David using God's name in vain

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Leslie

Puritan Board Junior
This may need to be moved to Missions, Educating your child, or the Law of God.

For a long time I've been teaching English to a group of older children from our ethnic group. One of the issues with which I've struggled from the beginning is their habits of expressing surprise with "B'Yesus sim", translatable "In the name of Jesus". Now they understand that this is morally wrong, that it is using God's name in vain, and they don't do it in my presence.

Now we are reading through the historical books. Repeatedly we read of David, a man after God's own heart, doing what seems (in this vernacular) to be the same thing. The latest example is in 2 Samuel 3:35. A literal word-by-word back translation is "May God kill me if I see/try bread or other food," saying this he swore". In this case the word is the generic word for God. In other cases, to emphasize the truth of something the Hebrew proper name, Jehovah, is used, as in "The LORD knows"---to be the case. I would like to purge the translation of these expressions, but then presumably the translation would not be true to the Hebrew. [I was personal friends with the translators and know them to be upright, not given to misusing God's name.] Right now I'm ignoring these instances, but they make me very uncomfortable. I know (and my children know) that if they used God's name similarly, I would come down hard on them. Any wisdom?
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
This may need to be moved to Missions, Educating your child, or the Law of God.

For a long time I've been teaching English to a group of older children from our ethnic group. One of the issues with which I've struggled from the beginning is their habits of expressing surprise with "B'Yesus sim", translatable "In the name of Jesus". Now they understand that this is morally wrong, that it is using God's name in vain, and they don't do it in my presence.

Now we are reading through the historical books. Repeatedly we read of David, a man after God's own heart, doing what seems (in this vernacular) to be the same thing. The latest example is in 2 Samuel 3:35. A literal word-by-word back translation is "May God kill me if I see/try bread or other food," saying this he swore". In this case the word is the generic word for God. In other cases, to emphasize the truth of something the Hebrew proper name, Jehovah, is used, as in "The LORD knows"---to be the case. I would like to purge the translation of these expressions, but then presumably the translation would not be true to the Hebrew. [I was personal friends with the translators and know them to be upright, not given to misusing God's name.] Right now I'm ignoring these instances, but they make me very uncomfortable. I know (and my children know) that if they used God's name similarly, I would come down hard on them. Any wisdom?
But is this not an example of David swearing an oath rather than taking God's name in vain? He is literally calling down a curse upon himself if he breaks the law, is that not the case? Whereas to take God's name in vain is not to use it in any sense, but to misuse it, to use it flippantly or as a curse word.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
The London Baptist Confession has a chapter on lawful oaths and vows. We are commanded in one place (don't have the reference handy) to swear by God's name as His people. Not as a careless expletive, like the children are probably using it if they're anything like people around here, but as a solemn binding oath or to testify to the truth. It reminds hearer and speaker that God is hearing everything and will one day judge all men. It happens all over the OT: "As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand..."
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Freshman
RC Sproul taught that you may ONLY swear by God's name. To swear by anything else is idolatry.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
We have the same issue in American culture, where "Oh my G--" may well be the most common interjection used by American teens. It is so widespread that even many kids in the church use it without thinking. Training them away from it is hard because it means breaking a cultural habit that is all around them, to say nothing of the peer pressure they face to sound like "normal" American kids.

I address it not by ignoring oaths found in Scripture, but by making sure to point them out and emphasize them. In the example you cited, I might stop for some brief discussion by making a comment such as this: "Notice how spiritually serious David is about his decision not to eat until sunset. He even invokes God's name, which makes his fasting a sacred act of devotion to God. Why is his determination not to eat so important that it is a sacred act deserving a very serious oath?"

The point is not to train the kids to avoid using the word God at all, but to train them to take it seriously. The example of godly people in the Bible can be useful in this, more effective than simply scolding kids for their slip-ups.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Freshman
We have the same issue in American culture, where "Oh my G--" may well be the most common interjection used by American teens. It is so widespread that even many kids in the church use it without thinking. Training them away from it is hard because it means breaking a cultural habit that is all around them, to say nothing of the peer pressure they face to sound like "normal" American kids.
The expression is also used in children's shows by the characters constantly.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
This may need to be moved to Missions, Educating your child, or the Law of God.

For a long time I've been teaching English to a group of older children from our ethnic group. One of the issues with which I've struggled from the beginning is their habits of expressing surprise with "B'Yesus sim", translatable "In the name of Jesus". Now they understand that this is morally wrong, that it is using God's name in vain, and they don't do it in my presence.

