of an earthly king? I believe not.
In the Lord’s Prayer found in Luke chapter 2, Yeshua affirms “Hallowed be Your name.”
What this is saying is that His name is set apart and exalted above all other names. Which is in stark contrast to how we’d use Tom’s name who lives up the street.
We can use Tom’s name in casual, empty conversations all day long. But HaShem’s name is set apart and is to be held to a higher standard and revered above all other names.
So When Should We Speak His Name?
So here is where we have to start filling in the blanks and introducing opinions and interpretations. And as I’ve stated in other posts, I tend to err on the side of caution.
With that being said, here are the times I feel it’s appropriate to use HaShem’s name:
- In Prayer
- When Praising Him
- When reading His Word
- When teaching His Word
When Should We Not Use It?
Let’s go back to the example of the earthly king…
Would you address him by name if you were not properly clothed?
What about while reclining with your feet up?
What about when you’re “unclean” by the standards described in the Torah…
We know that when the temple services were still in effect, the priests were not allowed to touch dead bodies because it made them temporarily unfit to approach HaShem.
Additionally, they were not meant to approach after drinking wine or other fermented drinks.
Now that we are the priests, should we apply the same standard? Probably so.
So here are some guidelines I personally use to avoid speaking His name out of turn:
I don’t speak it:
- When in casual conversation
- When not properly clothed
- When “unclean” by biblical standards
- Right after drinking alcohol
- When I’m angry
- When in written form
Why I Use the Term “HaShem” in This Blog
Above, I stated that I believe that it’s ok to use His name when teaching. So why do I write “HaShem” in this blog even though this is technically teaching His Word?
One of the main reasons is because if I were to include the actual name in written form on this blog, if someone were to print one of the pages out, they would have HaShem’s holy name in writing which can cause quite a dilemma when one is ready to throw away the paper.
Speaking from experience, this might not seem like a huge problem until you’ve actually done it.
So I simply do this to avoid putting anyone in a difficult situation.
Dishonoring His Titles
Just because the commandment in question is referring specifically to His name, is it then ok to dishonor his titles (which is actually much more common to do these days)?
Far from it!
Deuteronomy 6:5 says to Love HaShem your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
I think it’s fair to say if you are disrespecting someone’s title (for example your “mom”) that is not showing the love that they deserve.
This would obviously include the really bad terms which I cannot even write here. But I think this also includes phrases like OMG (the real words…Not necessarily the abbreviation).
And since God is the definition of holy then I believe this would also include using any dirty or common word that follows the word “holy”
So there we have it. That’s my attempt to provide some insight into this command.
And as mentioned above, much of what was explained here comes from my interpretation and is not explicitly written in the Torah so take this all with a grain of salt.
And remember, when we follow Torah it is pleasing to HaShem. So please help spread these commands and bring others closer to our Lord by sharing this and my other articles with others!