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The Meaning of Exodus xx. 7. 



EXODUS 20 7 , or the Third Commandment, as it is commonly 
reckoned by Jews and Protestants, reads as follows : KttTl JO 

-n* iftp— rafc r* rfir nap tf? ••a Kitfb sprfat mrrBJ-m 

V * T ( • __ v -j " T : |v- i • I T - I V VI T ! " V 

I KltP? Ifittf, which translated verbally means, " Thou shalt not lift 
up the name of Yahweh, thy God, unto naught, for Yahweh will not 
count him innocent who lifts up his name unto naught." The com- 
mandment appears in an identical form in the Deuteronomic recension 
of the Decalogue in Deut. 5 11 , but the combination " lift up the name 
unto naught " occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. For the 
determination of the meaning of the passage, accordingly, we are 
thrown back upon a study of the three principal words, KtM, B&, 
and Xltf. 

There are no three words in the Hebrew language that have a 
greater variety of meanings. JtiM denotes primarily 'lift up,' then 
' carry,' and finally ' take away.' From each of these main meanings 
a host of secondary meanings are derived. Dttf denotes primarily 
'name,' then 'person, presence, authority, character, reputation.' 
Kltt? denotes primarily 'emptiness, nothingness,' then 'sin, deceit,' 
and finally even ' idol.' By the combination of these meanings an 
immense number of interpretations can be put upon the passage ; and, 
as a matter of fact, the history of exegesis shows that nearly every 
possible theory has been tried at one time or another. The subject 
has called forth volumes of discussion, and is so exceedingly trite that 
I should not venture to present it if I did not have still another inter- 
pretation to add to the already long list. Before I present this, 
however, I wish to show the untenability of the more commonly 
received theories. 

The word tfEtt is taken by the LXX in the sense of Xa^avia, and 
the commandment is rendered, "Thou shalt not take, i.e. use, the 
name of the Lord thy God for naught." This is followed by Aquila, 
Origen, the Vulgate (non assumes), Luther, and all the English 


versions. By Hengstenberg and Keil fctfM is translated ' take away,' 
and the force of the commandment is supposed to be, " Thou shalt 
not pervert the name of Yahweh thy God unto an improper use." 

By most modern commentators KtW, 'lift up,' is taken in the 
sense of ' utter ' or ' speak ' (so De Wette, Knobel, Dillmann, Well- 
hausen, Lange, Kautzsch, Holzinger, Baentsch). Attention is called 
to the idiom b)pit 1"IK KtM, " lift up the voice," and to the formula? 
" lift up a lament," " lift up a similitude," " lift up a prayer," and 
" lift up a song," which are supposed to indicate that WW may have 
the meaning of ' speak ' or ' utter.' Buhl in Gesenius's Handworter- 
buch sums up this view by saying that efferre is used in the sense of 
effari, ' aussprechen.' Barth {Etymologische Studien, p. 63 f.) regards 
this meaning as so certain that he questions whether the verb in this 
sense has anything to do with Kttft, ' lift up,' and proposes to connect 
it with the Ethiopic 'ause'a, which means ' speak, answer.' 

It will be observed that all three of these interpretations come out 
to practically the same conclusion, namely, that Ktitt means 'utter.' 
' To take ' in the sense of ' to use ' is unintelligible except of use in 
speech. ' Transfer ' is also meaningless except in the sense of transfer 
in language ; and the third interpretation assumes from the outset that 
speech is meant. It appears, accordingly, that there is general agree- 
ment that " lift up " means to utter. 

In regard to the word Dttf there is also general agreement that it is 
used in none of its secondary significations, but means simply 'name ' ; 
so that the phrase " lift up the name " means " utter the name." 

In regard to the meaning of KW opinions differ widely. An early 
view is that the word retains its primitive sense of ' emptiness,' and 
that the prohibition is aimed against the use of the name of Yahweh 
in connection with trivial matters. The objection to this view is that 
nowhere in the Old Testament do we meet any trace of the idea 
that a familiar use of the name of God is improper. Old Testament 
history shows that the name Yahweh was used as freely by ancient 
Israel as the name Allah is used in the modern Orient. 

