What Does It Mean to Take Yahweh's Name in Vain?

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." (Exodus 20:7)

Taking God's name in vain
» Take (Strong's #5375)
The Hebrew verb behind this English word is nasa and is a very generic verb used in a wide variety ways in the text. This word has been translated as lift, carry, accept, exalt, regard, obtain, respect and many other ways. In the context of this verse it is the "name" that is being "lifted up." One lifts up a name by making it known to others.
» Name (Strong's #8034)
In our modern western culture a name is nothing more than an identifier, really no different than being assigned a number. The Hebrew word for a name is shem But, in the ancient Hebrew culture shem is much more than just a name; it is the "breath" of the individual. To the Hebrews the breath is more than just the exchange of air in the lungs, it is his "character," the internal qualities of an individual that make him unique. This idea of the word shem meaning character can be seen in 1 Kings 4:31: "and his fame was in all the nations round about." Here, the word fame is understood as his "character."

All Hebrew names are words with meaning and these words reflects their characters. For instance, Eve (Chavah in Hebrew) means "life," as she is the mother of all the living (chay, a related word to Chavah, see Genesis 3:20). The names for God are no different. The name Yahweh means "He exists" and God (Elohiym) means "one of power and authority" [or "the might one"]. Some other names [actually, these are descriptions and attributes; see Who Is Your God and What Is His Name?—ed] of God include Jealous (Exodus 34:14), One (Zechariah 14:9, which literally reads "His name is one"), Holy (Isaiah 57:15) and others. What is God's name? Most will answer with Yahweh or God but we must remember that a name, or shem in Hebrew, is the character of the individual so the correct question should be "What is God's character?" [Editor's note: In Exodus 3.15, God states that "Yahweh" Yahweh is His name forever. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, these others are attributes.]

» Vain (Strong's #7723)
The third word that we need to understand correctly is the word vain. This is the Hebrew word sheva. This word literally means empty and vain actions are empty of substance. This word can also be understood as "falsely," in the sense of being empty of its true substance. This idea can be seen in Exodus 23:1: "You shall not utter a false report." The word false is the very same Hebrew word sheva.

Now that we have a more complete understanding of the words in the passage we are able to make a more Hebraic interpretation.

"You shall not represent the character of [Yahweh] Elohiym falsely."

So, what does this mean? In another study we saw that when it says "God created man in His own image" it is in fact saying that God had placed within us a representation of himself. This representation is His shem or character and we are to show this character to others. If however, we represent that character falsely, in other words live our lives contrary to the character of God, then we are violating this command.

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