Honor the Name
What does to take the Name of YHVH in vain mean? The common understanding of the Third Commandment in the Covenant aka the Ten Commandments is that His distinguished Name Yehovah is not be used casually in an unconcerned manner or spoken so often that its meaning is diminished or lessened the authority, dignity, or reputation of The Highest.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exo 20:7)
Although this is absolutely true, this commandment has much deeper meaning. In this article we will study what is take the Name of YHVH in vain.
The Hebrew text of Exo 20:7 reads:
לֹא no תִשָּׂא shall you lift אֶת־שֵׁמ־יְהוֹהָ the name of Yehovah אֱלֹהֶיךָ Your God לַשָׁוְא to destroy
כִּי for לֹא not יְנַקֶּה hold guiltless יְהוֹהָ Yehovah אֵת אֲשֶׁר who יִשָּׂא lifts אֶת־שְׁמֹ his name לַשָּׁוְא to destroy
The first word we will study is נָשָׂא nasa which means to lift and by implication to swear, promise solemnly, take an oath, as one lifts his hand to swear. The word לֹא lo negates the verb: you shall not lift. This meaning of נָשָׂא nasa can be seen in such verses as Num_14:30 and Neh_9:15 but also in the paralel command in the Torah where שָׁבַע shava is used:
And do not swear (shava) falsely by My Name and so profane the Name of your Elohim. I am Yehovah. (Lev 19:12)
Hence, we understand that נָשָׂא nasa and שָׁבַע shava are synonims and to lift the Name of The Highest is equivalent to swear by His Name. Literally, שָׁבַע shava means to count to seven, that is, to swear as if by repeating a declaration seven times by an oath and its meaning will be a subject of another article. For now it sufficient to say that the word shabbat “sabbath” comes from the same root.
The word אֵת et is apparently contracted from אוֹת ot which means a sign or signal. Very often אֵת et plays a pure grammatical role in the sentence and thus it is not translated in English.
שֵׁם shem is commonly translated as “name” but means much more than just a sound identifier as it is used in the Western culture. It means a character, reputation, honor:
And the name of David went out into all lands, and Yehovah put the dread of him upon all nations. (1Ch 14:17)
שָׁוְא shav which is the same as שֹׁאָה ,שׁוֹאָה ,שׁוֹא and comes from an unused root meaning to rush over, by implication devastation: desolate (-ion), destroy, destruction, storm, wasteness. שָׁוְא shav is used in the sense of desolating; evil (as destructive), literally (ruin) or morally; figuratively idolatry (as false, subjectively), uselessness; emptiness, vanity, falsehood (Strong Dictionary).
And indeed, a reputation and a name can be destroyed by lying words and thus brought to emptiness and uselessness. The Name of the Creator can be brought to naught if an idolatrous substitute is used to replace His good Name. Thus, the idolatrous substitute brings the Name of YHVH in vain.
For more on this, read the article The Hebrew Yehovah vs. the Roman Yahweh.
Despite its clear literal meaning of bringing something to desolation or destruction, this Hebrew word is often translated as vain, vanity, lying, false. However, we will use its literal meaning rather than vanity since there is a particular word הֶבֶל hevel for vanity which comes from הָבַל haval to be vain.
נָקָה nakah is a primitive root and means to be or make clean literally or figuratively; to acquit, be clear, be pure, be innocent, be free from guilt; by implication (in an adverse sense) to be extirpated (Strong Dictionary). Its literal meaning can be seen in Gen 24:8 which says:
And if the woman refuses to follow you, then you shall be released (nakah) from this oath; only, do not take my son back there. (Gen 24:8)
With all being said, we may conclude that speaking with deceit, swearing falsely, or using an idol’s name is the same as to bring The Name of YHVH in vain, to naught, that is, to desecrate and profane it.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.