A widely accepted modification of this theory is that the com- 
mandment is directed against profane swearing, or the use of the name 
of God in frivolous or unnecessary oaths. This view also is open to 
the objection of being foreign to the thought of the Old Testament. 
In the language of the Old Testament, " to swear by the name of a 
god," i.e. to use his name in asseverations, is equivalent to declaring 
one's self his worshipper. Far from prohibiting the use of the divine 
name in connection with the affairs of daily life, the law codes enjoin 


the frequent use of the name of Yahweh as a means of indicating that 
one adheres to him. Thus in Deut. 6 13 we read, " Thou shalt fear 
Yahweh, thy God ; and him shalt thou serve, and shalt swear by his 
name " ; similarly Deut. io 2 ", " Thou shalt fear Yahweh thy God ; him 
shalt thou serve ; and to him shalt thou cleave, and by his name shalt 
thou swear." In like manner Jer. 12 16 says, "And it shall come to 
pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by 
my name (saying), As Yahweh liveth ; even as they taught my people 
to swear by Baal ; then shall they be built up in the midst of my 
people." Old Testament history also shows that the name of Yahweh 
was used freely by ancient Israel. Accordingly, the common modern 
view that the Third Commandment is aimed against a careless use 
of the name of God must be regarded as untenable. 

Others take NYttJ in its secondary sense of ' sin,' and interpret the 
commandment as meaning that the name of God must not be used 
for any sinful purpose. Among recent commentators this view is 
represented by Holzinger and Baentsch. Against this view is the 
vagueness of the prohibition. The other commandments are con- 
crete. They do not say, "Thou shalt avoid heathenism, Thou 
shalt not degrade the worship of Yahweh, Thou shalt set apart 
times for worship, Thou shalt reverence those in authority, Thou 
shalt be chaste " ; but " Thou shalt have no other god, Thou shalt 
make thee no graven image, Remember the Sabbath, Honor thy 
father and thy mother, Thou shalt not commit adultery." Such 
a generality as the precept " Thou shalt not use the name of Yahweh, 
thy God, for any sinful purpose," is wholly out of place in so specific 
a law as the Decalogue. 

Many interpreters, ancient and modern, take Klttf in the specific 
sense of ' false ' or ' lie,' and understand the commandment to mean, 
" Thou shalt not use the name of Yahweh, thy God, in attestation 
of any false statement." In favor of this view is the fact that this 
prohibition occurs elsewhere in the Pentateuchal legislation. In the 
Holiness Code (Lev. 19 12 ) we read, "Thou shalt not swear by my 
name to a lie, lest thou profane the name of thy God." Lev. 5 4sm - 
and 6 1 " 7 prescribe guilt offerings in the case of a man swearing care- 
lessly or falsely. Against this interpretation, however, is the fact 
that it makes the third commandment practically identical with the 
eighth and the ninth. Swearing to a lie must be intended to defraud 
a neighbor, in which case it coincides with theft ; or it is intended to 
injure his good name, in which case it coincides with false witness. 
It is hardly likely that in so brief a code as the Decalogue a prohibi- 


tion would be inserted that coincides so nearly with the scope of two 
other prohibitions. Moreover, if such a law had been inserted, it 
must logically have stood in the second table, along with theft and 
false witness, with which it is closely affiliated, rather than in its 
present position between the law in regard to idolatry and the law in 
regard to the Sabbath. Furthermore, if the author of this command- 
ment meant to prohibit swearing to a lie by the name of Yahweh, 
why did he not use the specific word "IptT instead of the indefinite 
Klttfr? This word he uses in the ninth commandment, i"TOrTX/ 
""PC? T2 ^|S"0, " Thou shalt not answer a lying testimony against 
thy neighbor " ; and there is no reason why he should not have used 
it in the third commandment, if he had meant to forbid false swearing. 

