“By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
In the Sacred Text we are told of a man stoned for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10-16). The Torah does not soil our mind with the specifics of that blaspheme, but even the Hebrew text tells us that it had to do with using the Holy Name of God also called the tetragramaton in a common manner. In this case, it seems that the blasphemy involved using the Sacred Name while cussing at someone. Again we may look at this as harsh punishment, but remembering that His ways are not our ways, let us study the matter.
Our Western society seems to have grown apart from certain forms of respect that have been common to the world for millennia, and this makes it difficult for us to relate to the economy of the Bible. For example when I was a child in France, I learned that it was impolite to address adults by their first name, or even by their last name without using the title Mr. or Mrs. I was told that it was the way people of low-pedigree spoke, and that someone’s name represented ‘them’, and that it was to be treated with respect and reverence. We carve the names of dead soldiers on marble to remember and honor them; it would be wrong to deface such a monument. A name is the personification of a human being, like a verbal effigy, and protesters burn effigies of politician they don’t like to show what they want to do to them. For the longest time, it was considered treason to criticize, or slander the name of a king or queen, or to use their name when we don’t have the authority to do so. Even in the twentieth century, this practice existed in countries with autocratic governments.
If such respect is given to the name of human authorities for millennia, how much more should it be given to the Name of the Almighty Creator of the universe! The Name of God was to be treated with respect, never defaced or sullied. In the days of the Temple, the Name of God was only used in prayer in the Temple or in a special ceremony to help define if a woman was guilty of adultery or not (Numbers 5).
The man in question uttered a cuss towards another man (which was bad enough (Matthew 5:22)) but then added injury to insult by uttering the Name of God in the cuss (Exodus 20:7). This mention of the Holy Name not done within the precincts of prayer and reverence is considered blasphemous (Leviticus 24:16).
Words may be ephemeral, but they are real. The famous saying ‘Sticks and stones can hurt my bones but words can never hurt me’ is not really true. We have today countless murders committed through online bullying using words over the Internet. Teenagers commit suicide over it. It is such a problem that it now requires legislation.
In courts of law, to slander someone is called ‘character assassination’. In the same way, to use or misrepresent the Name of God is like committing deicide in our audience’s eyes and it is a very serious sin. The all too common expression’ G … d …i’…’ is but a watered down version of what the man in the Book of Leviticus was guilty of.
We may need to review our ideas of respect and reverence and even check our language. What may seem to us like a small thing or ethics from a distant past may be very important in the eyes of Torah, which at the end of the ‘day’ (literally), is the standard we are judged by.