Through the Gods at War series, we’ve focussed on recognising and removing the idols in our life and replacing them with God. This really reflects commandments number one and two of the ten commandments (which are sometimes grouped together) – have no other Gods before me, and don’t worship idols.
Have a look at the next commandment though: the NIV says “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God”. The KJV says “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” What does this mean to you? Here’s another translation – the Message says, “No using the name of God…in curses or silly banter…”. This one probably reflects how I’ve understood this verse, which I have tried to obey faithfully!
But it does feel a bit odd to move from something as big and profound as “Make God the most important in your life” to “Don’t use my name as a swear word.”? Undoubtedly that interpretation is still valid, but a recent book by Dr Carmen Imes suggests that this misses the main point. Imes’ point centres around the meaning of the word usually translated as “to use/misuse” or “to take”. Imes instead says the verb “to take” may be better translated as “to lift up” or “to bear”. Imes notes that it is the same verb used in Exodus 28:12 and 29, which describes Aaron “bearing” the names of the sons of Israel on his armour – Aaron literally had these names written on him. So rather than “take the name” or “misuse the name”, Imes suggests “bear the name”. Do not bear the name of the Lord your God in vain.
I find this interpretation of the commandment so much more vivid! God made humankind in his image – we do in fact bear his image, we are marked by his name. In Numbers 6:27 just after the Aaronic blessing, God said, “so they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” The imagery continues in the New Testament. In Revelation 14:1 those who stand with the Lamb have “his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads”. Doesn’t this bring this commandment to life? We are commanded to not bear the Lord’s name in vain (i.e. to no effect, or poorly). We’re called to represent God, carry his name, live lives worthy of his name. Colossians 3:17 sums it well: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”