Finally, the theory has been propounded that the word SW refers 
to magic, divination, and other similar heathen practices ; and that the 
scope of the third commandment is to prevent the use of the divine 
name for such purposes. This theory is defended at length by Dr. 
Coffin in Vol. XIX., p. 166 of this Journal. Such a prohibition would 
be in place among the duties to God in the first table of the Deca- 
logue, but it is very doubtful whether Xlttf, ' emptiness,' can have the 
specific sense of ' magic' It is used in this sense nowhere else in the 
Old Testament, and there is not another law in the Pentateuch that 
prohibits the association of the name of Yahweh with magical rites. 
Ex. 2 2 17 reads, "Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live." Deut. 
jgio.g. rea( j S; "There shall not be found with thee . . . one that useth 
divination, one that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, 
or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a 
necromancer ; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination 
unto Yahweh." Lev. 19 26 reads, "Ye shall not use enchantments nor 
practise augury." Lev. 19 31 , "Turn not unto them that have familiar 
spirits, nor unto the wizards." (cf. Lev. 20 627 ). In all these pas- 
sages magical practices are forbidden, as involving apostasy from 
Yahweh ; but the possibility of the name of Yahweh being used in 
connection with them is not contemplated. It is very unlikely, there- 
fore, that the scope of the third commandment is to prevent this sort 
of use of the divine name. 

It appears, accordingly, that all the current interpretations of the 
third commandment labor under serious difficulties ; and this rouses 
the suspicion that there is something wrong in the common assump- 
tion that Dttf ftK K&3 means ' to use the name,' or ' to utter the 

This interpretation is based chiefly upon the analogy of the com- 


mon expression "yipfi flK Ktttt " to lift up the voice," which is sup- 
posed to be equivalent to " utter the voice." As a matter of fact, 
however, a study of the passages in which this expression occurs shows 
that it is never used in the simple sense of " utter the voice." There 
is not a passage in the Old Testament where we read " he lifted up 
his voice and spoke," or " he lifted up his voice and answered," as 
must have been the case if Xtitt had the meaning of ' utter.' The 
combination in which Slpn ilS JWJ is used are these : " He lifted 
up his voice and wept" (Gen. 26 16 29 11 Jud. 21 2 1 Sam. n 4 24 16 30 4 
2 Sam. f- 13* Job 2 12 ), "He lifted up his voice and cried" 
(Num. 14 1 Jud. 9 7 Isa. 42 s ), "He lifted up his voice and shouted" 
(Isa. 24 14 ), "He lifted up his voice and sang" (Isa. 42 11 52 s ). 
These show that in the phrase SipH 1"IK WW the verb retains its 
primitive meaning of ' lift up,' and that the expression denotes, not 
" to utter the voice," but " to raise the voice, to cry aloud." The 
phrase SlpPt FlK Xtitt is thus the precise equivalent of the phrase 
that alternates with it, VipH DS DTI, that is, " elevate the voice." 
For "utter the voice," or "speak," the regular Hebrew idiom is 
b^n n« ]K (Ps. i8 14 4 6 7 Prov. i 20 Jer. 2 15 , etc.). 

The other phrases that are cited in proof that KtP3 can mean 
'utter,' or 'speak' are equally inapposite. Not once do we meet 
the phrases " lift up a word," " lift up an answer," " lift up a saying," 
that must have occurred, if KtPJ had the meaning of ' utter,' or 
' speak.' Instead of this the common formulae are, " lift up a weep- 
ing " (Jer. 9 9 ), " lift up a cry " (Jer. 7 16 1 1 14 ), " lift up a lamentation " 
(Jer. 9 18 ), "lift up a lament" (Jer. f Ezek. 19 1 26" 27 232 28 12 
32 s Amos 5 1 )," lift up a prayer" (2 Ki. 19 4 Isa. 37 4 Jer. 7 16 n 14 ), "lift 
up a psalm" (Ps. 81 8 ), "lift up a S^D, or similitude" (Num. 23 718 
2 4 2 - 3 - 15 - *>■ a - M Isa. 14 4 Mic. 2 4 Hab. 2 6 Job 27 1 29 1 ). These combi- 
nations show that K'tW does not mean 'utter,' or 'speak,' but 'cry 
out, deliver in a loud and impressive manner.' In like manner 
Nt?!?, the derivative of tftttt, is never used for 'utterance' or 
'word,' as must have been the case if KlM meant 'speak,' but 
is limited to the exalted ecstatic utterances of the prophets. The 
only cases in the Old Testament in which it might be conjectured 
that tftM had the meaning of 'utter' are Ex. 23 1 , "Thou shalt not 
lift up a false report," and Ps. 15 3 , " Who lifteth not up a reproach 
against his neighbor." In both cases, however, the context shows 
that the reference is not to uttering a false report or a reproach, but 
to receiving one. The translations of the Revised Version are accu- 
rate, "Thou shalt not take up a false report," and "Who taketh not 


