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Secrets of the Third Commandment
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Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Wendy Wippel

God himself, through Moses,  handed down  ten main commandments.  Keep God first, don’t worship  things,  don’t take the name of God in vain, keep the Sabbath, honor your parents, don’t commit murder or adultery, and don’t steal, lie, or covet stuff that isn’t yours.  One is habitually ignored, even by believers.  And that one goes way deeper than we think. 

The phrase “Oh My God” in current popular culture is more than common.-- OMG just as a texting shortcut is flung into the ethernet millions of times a day, with the full phrase repeated routinely, all day every day, in American  media, in classrooms, in workplaces, and in our homes. It is also, (courtesy of Wikipedia), the name of 8 films, one rock band, 17 individual rock songs and one high energy cosmic ray.

It’s ubiquitous.  And I think it’s safe to say that it’s only observant Jews and Christians –those  familiar with the ten commandments and the book of Exodus—that even think about it twice.

I’ll admit that I am on my own daughters frequently about using the phrase Oh My God here and there. They love, but OMG is such a pervasive part of their collegiate culture that they don’t even realize that they are saying it. And familiarity breeds apathy eventually.

I remind them nevertheless. Because (well, for one thing, although they are adults,  I just can’t quit being their mom), and more importantly because the Bible is clear that God’s name should be sanctified and considered holy. God was particular about who he shared His name with (Exodus 6:3 says that although he spoke to Abraham and Jacob, he did not tell them his name, Jehovah.)  And His chosen people revered His name to such extent that Jewish scribes who wrote out copies of theTorah were required to perform ritual cleansing between each writing of the Holy name. Even today, when using the English language Jewish authors use “G-d”  or YHWH as a substitute for using God’s actual name, Jehovah.

Because His name is holy.

That said, I think the church today has seriously underestimated the intent of the third of the ten commandments.  Because it’s not as much about language choices as it is about life choices.  And a quick look at an interlinear concordance gives us a load of insight into what was the point of this commandment really was.  Hint: not being fast and loose with God’s name in your speech was only the beginning.

The Third commandment, specifically, was “do not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”  

The Hebrew word translated “take” is the Hebrew word  “nasa”. which means, according to the Hebrew concordance, “ to lift, to bear, to take up, to carry”

And the Hebrew word translated “in vain”  in the third commandment is the Hebrew word “shav”. Shav is translated as “emptiness”, “falsehood, and to lie.”

Obviously, there’s a lot more to this commandment than a slip of the tongue.  What God is warning against here goes much deeper than vocabulary.

It’s not about our lips. It’s about our lives. What this commandment forbids is taking on his Holy name – to take it up, to bear it, to carry it, but then live out a life empty of His presence, His guidance,  or awareness of sin, and to therefore live out a lie.

Now that’s a problem.  One God confirms, actually, in the book of Isaiah.  He describes the people of Jerusalem as a people who “honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Isaiah 29:13

They talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. And the book of Isaiah continues with a description of the inevitable self-destruction that results:  

Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord,
And their works are in the dark; They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?”

Translation: nobody knows I am a fraud.

16 Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay

Translation: you have made yourself into your own God, putting yourself in my place..

For shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”?


Your apostasy will be complete when you, inevitably, deny my existence. Deny the lack of a supernatural creator.  

(which, interestingly, a whole lot of people and more than a few complete denominations are already guilty of.)

OMG is a problem of habit. Bearing His name without living it out is a heart problem. One that blemishes God’s name in ways OMG never could.

(For some reason a whole list of televangelists starting with Tammy Faye Bakker and ending with Joel Osteen—come to mind.—except we know it won’t end there.)  As do Christians who stiff the waitress and leave tracts, and pass out tracts instead of candy at Halloween.

I’m pretty sure that the very fact that you are reading this excludes you from the Isaiah 29 group, so no worries.  But as you and I go out into the world to carry the name and person of our creator and Savior to a world that desperately needs to know His character I think one verse has to ride along as we seek to bring every living soul into a relationship with their Creator. And that verse is 1I Timothy 1:5:

the goal of our [a]instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

The goal of our instruction is love, And God is love. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

The fields are waiting, and as Saturday’s horror in Orlando brought home, as ever, awaiting harvest.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Double Vision

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