From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.
Third Commandment: Honoring God’s Name
Taking the Lord’s name in vain refers primarily to someone taking a deceptive oath in God’s name or invoking God’s name to sanction an act in which the person is being dishonest (Lev. 19:12). It also bans using God’s name in magic, or irreverently, or disrespectfully (Lev. 24:10–16). The Lord revealed his name to Moses (Ex. 3:14–15), and he has continued to identify himself in connection with his acts on Israel’s behalf (see 6:2, 6–8). Yahweh is warning Israel against using his name as if it were disconnected from his person, presence, and power. (Note for Exodus 20:7, from the ESV Study Bible)
The idea of “taking”… Yahweh’s name may refer to an oath… though its broad semantic range… would permit interpretations forbidding vain oaths, use in magic or idolatry, or frivolous, thoughtless use… The commandment ultimately prohibits people from trivializing His name. The ancients held the name to constitute the essence of the named. This commandment thus forbids any careless, flippant, or crass use. Israel is forbidden from any use of the divine name that is less than fearful, reverent, thoughtful, and calculated. (The Lexham Bible Dictionary)
The third commandment requires the holy and reverent use in our thoughts, meditations, words, and writings of God’s name, titles, qualities, regulations, word, sacrament, prayer, oath, vows, casting lots, his works, and anything else by which he makes himself known. This treatment will be reflected in holy affirmations of our faith and conduct that matches our affirmation, to the glory of God and the good of ourselves and others. (The Westminster Larger Catechism)
I had a professor in seminary who once said that if you pray for your team to win a game, you are taking the Lord’s name in vain. That was the first time I remember coming to understand that “taking the Lord’s name in vain” means much more than using God’s name as common swear word. To be sure, blaspheming the holy name of God by using it in such a profane way ought to also be off limits, but as the quotations above reveal, it means much more than that.
When we trivialize God’s name by using it to swear or promise that something we are saying is true, all the while knowing we are lying, that is taking God’s name in vain. When we do something sinful or evil in the name of God, we are misusing God’s holy name, which is always tied to his holy character. And frankly, when we are known to be followers of Jesus Christ, and yet live lives that are contrary to his will and character, we are telling a lie about the God we profess to love, follow, and worship, and thereby are misusing his name.
Thus, as you can tell from the preceding quotations and introductory remarks, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” covers a lot more ground than only using God’s name as a common curse word. In the questions below, you will have an opportunity to dig into Scripture related to this topic and explore a wide range of application of this third commandment. I believe God’s desire for us is to always seek to honor and glorify his name and live in such a way that when others see our lives, they will be compelled to praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
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