QA: Should we refrain from using the Sacred Name of God?
To answer this question, we need to refer to the Scriptures for its directives. This is done, not in an effort to prove Judaism in error, for if any theology should have the Truth on such a delicate subject which affects the honour and purity of worship of the Most High, then it would be Judaism. If therefore, we should indeed find Scriptural support for the use and utterance of the Sacred Name by worshippers, then we would also search for the reasons why Judaism has founded this prohibition, and we would certainly not follow the general trend of accusing them of ‘changing the Scriptures’ or ‘resorting to man-made doctrines’. We do believe that there is a deeper and more honourable reason.
Exodus 20:7 and Deut. 5:11 are the key Scriptures underlying this prohibition of the use of His Name. These Scriptures define the 3rd of Ten Commandments
- KJV version: “Thou shalt not take the Name of the LORD thy God in vain …”
- Jerusalem Bible: “You shall not utter the Name of Yahveh your God to misuse it.”
- David Stern: “You are not to use lightly the Name of ADONAI your God…”
- JW: “You must not take up the Name of Jehovah your God in a worthless way…”
- Rotherham: “Thou shalt not utter the Name of YAHVAH thy Elohim for falsehood.”
- Dr Koster: “You do not bring (take) the Name of YHVH your Elohim to nought..”
The generally accepted concept of this Mitzvah (commandment) has come to mean: “to not take His Name ‘in vain'”. But clearly, this is one of those Scriptures (and a vital one as such) where the translators have had a field day.
With all this difference in translations, it is important that we start out from the literal Hebrew text and then get the Scriptures to interpret itself by referring to the other usages in the Hebrew Bible, of the key term that is used in this text: ‘L’shav‘ (in vain?) .
|“Lo tisah et Shem YHVH Eloheicha l‘shav …”
Don’t make the Name (of) YHVH your God l’shav
Two words in this sentence, the 2nd and 7th, control the true meaning – and neither of these have forthright, conclusive meanings – hence the great variation in the translations. This, of course, leaves the translators and teachers to be influenced by what they have been told it means, and what they would like to have it confirm!
The only sound and safe guide to use, would be the context of the Scriptures in totality and the usage of these words in other parts of the Bible. We shall apply this measure in this discussion and review.
tisah – is the command form of the verb ‘to make or do’. It is one of the most common words in Hebrew: Lo tisah – As to children: ‘Don’t do this or that’ or ‘What are you doing?’
But this verb is also widely used as an auxiliary verb:
- to make a sacrifice;
- to make peace, war, money, an attempt, progress;
- to enforce the law; execute, introduce;
- to create, accomplish, perform;
Young’s Concordance summarizes its use in the Tanach (Old Testament) as follows:
- number of times it appears 2429;
- translated into 59 various meanings;
- 1292 times as do;
631 times as make;
45 – 50 times each as: deal, commit, execute, keep, offer;
The other 50 meanings are used 1 – 5 times each;
- and only twice as ‘take’ – and then referring to ‘take vengeance, councel’).
And yet, it behooved the majority of interpretations of this word in this text, to be translated ‘don’t take’!
Our first conclusion thus, ‘Don’t make the Name l’shav...’ (as in ‘doing with it or to it’), and not, “Don’t take the Name l’shav …”
Secondly, L’Shav. We shall now let the Scriptures interpret the meaning of the Hebrew word L’Shavfrom its usage in other places in the Bible.
- Exod. 23:1 “You shall not raise a false report”.
- Deuteronomy 5:20 “Neither shall you bear false witness”.
- Ezekiel 21:23 “It shall be unto them as a false divination.”
- Hosea 10:4 “Swearing falsely in making a covenant”
- Zech. 10:2 ” … told false dreams.”
In applying this meaning to l’shav, the 3rd Commandment should at this stage of our research be rendered:
- “Don’t make the Name of YHVH your God false or to be false …”, or
- “Don’t make the Name of YHVH your God falsehood …”
L’shav is also rendered 22 times as vanity and 22 times as vain. These two forms account for 44 of the 50 usages of the word l’shav in the Bible.
The majority of the 22 Scriptures which render vanity, give no indication of its meaning – but it is clearly something which ‘God will not hear …’ (Job 35:13) and which we should ‘turn our eyes away from.’ (Ps.119:37). In 2 places it is grouped with ‘divining lies’ (Ezek. 13:23; 22:28).
