For the past several months, I’ve been using the New JPS translation as part of my daily Bible reading. Billing itself as the “standard Jewish Bible for the English speaking world,” it’s been interesting to catch a subtle insight from time to time as I’ve read familiar words from this unfamiliar translation.
Study the Jewish culture, and you’ll quickly find that the name of God is revered to the point of fear. Many of my religious Jewish friends won’t even spell the name of God out in its entirety, using “G-d” in its place.
All my life, the instruction to not take the Lord’s name “in vain” has pretty much focused on avoiding the use of God’s name in a profane context. As one of my favorite speakers liked to say, God’s last name isn’t a curse word.
Well, God forbid the full extent of violating Commandment No. 3.
The JPS is where it caught my attention. “Do not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.” (Deuteronomy 5:11)
The implication? You can swear by the name of the Lord God, but don’t play around with this. Plenty of prophets proclaimed, “Thus says the Lord …” as they swore to tell the whole, undiluted truth God had given them. In my lifetime, I’ve heard similar statements that were undoubtedly from the Lord, and even uttered a few God-given words myself as a preacher of truth.
Unfortunately, I’ve also heard the name of God regulated to inane descriptions of everyday events.
“I was driving along and the Lord led me to drop in that store,” says the shopper who was desperately hoping she’d get a divine invitation to buy a new dress.
“God gave me this song,” says the singer. Moments later, we all realize why God gave him the song. God didn’t want it anymore!
“God led me to share this,” says the scowling preacher still stinging from a personal insult.
“Oh my God!” screams the delighted teenager when she sees her friend’s new haircut.
“God wouldn’t have made me like I am if He didn’t approve of what I do,” says the sinner not ready to let go of the addiction.
The fear of the Lord, the Bible says in a host of places, is the beginning of wisdom. How you treat the name of the Lord is a clear indication of whether or not you’ve encountered the holy fear. And by the way, Jesus was all over this concept. Remember the first few words of his model prayer? “Our Father … hallowed by Thy Name …”
Until we’re willing to grasp the awesome fear of the Lord God Almighty, perhaps it would be best to just sing the song, buy the dress, express our emotions, repent of sin or preach the sermon without inserting God’s name into the conversation. If God is behind it, it’ll be obvious to all of us, and you’ll be nearly overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the task.
If not, Commandment No. 3 lies in broken pieces around our feet.
Be careful with The Name.