Now we are reading through the historical books. Repeatedly we read of David, a man after God's own heart, doing what seems (in this vernacular) to be the same thing. The latest example is in 2 Samuel 3:35. A literal word-by-word back translation is "May God kill me if I see/try bread or other food," saying this he swore". In this case the word is the generic word for God. In other cases, to emphasize the truth of something the Hebrew proper name, Jehovah, is used, as in "The LORD knows"---to be the case. I would like to purge the translation of these expressions, but then presumably the translation would not be true to the Hebrew. [I was personal friends with the translators and know them to be upright, not given to misusing God's name.] Right now I'm ignoring these instances, but they make me very uncomfortable. I know (and my children know) that if they used God's name similarly, I would come down hard on them. Any wisdom?
Dear Leslie,

David is swearing an oath which is an act of religious worship. He solemnly calls upon God to witness to the truthfulness of what he swears. There is no reason to think his oath is vain or rash. To the contrary, he does this with all holy reverence and godly fear upon the solemn occasion of Abner's death. David's honorable conduct at this moment was blessed by God in bringing an end to a long civil war (2 Sam. 3:1) and establishing David's rule over all the tribes of Israel.

Now, Saul is a different story altogether. You will often find him swearing rashly and taking God's name in his mouth even while purposing evil in his heart.
 
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Leslie

Puritan Board Junior
It appears to me that his oath regards a trivial matter rather than something like an oath to tell the truth in court. He does this habitually. I believe it would be offensive to any of us, were we to make a habit of saying, "Jehovah knows what happened", the equivalent of what David says in 2 Sam 4:9, as well as calling God's curse down on one in a matter of when and what one eats or drinks. I recall somewhere in the Heidelberg, an injunction against trivial oaths.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
The latest example is in 2 Samuel 3:35. A literal word-by-word back translation is "May God kill me if I see/try bread or other food," saying this he swore".
Yes, David DID sware what is called a "self-maledictory" oath. Perfectly OK as long as he was serious. God, Himself did something similar in Hebrews 6:13 when He said, "For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, Gen. 22:16 he swore by himself, 14 saying,..." Consider also God's Covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, where Abram asked God to prove ("how shall I know") that God would keep His promise that Abram would have a child and dwell in the land of promise. God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Abram, showing that Abram had no part in the oath. Then God passed between the divided animals calling a curse on Himself that if He did not keep His word, He would become as dead as the animals He passed through.

Hebrews 6:13–18 (ESV)
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,
14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.”
15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.
16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.
17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,
18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
 
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Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
It appears to me that his oath regards a trivial matter rather than something like an oath to tell the truth in court. He does this habitually. I believe it would be offensive to any of us, were we to make a habit of saying, "Jehovah knows what happened", the equivalent of what David says in 2 Sam 4:9, as well as calling God's curse down on one in a matter of when and what one eats or drinks. I recall somewhere in the Heidelberg, an injunction against trivial oaths.
I agree with you that if the oaths were trivial statements, these passages of Scripture would present a problem. I don't think you're going to find any way out of that problem until you rethink your assessment that these are trivial statements.

Keep this in mind: the Bible typically records only a few of the words spoken in any given situation. Surely, David had much more to say during every one of these incidents, but the author of Scripture chose to write down only the most important and meaningful dialogue. The accounts are told quickly, and sparsely. Trivial words and actions are generally left out. As a rule, we can assume that everything left in is meaningful and important. When teaching through a passage, it's good to expect that everything included is there for a reason—because it matters. None of it is trivial.

In the case of the David narrative, the fact that several of these oaths are included should convince us all the more that they are not trivial words but rather are words that matter—words that both David and the author who compiled his story took seriously. The author is drawing our attention to the fact that David's resolutions are not merely expressions of personal determination but are a part of his devotion to God.

I know as well as anyone how tempting it is, especially when teaching kids, to take passages/phrases/words that seem problematic at first glance and just skip over them or even try to hide them. But most of the time, there is gold to be found in thinking more deeply about those phrases and coming to understand why they are important after all. You are a good servant to the kids you teach when you do this.

The idea that David's oath-taking was flippant just doesn't fit the rest of what we know about David nor the way the rest of Scripture treats the use of God's name. Nor does the idea that it's a throwaway phrase make sense when the author keeps wasting ink and parchment to include it. Since these passages are bothering you, you really should take a hard look at this habit of David and reconsider what it says about him. Look for an explanation that better fits the whole context of Scripture. In the setting where you serve, this could be a great help to your students.
 
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