The 22 renderings of l’shav as ‘vain’, however, give clear indication of the meaning of ‘useless – followed by no good result, without result or success’, e.g.. “Except YHVH builds, they labour in vain.” (Ps. 127:1).
Applying this meaning of l’shav to the 3rd Commandment, we then have:
- “Don’t make the Name of YHVH your God to be in vain …”
- “Don’t make the Name of YHVH your God useless, without result ..”.
We may therefore quite confidently conclude, that, according to the usage of the word l’shav in the Bible, and together with the verb ’tisah’ which is used in conjunction and in reference to the Sacred Name, the 3rd Command could be interpreted as: “Don’t make the Name of YHVH your God to be false, useless, worthless, without result, a lie”
Exactly the same phrase is also used in Ps. 139:20 “Your enemies take your Name in vain …” This has the interesting implication (judging from the context in which it is stated) of these enemies receiving no benefit or result by calling upon His Name – as opposed to what His true followers would benefit by calling on Him by His Name.
If the Mitzvah concerning the Name therefore instructs us: “do not make His Name worthless“, then the question is, do we not make it worthless by withholding it from being proclaimed; by discouraging and prohibiting the use of it and by opposing and routing out the proper and honourable ‘Memory’ thereof? Even when we stick to the meaning of ‘vain’ – it says “Do not make His Name vain / worthless.”
No doubt, by slinging the Sacred Name around in discussion, like Sacred Name users have the habit of doing, without caution and proper reverence, the Sacred Name is made worthless. What more if it is written down on paper and the paper is afterwards crumpled and cast in the dustbin; or the T-shirt is used to wipe some vomit off the baby’s face! This is where Judaism’s respect eigns far superior.
SCRIPTURE SUPPORTS THE USE AND PROCLAMATION OF THE SACRED NAME
How can we ever “take His Name in vain” when Scripture repeatedly inspires us to “call upon His Name and He will hear”?
From the general context of Tanach and from the Scriptures which we will examine hereafter, it seems that His Splendor will, and should be magnified by proclaiming Him by His Name (Who He truly is) and as to His Purpose (that all nations should know about Him through Israel). Those who will misuse His Name, will do so anyway, even without the specific knowledge of His Name. They will receive their just punishment, more so because they have then more specifically breached Him by Name!.
Please note: Exodus 6:2. He is identifying Himself by His Name as the Guarantor of the Divine Promises. In His opening Words to Moses He introduces Himself by Name.
“God spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am YHVH. To Abraham and Isaac and Jacob I appeared as ‘God Almighty’. I did not make Myself known to them by My Name YHVH” (as He is now doing to Moses).
He uses His Name thus, as additional ‘support’. or ‘guarantee’.
In verse 6 – He instructs Moses to announce Him by His Name to the Israelites, thereby identifying the One Who will bring them out. “Say this to the sons of Israel: ‘I am YHVH. I will free you from the burdens of Egypt … I will adopt you as My own People and I will be your God. Then you shall know that it is I, YHVH your God Who freed you …”
Would Moses then not have been out of line by withholding His Name from them?
In Exod. 7:5 he determines that by all these Signs, even ” … the Egyptians will come to know that I am YHVH … Who brings Israel out!”
“How”, we may ask, “will they come to know His Name if Israel does not proclaim it?”
Well Moses did proclaim His very Name, also to Pharaoh, who challenged Moses in Exod. 5:2 “Who is YHVH? I know nothing of YHVH and will not let Israel go!”
Still doubtful whether Moses used His Name? Exodus ch. 4 relates Moses’s arguments against YHVH
- verse 1 “What if the sons of Yisrael will not believe me and say: ‘YHVH has not appeared to you.?'”God then uses Moses’s staff as a Sign to convince them – by turning it into a serpent, to prove to the sons of Israel something … What?
- verse 5 “So that they may believe that YHVH … has appeared to Moses.”
THE SACRED NAME IS ‘HIS MEMORIAL’
We should heed not to make His Name worthless by erasing its Memorial status. He declares His Name a Memorial, therefore it should stand in memory of, or as a witness to His True Being and His Promises. As we should avoid a worthless witness (Eyd Shav), so, similarly, we should prevent making His Name worthless (lo tisah L’shav) and rather restore it as a Memorial?
