“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Inigo Montoya’s heavily accented voice plays in my mind when I hear or read cautions against “taking God’s name in vain.” In the Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts repeatedly thwarts pseudo-intellectual Vizzini. Lather, rinse, repeat, several times, each punctuated by Vizzini’s declaration of “Inconceivable!” Finally, after numerous repetitions of “Inconceivable!” Vizzini’s henchman, Inigo Montoya, replies, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Both Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11 instruct us in the oft quoted third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Familiar as this mandate is, I believe it is misunderstood, and it comes down to translating the little word “NASA.” This NASA has nothing to do with America’s space program–rather it’s the little Hebrew word translated, “take.”
From my word study, the Hebrew word used here doesn’t mean “say” or “utter”, rather it means “to take up,” “carry,” “wield,” “lift,” or “bear.” In some contexts it even means “wed” or “marry.” It first appears in Genesis 4:7 when Cain says that his punishment (for killing Abel) is more than he can bear. (Hebrew word nasa H5375) Later in Genesis, Joseph uses this word for “carry” as he sends his brothers back home; “And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, (Hebrew word nasa H5375) and put every man’s money in his sack’s mouth.” In Exodus 19:4 the Lord says, “ Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare (Hebrew word nasa H5375) you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” Other uses refer to a beast of burden bearing a load.
Of course, we shudder when we hear the name of our Lord trampled or sullied, but I don’t believe that’s what the third commandment addresses–it goes far deeper. The third commandment tells us not to bear Christ’s name (ie, “take up” or “carry” it as our own) lightly. Remember the initial audience of the 10 commandments: While Moses was up on Mount Sinai, receiving the tablets from God, the chosen people, a people bearing His name, melted down their jewelry to build a golden calf. Prone to wander, they took their status as His People as something of little consequence. The first two commandments segue into the third.
It would be easier if we could keep the third commandment simply by not uttering “OMG”, or abstaining from saying, “Jesus Christ” as a curse or filler syllables. It isn’t that easy. Instead of merely cautioning against profane use of words, it is admonishing those of us called Christians to not to bear Christ’s name tritely–a charge that is far greater weight and privilege!
I don’t think the third commandment condemns the unsaved person who misuses my Lord’s name, even as a curse. (No, that doesn’t mean it is ok–just that it’s not explicitly addressed in this particular commandment.) The third commandment speaks to those of us who take up Christ’s banner, calling ourselves “Christians” out of convenience without true regard for The Christ, whose name we claim. Just as we must not partake of the the sacraments (such as communion) indiscriminately (lest we drink condemnation unto ourselves per I Corinthians 11:29), so are we not to declare ourselves Christ-Followers flippantly. To say, “I am a Christian” isn’t to say that I am a moral person, or a church goer, or part of a certain social group; to say, “I am a Christian” is to say that due to unmerited grace from God, who bought me back from my rebellion at inconceivable cost, I belong to Him and owe Him everything.