Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In Search Of Truth, Exodus 20:7

This command is, I believe, possibly the most misunderstood of the Ten Commandments. And until recently I'd include myself among all those who have misunderstood it. As is often the case, the most accurate understanding of this verse requires some understanding of the Hebrew being used here and the culture of the ancient Israelites.

First, it's worth noting that the Hebrew word here for "take" does not mean "say", despite the fact that we tend to automatically interpret it that way. The Hebrew word for "take" here means "to lift, bear up or carry".

This command goes far deeper than simply verbalizing a reference to God. God commanded his people not to "carry" his name with them if they weren't being genuine about it. This command is a warning against religious hypocrisy. In part, God was saying "Don't identify yourself with me unless you really mean it."

Also, the Hebrew word for "name" here refers not just to God's proper name, Yahweh. It refers to his entire reputation. The Israelites were being commanded not to speak of, mention or represent God in a thoughtless or disrespectful way.

And although we are not bound by Old Testament law, it seems the same idea would  naturally be included in the intent of the greatest commandment, to love God with every fiber of our being. (Mark 12:28-30)

The Hebrew word used for "vain" in Exodus 20:7 commonly refers to "emptiness" or "worthlessness" as you might expect. It also has the connotation of "evil". In this time period, the names of gods represented their very being and essence. So this was also a command for the Israelites never to attempt to make use of his name for evil purposes, such as the magical incantations of the day that commonly used the names of gods to take hold of their power and use it for the purposes of the sorcerer.

It's a common cliche in exorcism movies for the exorcist to read scripture or invoke the name of Jesus to cast out demons. But often in these same stories, the Bible is treated like a spellbook and God's name as simply a word of an incantation.

In truth, God does not subject himself to the agendas of humans. He is not a genie or some kind of "force" we can manipulate. And even as they endeavored to serve him, the Israelites were expected to be on his agenda, rather than hope he would be on theirs. A principle that is still true today.

(James 4:13-15) Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."

This is an idea that hits me like a shovel to the face whenever I stop to really apply it to myself. I'm the kind of geek whose imagination also translates into visionary goals. I imagine what my life could look like, what Spirit Blade Productions and Christian Geek Central could look like, what I think it all SHOULD look like. I make that imagined future my goal. After all, I'm aiming to serve God with that vision, right? Why wouldn't it be his plan for me?

But the truth I have to force myself to recognize again and again is that God has an unlimited, unobscured perspective on everything and everyone, everywhere. And the best way for me to serve his agenda (which will prove to be the wisest and best course) may look very different from the vision I have for my future. To me it may even look like failure.

This is where the rubber meets the road for all of us. This is why its so important to remember that God is holy. He is "other". He knows everything and he knows what is best in every circumstance. When we come into the presence of Yahweh and remember his "name", it should remind us to desire his agenda, whatever it might be. Because he is good, and his plan for us is good too.

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