“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.” (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Years ago when I studied in Germany, I had a friend from Belgium who was known only by his last name. When I asked around, not even the department secretary knew his first name. His first name was reserved for family and no one else.
God is also sensitive about his name and how it is used (Ezek 36:20-23).
In Old Testament Hebrew, numerous names for God are given. God’s covenantal name, YHWH, which God gave to Moses from the burning bush (Exod 3:14), is sacred for Jews. When Jews encounter YHWH in scripture, they normally substitute Adonai, which means Lord. Most translators honor this tradition. By contrast, the generic name for God in Hebrew is Elohim which is, for example, the word for God used in Genesis 1:1.
The treatment of God’s name is an extension of the holiness of God. Holy means both being set apart and the idea of sacredness. The Tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, was constructed to observe three levels of increasing holiness: the courtyard for Jews, the Holy Place for priests, and the Holy of Holies for the high priest—but only on the Day of Atonement (Exod 30:10). The Ark of the Covenant resided in the Holy of Holies.
Although the Jewish sacrifice system ended with the destruction of the temple in AD 70, God’s name is still holy. The Apostle Paul, for example, wrote:
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:8-11)
Therefore, the commandment not to profane the name of God is one to be taken seriously. The author of Proverbs writes: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) We honor God by refraining from vulgar language and refusing to make empty promises leveraged on God’s name.
But honoring God’s name is more than merely not using bad language. Our conduct should bring honor to God—our actions must be consistent with the faith we profess (Jas 2:17).
One of the greatest rewards in heaven is simply to bear the name (Rev 22:4). Why not start now?