up a reproach." It may be concluded, therefore, that Vfo} never 
refers to simple speaking, but always to loud or emphatic utterance. 
If this be true, HIT Dtf n« XWl *b cannot mean. "Thou 
shalt not use, utter, speak, the name of Yahweh," but " Thou shalt 
not cry out the name of Yahweh." In this case " lift up the name 
of Yahweh " is the exact equivalent of " call upon the name of 
Yahweh," which is the common expression for ' worship ' (cf. Gen. 
4 s6 12 8 2 1 33 26 25 i Ki. i8 24 " 26 2 Ki. 5" Isa. 12 4 41 25 6 4 6 Jer. 10 25 Joel 3 5 
Zeph. 3° Zech. 13 9 Ps. 79 6 99 s 10s 1 n6 4 - 13 Lam. 3" 1 Chr. 16 810 ). 
That this is the correct interpretation is shown by the fact that in 
the only passage where the expression H$ KJT3 occurs (Ps. 16 4 ) 
the reference is to worship. It is confirmed also by the fact that in 
every other case where the name of God is the object of human 
activity the reference is to worship. The phrases to " seek the name " 
(Ps. 83 17 ), "wait on the name" (Ps. 52 11 ), "think on the name" 
(Mai. 3 16 ), " know the name " (Isa. 52 s Jer. 48" Ps. 9 11 91 14 ), " fear 
the name " (Deut. 28 s8 Isa. 59 19 Mai. 2 5 3 20 Ps. 61 6 86 11 102 16 Neh. 
i 11 ), "love the name" (Isa. 56 s Ps. 5 12 69 s7 119 132 ), "trust in the 
name " (Ps. 33 21 ), " remember the name " (Ps. 20 8 119 55 ), all signify 
to be a worshipper of the god in question. As already noted, " call 
upon the name of Yahweh " is the common expression in the Old 
Testament for "worship Yahweh." Closely analogous is T3n 
DTT T\H, " to cause to remember the name," commonly translated in 
our version " make mention of the name." This is always used of in- 
voking God in worship. Thus in Ex. 23 13 we read, " In all things that 
I have said unto you take heed, and make no mention of the name 
of other gods " (cf. 20 23 22 19 ); Josh. 23 7 , "Neither make mention 
of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve 
them, nor bow down yourselves unto them " ; Isa. 26 13 , " O Yahweh, 
our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us, but by 
thee only will we make mention of thy name " ; Amos 6 10 , " We 
may not make mention of the name of Yahweh." On the strength 
of the analogy of these passages we should probably follow the 
Peshitta in Ex. 20 24 in reading "V3Tn instead of "V21X, and trans- 
late, " An altar of earth shalt thou make unto me, and shalt sacri- 
fice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings, thy sheep 
and thine oxen : in every place where thou makest mention of 
my name I will come unto thee and bless thee " (so Merx, Bruston, 
Buhl, Holzinger). Other combinations, such as "praise the name" 
(1 Ki. 8 s3 ' 35 Isa. 25 1 Ps. 44° 54 s 69 31 74 21 99 s 106 47 113 13 122 4 135 1 
138 2 140 14 142 8 145 2 148 513 149 3 2 Chr. 6 2 '- m , etc.), "sing praises 


unto the name" (2 Sam. 22 30 Ps. 7 18 9 3 18 50 6i' J 66 4 68 5 9 2 2 135 s ), 
"bless the name" (Ps. 72 19 g6 2 ioo 4 103 1 113 2 145 121 Job i 21 
Neh. 9 5 ), "magnify the name" (2 Sam. 7 26 ), "glorify the name" 
(Isa. 24 15 Ps. 86 9 - 12 , cf. 115 1 ), "declare the name" (Ps. 22 23 102 22 ), 
"sanctify the name " (Isa. 29 s3 ), refer without exception to the wor- 
ship of Yahweh. In this connection it is not without interest to note 
that the whole series of Deuteronomic phrases in which Cffl is used 
have a similar connotation. " To put his name there," or " to cause 
his name to dwell there" (Deut. i 2 511 - 21 14®'*- 16 2611 , etc.), means 
" to establish his worship in that place." " To build a house unto the 
name of Yahweh" (2 Sam. 7 13 1 Ki. 3 2 5 1719 , etc.), means "to build 
a house for the worship of Yahweh." 

