Exodus 20:7 (NKJV)
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
Out of respect for this very commandment, translators universally mistranslate this verse. God has a name – a personal name just like you and I have. That name is the four Hebrew letters “yod, hay, vav, hay” (YHVH). It’s so tricky to pronounce that common English transliterations include “Jehovah” and “Yahweh.” Can you imagine how a single spelling in any other language could lead to two pronunciations that far apart?
This is by design; God made His name almost impossible to pronounce. Most modern translations just translate YHVH as “the LORD.” Never saying God’s name obviously prevents saying it vainly.
But people in the Bible used God’s name in conversation (always respectfully, of course). For example Ruth spoke God’s name in conversation.
But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you …
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her. – Ruth 1:16-18 (NKJV)
Ruth actually says, “May YHVH do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts me from you.”
She uses God’s name to make a point about her willingness to follow Him.
The third commandment isn’t against using God name; it’s against using it in vain. Still, the universal judgment of the experts is not something to be taken lightly. Is there a safe alternative?
Yes. Jews either pronounce YHVH as “ha shem” (Hebrew for “the name”) or as “Adonai” (Hebrew for “lord”). For example, the Complete Jewish Bible uses “Adonai,” instead of “the LORD.”
I like “Adonai” because, to my ear, it sounds like a name. This gives the passage a more personal feel. Follow the link above and see if you don’t agree.
Honoring God’s name is also key to the Lord’s Prayer. Consider the words carefully. Try praying the way Jesus taught us to pray but not by reciting it from rote.
Dwell on each part and pray what it means. This can be an eye opening exercise.
The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here: