In Isaiah 52 God, speaking through the prophet, revealed the coming of a time of blessing for His people, when they would be freed from the oppression of their ungodly neighbors. This message was two-fold in that it had immediate reference to their return from captivity and the restoration of their sovereignty, and it had long-term reference to the coming of the Messiah, whose future suffering is revealed in chapter 53. In the midst of this discussion, the Lord reflected upon the attitude of the pagan nations who were then oppressing His people. Among the things He said of them, He remarked, “Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long” (Isa. 52:5).
To blaspheme means to speak irreverently about God or sacred things. It also refers to profane talk. This was a serious charge, about which the pagan nations cared little. Had they been more concerned about the God of Israel, they would have known that He expressly forbade such talk in the Ten Commandments. In Ex. 20:7 He said, “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.” Although the word blaspheme is not present in this prohibition, it certainly falls within its bounds.
In the context of Isa. 52, the pagan nations blasphemed God’s name by their disrespect for Him. In the ancient world a nation that conquered another typically mocked the gods of that nation for not protecting them from the invaders. So we may conclude that those who oppressed Israel made fun of God because of how easily they had defeated her. Such was the case when Sennacherib sent Rabshakeh to speak to the besieged city of Jerusalem. In Isa. 36:18-20, Rabshakeh spoke in derisive terms about the gods of the nations that had already fallen to Sennacherib, and warned Jerusalem that their God would not be able to spare them.
This taunt of the God of Israel did not go unpunished, for God, in response to Hezekiah’s prayer, destroyed 185,000 Assyrians and Sennacherib withdrew and returned to Assyria where he was assassinated. The nations who blasphemed God in Isa. 52 also suffered defeat when it was time for God to restore His people to the Promised Land. This reaction from our God and Father should be sobering, especially in our time.
Today God’s name is routinely blasphemed in all areas of society. One can hardly watch a movie or television program without some irreverent reference to God. Whether it is using His name in curses, or using His name in vain and flippant expressions, there is no respect for God’s holy name in the media. Many young people, and even some adults fill their text messages with abbreviations, such as OMG, that blaspheme God’s name. In addition to this, God’s name is often used in many irreverent and flippant expressions that punctuate our daily speech. All of these things blaspheme God’s name, and should never pass from our lips or fingertips.
The Jews were so conscious of the holiness of God’s name that they would not even speak it. They substituted the word “Lord,” lest they inadvertently profane His name. This is why no one knows how to pronounce the Hebrew word YHWH, the name of God.
In a world that so carelessly blasphemes God’s name, we who are Christians must be all the more diligent to be sure that we do not. Let us treat God’s name with all the respect and reverence it deserves, for God will not leave unpunished those who use His name in vain.