It seems that this whole episode of the Exodus from Egypt goes about Who – and by Name, it is Who leads them out.
The revealing of His Name to Moses is documented in Exodus ch 3 – with that emphatic Divine Statement in 3:15 which declares His Sacred Name as ‘a Memorial’. We will have to contend therewith in this question whether His Name should be proclaimed or not:
3:15 b “PROCLAIM to the sons of Yisrael: YHVH the God of your fathers … has sent me to you. This is My Name for all time! This is My Zichri (Memorial) for all generations to come!” The root of the word Zichri refers to Remembrance.
Is it therefore correct that the average Jew today knows precious little about this Remembrance? During and after the Exodus His Name was their Honour! Those Egyptians certainly knew Who it was, by Name, that drowned their elite army in the sea!
Shall we hide His Memorial? Shall we keep it for Israel only? – if it was good enough for Pharaoh and the Egyptians to know at the time of the miraculous Exodus?
Having said all this regarding Judaism’s restriction and caution, we totally and utterly reject the general venomous attitude of non-Jewish sacred Name promoters against this Jewish practice. We do subscribe to Judaism’s supreme respect for the Sacred Name and we do advise those who do utter and write the Name/s to do so with great caution. The Name should never be uttered in Jewish presence and the displaying of the Sacred Name on T-shirts, clothing, jewelry, stickers, flags etc. is inacceptable. The problem comes when that article containing the Sacred Name needs to be discarded. Judaism takes great care of discarding books that have the Name printed. Imagine the Sacred Name being casted into a trash bin!
Ezekiel ch 20 refers to Israel’s long history, starting from the Exodus which we have seen above would identify Him by Name before the Egyptians. In this chapter God repeatedly confirms His concern for the Profanation of His Name by the nations. How would this profanation occur? This portion of Scripture repeatedly confirms in this chapter: “If He broke His Promise before the nations in failing to lead Israel out”; or if He destroyed Israel as their deeds in His estimation deserved from time to time in their history (Read! this chapter please!). “In the End”, He promises, “Israel shall bow before Him and He will lead them into the Land”.
Verse 44 “Then you will learn that I am YHVH when I treat you as respect for My Own Name requires …” This whole chapter (which represents the whole history of Israel) concerns the Honour of His Name. Contrary to the teaching of withholding the proclamation of this His Name, it is His Name, in fact, which will identify Him to Israel and to the nations (verse 41).
Taking this chapter a step further, to its reference more pertinently to the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel which will be re-identified in the Last Days, it becomes clear that Knowledge of His Name will play a great part in this re-identification process. This re-identification is currently in progress in fulfillment of Ezekiel 37:15. But this is a vast and controversial subject all apart.
That is exactly what the comprehensive contents and context of BIBLE REVELATIONS’ Web Site proclaim: to awaken the spirit of re-identification amongst the Ten Tribes of Israel in Dispersion and who, like Ruth in the Bible, wish to make “the God of Israel their God”. The only way that this can be achieved, is to educate them on the True Identity of YHVH, the God of Israel and what the requirements (Halachic Torah) is for conforming to His Covenant.
There are today literally millions of Bible students scattered loosely across the world, who are embracing the Covenant of YHVH, step by step. The last Miraculous fulfillment which remains, is their total re-identification with their estranged ‘brother’ Judah – which should logically result in formal Conversion to Halachic Judaism.
In that Day the Prophecy of Jeremiah 23:7 will be fulfilled. “See then, the days are coming – it is YHVH Who speaks – when people will no longer say: ‘As YHVH lives Who brought the sons of Israel out of the Land of Egypt!’ but, ‘As YHVH lives Who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out of the Land of the North and from all the countries to which He had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.’”
Again, not only the Exodus from Egypt will be to the honour and the knowledge of His Name, but more so, the Ingathering of the TWELVE Tribes from across the earth! Surely, they should know and use His Name to fulfill the literal Proclamation of the above Prophecy: “As YHVH lives!”?
Ezekiel 28:25 “When I gather the House of Israel, this is how I am going to display My Holiness in the sight of the nations: They (the fully restored House of Israel – all 12 tribes?) will live on the soil. Then men will learn that I am YHVH their God.”
THERE IS POWER IN HIS NAME
Scripture relates the prophet Elijah’s challenge of the Baal priests before the people, when he calls on God by Name to outwit them and prove their god inferior.
