Lesson 2: The Second Commandment

Taking God's name in vainYou shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

The ancient Israelites took this so seriously that they did not even utter God’s name in fear that they might use it incorrectly. They would insert “Lord” instead of the real name, sorta of saying “you know, the divine one.”

The idea was humans in no way should use God to get what they want. Instead they were to dedicate all their efforts to do what God wills. Jesus says if they really did God’s will, there would be no need to support their work with “God as my witness” or “I swear by God this is true.” They would be people of integrity whom people would know they could trust. Their “yes” should be understood to be “yes” without bringing God into the matter.

In other words, the command is not about cursing. That’s what I thought when I was young. I was very careful not to yell, “God damn you,” because I thought it was to take God’s name in vain, an idle threat. I had no right to consign people to hell in God’s name.

The ancients thought it went beyond idle threat to sacrilegious act. To use the name as if we controlled God was to presume we could manipulate God. It was to desecrate his authority.

Of course, that is the way we see people all around us breaking the commandment in our time. Many claim to speak for God while saying and doing things that oppose his will. Politicians claim they represent Christian positions simply to manipulate votes. Church people claim they are fighting for God while acting in hate. No wonder our young people are turned off by the Church.

I am pretty worked up about this after trying to draw up a list of items regarded as family values by very vocal public groups in the past 50 years. All of them claimed their programs were biblically mandated, although none of them really were based on scriptural passages. Instead they were political reactions to current events that tried to use God to get what they wanted. The family values were really very, very small parts of short-lived social movements that employed code words to oppose integration of public schools, removing Christian prayers from governmental meetings, the equal rights amendment, the legalization of abortion, sex education in schools, same sex marriage, and mandated heath care. When you examined them side by side, one at a time, it became very clear that they were employing God’s name to oppose liberation movements, such as the civil, women, and LGBT rights programs. You can discern how sacrilegious this is when you remember the Ten Commandments begin by claiming they are based on God liberating the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. We are called to launch freedom movements, not to resist them.

Chances are most people regard this as one of the less important commandments. On closer examination, it really gets to the heart of the matter.

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