In like manner all the phrases which speak of disregarding the name 
of Yahweh refer to remission of his worship. " To forget the name of 
Yahweh " (Jer. 23 s ; cf. Hos. 2 19 Ps. 44 21 ) means to cease to be his 
worshipper " To cut off the names of the idols," or " to take them 
away out of the mouth " (Zech. 13 2 Hos. 2 17 ) means to cause idol- 
worship to cease. " To profane the name of Yahweh " is to cease 
to be his worshipper or to disregard the precepts of his religion. 
His name is profaned by causing one's seed to pass through the fire 
to Molech (Lev. 18 24 20 3 ), by worshipping idols (Exek. 20 38 ), by 
making a bald spot on one's head, cutting the edges of one's beard, and 
making cuttings in one's flesh (Lev. 21°), by eating of sacrifices when 
one is ceremonially unclean (Lev. 2 2 2 ), by not offering the proper 
sacrifices (Lev. 22 s2 ), by the remission of worship during the exile 
(Ezek. 36 20 " 23 ), also by false swearing (Lev. 19 12 ), by a man and his 
father going in unto the same maid (Amos 2 7 ), by enslaving again 
slaves that had been set free (Jer. 34 16 ). According to Mai. i 6sqq - the 
priests " despise the name of Yahweh " when they offer blind, lame, 
and sick animals upon his altar. 

In view of this uniform usage of the expression " name of Yahweh," 
I conclude that the only natural interpretation to put upon the words 
miT OW nS StTl ttb is, "Thou shalt not invoke Yahweh, thy 
God, in worship." 

What then is the meaning of KlvT? If "lift up the name of 
Yahweh " means " call upon him in worship," then OT must refer to 
the manner of worship. For the early Hebrews worship consisted 
primarily in sacrifice. To " call upon the name of Yahweh " meant 
to invoke him in connection with an offering. Thus, in Gen. 1 2 8 , " And 
Abram built an altar unto Yahweh, and called upon the name of Yah- 
weh " ; Gen. 26 s ' 5 , " And Isaac built an altar there, and called upon 


the name of Yahweh " ; i Ki. I8 2384 -, " Let them therefore give us two 
bullocks ; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it 
in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under : and I will 
dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire 
under. And call ye on the name of your god, and I will call on 
the name of Yahweh " ; Zeph. j 9 ' 5 -, " That they may all call upon the 
name of Yahweh. . . . From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia they 
shall bring my offering " ; i Sam. i 3 , " And this man went up out 
of his city from year to year to worship and to sacrifice unto Yahweh 
Sebaoth in Shiloh." In like manner, in Ex. 20 24 , " to make mention 
of the name of Yahweh " is used in connection with the building of 
an altar of earth and the offering of burnt offerings and peace offer- 
ings; and in Ex. 23 13 , "to make no mention of the name of any 
other god" is equivalent to the law in 22 20 , "He that sacrificeth to 
any god, save unto Yahweh only, shall be devoted to destruction." 
In the only other passage in the Old Testament outside of the third 
commandment where the expression "lift up the name" is used it is 
associated with sacrifice; Ps. 16 4 , "Their libations of blood I will 
not offer, and I will not lift up their names upon my lips." 

We are justified, accordingly, in thinking that the word Kl$7, 
" unto emptiness, unto naught," in the third commandment refers to 
the absence of an offering when the name of Yahweh is invoked ; 
and that the commandment as a whole is to be translated, " Thou 
shalt not cry aloud the name of Yahweh thy God when thou hast 
brought no sacrifice." 