1 Kings 18:21 “Elijah stepped out in front of all the people … ‘If YHVH is God, follow Him – if Baal (the Lord), follow him.”
To an audience of ‘all the Israelites’ and 450 Baal prophets, the prophet uses the Sacred Name of God to identify the One Only True God, in a challenge to the pagans.
Verse 24 – “You must call on the name of your God and I shall call on the Name of mine. The God who answers in fire, is God indeed …”
“They called on the name of Baal, ‘O Baal, answer us … but there was no answer’
Verse 36 “Then Elijah stepped forward: ‘YHVH God of Israel, let them know today that You are God in Israel .. answer me YHVH, answer me, so that these people may know that You, YHVH, are God. Then the fire of YHVH fell and consumed the holocaust … When all the people saw this, they fell on their faces: ‘YHVH is God, YHVH is God!'”
Undeniable proof of the power in calling upon God by His Name.
SCRIPTURE COMMANDS US TO “SWEAR BY HIS NAME”
Deut. 6:13 “You are to fear YHVH your God, serve Him and swear by His Name.” (Also Deut.10:20).
Then we also have the following prohibition:
Lev. 19:12 “Do NOT swear by My Name falsely, which would be profaning the Name of your God.” Thus, not the use of the Name, but the swearing falsely which profanes it.
We have a practical example in Scripture in Joshua 9:1-20 of Joshua taking such an Oath (verse 19) and refusing to break it for fear of YHVH’s Anger falling on them.
In Jer. 12:14 – 16 YHVH personally expresses His Will that other nations should learn from Judah and ‘Swear by His Name’.
Gen. 24:3 Abraham made his Servant swear “by YHVH God of Heaven’.
Daniel 12:7 The Angel swore by “Him that liveth for ever.”
Christians maintain that Messiah contradicted that Mitzvah by saying that we should not swear an oath at all (Matth. 5:34).
Messiah though, was not changing Torah. He was standing behind the Oral traditions that had developed. The Talmudic sages had long discussions about this Mitzvah and determined that we could swear by Adonai’s Name, but in so doing we might swear falsely and then we would have misused the Name. Then, we would have broken two Mitzvot — one of which demanded the death penalty. To prevent ourselves from falling to this much greater violation of Torah, it was decided that we should not swear at all using Adonai’s Name — even though the Torah had given us permission to do so. Messiah simply upheld that Rabbinical ruling. The Jewish sages also forbade the taking of oaths in HaShem’s Name, lest the entire world be brought to destruction by the sinners who swear falsely. (Hilchos Shavuos 11:13).
The Command of Torah regarding ‘swearing by His Name’, should be understood in its correct context. Just as the Messiah’s directives in this connection should be understood in its correct context. Matt 15 confirms that Messiah, far from annulling the Torah (as modern Churches and even most Messianics claim), actually confirmed Torah and even emphasised its implication, eg. murder is even being angry with someone (verse 21); and adultery is even looking with lust (verse 28).
If we apply this same emphasis to the Mitzvah of taking an oath, then Messiah’s directive here is that we should not need to ‘swear by His Name’, but simply let our ‘yes’ be yes. This does NOT do away with the Mitzvah – neither does it
prohibit the using of His Name.
When we apply Messiah’s emphasis on the use of the Name, it automatically excludes and prohibits any misuse or even casual use of the Name. In worship though, it is powerful. In Proclamation of the One True Faith and its God, it is
How shall they worship Him and praise Him if they dont even know His Name?
Ps. 145:21 “Let every creature bless His Holy Name for ever and ever.”
SCRIPTURE COMMENDS US TO “CALL UPON HIS NAME”
Checking through the hundreds of texts in the Tanach (‘Old Testament’) which refer to ‘calling on the name of someone’, it is blatantly obvious that these Scriptures literally mean just that: to call upon someone by his/her name. Why then should it be different when it refers to “Calling on the Name of YHVH?”
Jeremiah 33:2 “YHVH Who made the earth, Who formed it and set it firm – YHVH is His Name – says this: ‘Call to Me and I will answer you …'”
Recommended additional reading:
- Notes on the Sacred Name – Why has the Sacred Name been removed from the Bible?
- God or Elohim? – Should we refrain from using the Title of ‘God’ and use ‘elohim’ only?