“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
The third commandment involves more than just not using God’s name in profanities. That’s part of it but it’s not the whole picture.
In its historical context, it seems that part of the meaning of the third commandment involved swearing oaths in the Lord’s name. A person could make such an oath and yet fail to follow through, and God doesn’t want his name invoked with falsity.
However this commandment is more broad than only applying to oaths.
It also involves misusing the Lord’s title.
Psalm 29:2: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”
In the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus addresses God the Father and says:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Matthew 6:9).
God’s name is to be hallowed. It is to be spoken in reverence.
There are still Orthodox Jews who won’t say the word God out of concern that they’ll never say his name with due reverence.
We must keep in mind the awesome holiness of the Lord when we invoke his name.
The Westminister Confession of Faith puts it well:
The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.
But another way how people speak the name of the Lord in vain is by misrepresenting God theologically.
People often attempt to speak for God. People will say what God’s standards are for love but it can misrepresent God’s holiness and justice.
People speak for God in comparison to other religions.
People who don’t seek to honor God speak for what God does or doesn’t accept.
This is a terrible blasphemy against the Lord.
We misuse the name of the Lord when we speak for God in ways that are not true to how God has revealed himself in scripture.
We see that at the heart of the original sin.
God originally gave one commandment.
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17).
But his words were twisted.
Genesis 3:1: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
He never said such a thing.
But then Eve responded by further misrepresenting the words of the Lord.
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
And the serpent undermines the consequences that God had spoken.
Genesis 3:5: “You will not surely die.”
Listen to the ways people talk about God. It’s a pattern that constantly happens.
Twisting his words. Speaking on his behalf in false ways.
In undermining the consequences of God’s word, we make God out to be a lair and there is no deceit in the Lord. He is true to his word.
This is part of the reason why it’s so important to have such reverence for the scripture.
Because people are imperfect but God’s word is perfect.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Unfortunately, our society has little Biblical literacy today.
As we continue to study the Israelites, we will see that it had consequences for them and we suffer consequences in our world for a lack of reverence and training in God’s word.
So in the first three commands, we get glimpses of the position where God is to be in our lives: first. We see glimpses of the reverence for how God wants us to approach him.
Originally published June 1, 2018 as “Not taking the Lord’s name in vain – more to it than just bad words.”
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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.