The preposition 7 in this case denotes time, as in the idioms 
J")?? ' at the season,' "l[53? ' in the morning,' yysb ' in the even- 
ing,'' DV7 ' in the day 'of,' * - l!3)37 ' in time of rain.' b in Kltf 1 ? 
commonly expresses result: thus in Jer. 2 30 , "in vain, KWP7, have I 
smitten your children " ; Jer. 4 30 , " in vain shalt thou make thyself 
fair " ; Jer. (P, " In vain do they go on refining " ; Jer. 46 11 , " In 
vain dost thou use many medicines " ; Ps. 139 20 , "Thine enemies lift 
themselves up in vain"; but it also expresses direction in Jer. 18 15 , 
" They have burned incense to naught, SW?," and in Ps. 24 4 , " Who 
hath not lifted up his soul unto naught." KlttH, therefore, has no 
fixed meaning, so that there is no difficulty in assigning it a temporal 
signification in the passage under discussion. This is at least as easy 
as the current interpretation which makes it express purpose, for 
which no analogies can be found elsewhere in the Old Testament. 

In justification of this exegesis of the third commandment the fol- 
lowing considerations may be adduced : — 


i. The analogy of all the other Hebrew codes demands that 
between the law against idolatry and the law concerning the Sabbath 
a law concerning sacrifice should stand. Thus the Book of the Cove- 
nant, according to E, begins (Ex. 20 23 ) with the words, " Ye shall 
not make other gods with me ; gods of silver, or gods of gold ye shall 
not make unto you," and follows this with the commandment, " An 
altar of earth shalt thou make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy 
burnt offerings and thy peace offerings." J's Book of the Covenant 
also, in Ex. 34 12 " 17 , begins with prohibitions of polytheism and idolatry, 
and follows these with the commandment (34 19 ), "All that openeth 
the womb is mine ; and all thy cattle that is male, the firstlings of 
cattle and sheep." This is followed in its turn by the law of the 
Sabbath and of the other sacred seasons. In like manner the Deu- 
teronomic legislation opens in chs. 5-1 1 with exhortations against 
polytheism and idolatry, follows in ch. 12 with regulations in regard to 
the place and the manner of sacrifice, and then gives the laws of the 
sacred seasons. The Holiness Code also, in Lev. i9 4s «-, reads, "Turn 
ye not unto false gods, nor make to yourselves molten gods : I am 
Yahweh your God. And when ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings 
unto Yahweh, ye shall offer it so that ye may be accepted." It ap- 
pears, accordingly, that a law concerning sacrifice is precisely what 
the analogy of the other Hebrew codes would lead us to expect at 
the point in the Decalogue where the third commandment stands. 

2. A law requiring all worship to be accompanied with an offering 
is entirely in accord with the genius of the old Hebrew religion. In 
pre-Deuteronomic days every slaughter was at the same time a sacri- 
fice, and it was customary to present the first fruits of every crop. 
Under these circumstances frequent presentation of offerings was 
necessary, and there was no difficulty in prescribing that every calling 
upon Yahweh should be accompanied with a sacrifice of some sort. 

3. Provisions analogous to this are found in the earliest Hebrew 
codes. Ex. 34 208, reads, "None shall appear before me empty," 
which is the exact equivalent of " Thou shalt not cry out the name 
of Yahweh thy God when thou bringest naught," and which stands 
at the same point in the legislation between prohibitions of idolatry 
and prescriptions in regard to the sacred seasons. The larger Book 
of the Covenant repeats this law in Ex. 23 13 , and adds also the provi- 
sion in 2 2 28 , "Thou shalt not delay to offer of the abundance of thy 
fruits and of thy liquors." 

4. Professor Peritz calls my attention to the fact that the exhorta- 
tion which accompanies the law, " For Yahweh will not count him in- 


nocent who lifts up his name unto naught," is more appropriate, if the 
law refers to remission of sacrifice, than if it refers to a blasphemous 
use of the divine name. In the latter case we should expect some 
severer threat. 

I feel warranted, accordingly, in presenting this new interpreta- 
tion of the third commandment as supported both by Hebrew lin- 
guistic usage and by the analogy of other Hebrew legislation. The 
important question of its bearing upon the age of the Decalogue, 
space will not permit me to discuss here.