The Second Commandment

Unlike the King James Version, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which is less archaic and takes advantage of recent scholarship and knowledge of the best ancient texts we have, presents the second commandment as follows:

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God…”

Like the King James, the NRSV still presents this commandment as a prohibition against swearing with the name of God. But the term “wrongful use” implies that there is more to this commandment than the common interpretation…

Oklahoma Ten Commandments Monument DestroyedDelivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, October 26, 2014.

Exodus 20:2-17 – “The Ten Commandments” (The Message)
Romans 8:1-17 (The Message)

This morning, as I was eating breakfast and preparing leave for my drive here, I noticed an item in this morning’s news about a man who destroyed a controversial “Ten Commandments” memorial that was on public land in Oklahoma City.  He smashed the memorial with his car, left the car there, walked into the nearby Federal Courthouse and surrendered himself, saying “The Devil made me do it.”  The irony is wonderful, and dovetails so well with this morning’s message that I had to tell you about it and show you the photo of the destroyed monument.  Notice that the break near the top of the stone runs right through the second commandment itself.

And so, let us begin…

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The Third Commandment

I’ve been percolating on the third of the ten commandments [or second, depending on how you count] (Exodus 20:7) for a few weeks now.  Here it is in the King James Version, with which many of us are most familiar…

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…”

And here is the same passage in the New Revised Standard Version, which I think evokes a broader and deeper understanding of the intent of the original text…

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God…”

What I find interesting about this passage is how we look at it.  Many of us (thanks to how King James presents it) see it as a prohibition against swearing with the name of God.  But really, that’s only a tiny part of it, as the Jews demonstrate with their avoidance of using the name of God at all.  (To the point where, for millennia now, no one has known how to say the Lord’s name in the original ancient Hebrew!)

The NRSV version helps us see some of the reason behind this Jewish interpretation of the third commandment: it’s not just about swearing, but that we are not to make wrongful use of it in any form or context.

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