Say what you mean, mean what you say

Say what you mean, mean what you say

You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. – Exodus 20:7

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. – Exodus 20:7

Matthew 5:33-37

 33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’”

 34 “But I say, do not make any vows!”  

 37 “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”

Aesop’s Fables – The Boy Who Cried Wolf

There was a shepherd boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest. It was lonely for him, so he came up with a plan to get a little company. He rushed down towards the village calling out “Wolf, Wolf,” and the villagers came out to help him. This pleased the boy so much that a few days after he tried the same trick, and again the villagers came to his help. Shortly after this a wolf actually did come out of the forest. The boy cried out “Wolf, Wolf,” even louder than before. But this time the villagers, who had been fooled twice before, thought the boy was lying again, and nobody came to help. So the wolf had a great meal of lamb (Eliot/Jacobs).

Take away: A liar will not be believed, even when telling the truth.

When warnings are misused, they are eventually ignored. The misuse of the name of the Lord also has dire consequences. To misuse something is to use it in an improper or in a way that was not originally intended. It implies abusing the privilege or opportunity.

Calling for help or swearing an oath for deceptive purposes is strongly denigrated in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Yet regrettably, it has become a common practice in modern culture.


James 5:12 But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.

Father how I desire to be a person of integrity. I want to be trusted and trustworthy. Encourage me to say what I mean, mean what I say, and follow-through.


Most people simply read and recall that the name of the Lord should not be taken in vain. But how many ponder and reflect, what does it actually mean?

The 10 Commandments are summary statements that outline 10 categories of law to be followed and obeyed. Other parts of the Five Books of Moses flesh out these laws.

What does it mean to take His name?

To take his name means to speak it out loud, to pronounce it, or to invoke it. The Hebrew word translated take in vain or misuse is nasah. Nasah literally means to lift up.

Thus Exodus 20:7 could be translated: Do not lift up the name of the Lord, Yahweh. This commandment refers to the actual name of God, Yahweh, and thus has the sense of invoking His name when making an oath. During the Old Testament period, this was serious business, very serious business. It implied referring to Him as the guarantor for one’s sworn words (NAC). We include His character and reputation in our oaths.

What does it mean to take His name in vain?

The Hebrew term translated misuse or in vain is shawwhich connotes emptiness, vanity, falsehood, worthless, or deceptive. This noun appears 52 times in the Old Testament, 5 times as an adverbial phrase lashawe meaning in vain, vainly, to no avail, without result, uselessly, or carelessly.” Shaw has two basic and interrelated senses: ineffectiveness and falseness.

Exodus 20:7 could be literally translated, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God improperly.” That is to use His name in a worthless or deceitful manner, to “raise up Yahweh’s name for no good.” It is shameful.

Leviticus 19:12 Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the LORD.

To improperly use the Father’s name is a very slippery slope. It easily leads to dishonesty and deceptive oaths using His name to sanction them (Leviticus 19:12). Regrettably, this has become a common, somewhat cavalier practice in American courtrooms: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God.”

When the Hebrew of Exodus 20:7 was translated into Greek in the Septuagint, it used the two-word phrase epi mataio. Epi mataio translates as thoughtlessly. Such improper use of His name includes profanity, using the Lord’s name lightly, unthinkingly, irreverently, disrespectfully, or by rote.

The misuse of the Father’s name has a very broad range of implications. For example,

using God’s name when making a vow or oath that is not intended to be fulfilled. It speaks to murmuring against God and challenging his motives or character by badmouthing Him or criticizing Him (Deuteronomy 1:27).

The Father was quite specific, using His name in a curse was blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10-15). It was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16).

However, under the law of Moses, the Israelites are commanded to make oaths in Yahweh’s name (Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20) (NIDOTTE).

Deuteronomy 6:13 You must fear the LORD your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.

Putting this prohibition into positive terms, in modern English, we would say: “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

Our words should be sincere and truthful. And we should back up our words with our deeds. What we say is a reflection of what is in our hearts.

But there is more.

During the first century A.D., a deceptive trick was employed to create nonbinding commitments. It was like making an oath with your fingers crossed behind your back.  

The Pharisees distinguished between binding oaths and unbinding oaths. Those who are not familiar with the intricacies of oath making were easily deceived (Matthew 23:16-22, Matthew 5:33-37).

The Lord Jesus Christ had a simple solution.

Matthew 5:37 “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”


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