Exodus 20: 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Ministering as a Pioneer, working mainly with young adults in cafes and bars in South Manchester I hear the words ‘Jesus Christ’ quite regularly … often followed by an apology!
Exclaiming the name of Jesus as an expression of shock or surprise, disappointment or frustration, anger or ecstasy is a common thing in our society, and although I doubt any of those who apologise for the language used when in the company of a minister are directly concerned about Exodus Chapter 20 verse 7, it is from this verse where the idea of ‘using the Lord’s name in vain’ arises.
Amongst those reading our Daily Devotions I suspect feelings will be diverse as to whether hearing the name of Jesus used in this way is offensive, uncomfortable, or of little concern. Whatever your personal feelings, I would suggest that in our engagement with others perhaps different from ourselves it is always better to listen carefully to what is being expressed, rather than the language used to express it.
All that said, to reduce this verse to concerns about swearing is to lose sight of much more troublesome behaviours which this commandment is much more likely to be warning us against, regarding swearing an oath, rather than swearing as bad language.
Reformed voices of the past have interpreted this verse to be a warning against several different ways of making commitments in God’s name, but failing to fulfil them, knowingly or not.
Whether we ourselves would ‘swear to God’ as if to guarantee our claims, perhaps this verse can serve as a reminder to all of us to avoid making promises to God and others with little sincerity; of making promises in haste with little regard for the difficulty of the task; of protesting our innocence when we know ourselves to be guilty, or swearing what we say is true, when we know it to be false.
God, whose name is holy and can inspire the best in us, we acknowledge the ways in which we can hide our frailty behind your name. When we speak the name of God, May it be to share our wonder of you and your love for us in a world in little need of false promises, but yearning to know what is good and true.
Rev’d Mike Walsh, SCM Pioneer Minister, Chorlton, Manchester.