I have been aware for some time of the Jewish practice to omit the name of God in oral speech. This tradition stems from the third word in the Decalogue, which states,
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 (Ex. 20:7).
In Hebrew, the name of God consists of the four letters YHWH, sometimes called the tetragrammaton (Greek word for ‘four letters’). To safeguard against saying God’s name in vain, the Jews refused to speak the name at all. When the Jews came across the divine name in Scripture, they substituted the word adonai, the general word for Lord. Personally, I have respected this practice as I have learned Hebrew at school and continued on my own in Hebrew readings. Most English translations of the OT also continued this trend by translating YHWH as LORD (with all caps). The one notable exception in English would be the American Standard Version, which transliterated the divine name as Jehovah (four consonants of YHWH with vowels for adonai). In fact, if you read an English speaking Jew today, they may write “G-d” instead of spelling out the whole word. But I digress.
Recently, I stumbled upon another effort to display respect for God. We are beginning a study of Job in our Bible class at church. In Job 1-2, there are several references to cursing God.
- Job sacrifices in case his children curse God (1:5)
- Satan challenges God to allow his “hedge” to be removed and then he would curse God (1:11)
- Satan challenges God again to allow Job’s health to be removed, arguing that Job will then curse God (2:5).
- Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die” (2:9).
In each of these cases, though, the author (or a later scribe) substitutes the word “bless” for “curse.” It is as if the idea of putting the words “curse” and “God” together was so reprehensible that “bless” was used as a euphemism for “curse.” An example outside of Job can be found in the false accusations made against Naboth that he cursed God (1 Kings 21:10, 13).
These Jewish safeguards may seem a little extreme. They may seem to be taking this a little too far. Yet, I appreciate the effort. We need a healthy respect for God, and our speech is a natural indication of our attitude about him. Conversation about God and spiritual matters should be a regular topic of conversation (Deut. 6:4:9), but it must never denigrate to where God is treated as common, average or normal. He is amazing, awesome, and incomprehensible. Our language in worship, Bible study, and daily conversation should always reflect this reverence. This is needed even more in a world where OMG is heedlessly tossed around cyberspace and God’s name is reduced to an interjection. If we are going to use God’s name today, we had better make sure we reverence it!