Last night I taught on the third commandment in our small group Bible study. This was done with the help of Philip Graham Ryken’s book Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis. Our focus was on names—and most importantly God’s Name.
Do you remember naming your children? Do you recall creating the various lists and then learning the meanings behind them? Missy and I have special meanings and memories behind our daughters’ names. Naming is an act of authority.
It’s a God-given authority that is to be exercised by the parents as an expression of their love and recognition of their stewardship. A precious miracle has been entrusted to their care. Knowing this, the parents will usually look for a name that expresses something special… perhaps even unique. A distinctiveness that sets the child apart from others.
By contrast, no one ever named God. He is the One who chose His own Name. His authority to do so was based solely upon, well, His own authority. For He is God alone; and no one could or would tell God who He is. Instead it was God who first told us. He was the Revealer. It was His revelation to mankind; and He commands that we must honor His Name.
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. (Exod 20:7)
Ryken writes in the sixth chapter of his book1 that this commandment is not stating that His Name shouldn’t be used at all. It’s a serious misunderstanding to believe that we are to never say or write the Name of God. That is not what is forbidden here.
Many orthodox Jews take this commandment more strictly than God intended, refusing to use God’s Name at all, for fear of misusing it. But God wants us to use His Name! This is proven by the Old Testament, where God’s sacred divine Name is used all over the place—almost seven thousand occurrences in all. God gave us His Name so that we would be able to address Him personally. Calling Him by Name strengthens our love relationship with Him.
His special covenant Name is “Yahweh,” which we learn from Moses’ conversation with God at the burning bush in Exodus 3. It originates from the tetragrammaton (this is the Hebrew Name of God transliterated in just four letters) יהוה. Moses had asked of God:
Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I say to them? (v. 14)
Because of His great love for His people—the Israelites—God answers Moses’ request to provide some personal identification:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My Name forever, and this is My memorial-Name to all generations. (v. 15)
The Name of God speaks of His own self-existence, self-sufficiency, and supreme sovereignty. He is God Almighty, Everlasting God, and Most-High. His Name is His identity, not just a label. Therefore, when must be cognizant of what we’re uttering when using His Name, because it in every way represents the essence of our God.
What God forbids is not the use of His Name, then, but its misuse. To be specific, we are not to use it in a vain or empty way… God’s Name has deep spiritual significance; so to treat it like something worthless is profanity in the truest sense of the word.
Looking through the book of Psalms there are a number of examples that instruct us on using God’s Name with “deep spiritual significance.” What I find most interesting is that I know these Bible verses. In fact, I’ve sung some of them, but I had never given serious thought to the attributes embodied in the utterance of God’s Name.
O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your Name in all the earth. (Psalm 8:1a)
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His Name. (Psalm 29:2a)
Sing the glory of His Name; Make His praise glorious. (Psalm 66:2)
Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His Name, That He might make His power known. (Psalm 106:8)
His Name is sacred not secular, holy not common. When it comes out of our mouths, we had better take into account the entire reputation of God. His Name represents His glory.
The reason God will condemn us is because misusing His Name is a very great sin. It is a direct attack on His honor and glory, and anyone who makes such an attack deserves to be condemned… Instead of taking His Name in vain, we should take it in all seriousness.
One of the most striking examples of this is found in Leviticus 24 where an argument occurs between two Israelites. The man who is part Egyptian curses God’s Name; and so the people bring Him to Moses.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone curses his God, then he will bear his sin. Moreover, the one who blasphemes the Name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. (vv. 13-16)
Personally, I was puzzled by the people’s hands being laid upon the guilty party. After some further study I learned from a number of commentators that to even hear the misuse of God’s Name meant that they were, in part, connected to this sin. God required that the people throw off what they had heard back onto the guilty party.
How grateful I am to live on this side of the Cross (it’s an age of grace; put down that stone)! Let us faithfully use God’s Name in the manner He desires it to be used: to ascribe worth to Him. May we recall His attributes in our times of Bible reading, prayer, and praise. He is faithful and true, holy and just. Omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. There is no higher love—because He is love (1 John 4:8). There is no greater goodness—because He is good (Psa 118:1).
By telling us to honor His Name, this third commandment helps us to honor God Himself. Yahweh, “Hallowed be Your Name” (Matt 6:9b).