Summary: We need to hold the name of God in reverence with our tongue and our lives.
Please turn with me to Exodus 20:1-17, as we read our text tonight.
In Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland”, Alice was having a conversation with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare one afternoon. And the March Hare scolded her, saying, “You should say what you mean!”
Alice said, “I do — at least, I mean what I say — that’s the same thing you know.”
The Mad Hatter says, “It’s not the same thing a bit! You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
The March Hare adds, “You might just as well say “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”
We know that it’s not the same thing, and as Christians we need to say what we mean and we mean what we say, especially when it comes to God. Tonight we will look at the Third Commandment
"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 very name of God is sacred. The Jews took this command so strictly that they avoided pronouncing God’s name altogether. They were so afraid of using it in vain that it got to the point where it was pronounced only once a year, that was by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
When we were in Nashville a Rabbi told me the story about a class of students who were studying Hebrew under an orthodox Jewish rabbi. One day the students were reading the Hebrew text out loud. One of the rules of the class was that when you came to the name of God you were not to pronounce what was in the text. You were to change the name to “Adnonai” which is Hebrew for Lord.
Well one of the students inadvertently pronounced the name of God and upon hearing it the rabbi put his hands over his ears and ran from the classroom. No one saw him for several days. When he finally surfaced again they found that he considered himself so unworthy of hearing the name of God that he spent days in prayer asking for forgiveness.
Now, I think we would all agree that that seems just a little bit extreme. What’s the big deal? In fact, you might even wonder why the name of God is even mentioned in the third commandment. Why didn’t God just say, “I am the Lord, and you need to take me seriously”?
After all, as Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”
And there is a degree to which that is true. The four-legged creature we call a "dog" could just as easily have been called a "zuffle" and it really wouldn’t have made much difference.
But, in another sense, Shakespeare was very, very wrong. Names do make a difference.
Trista and I agonized over what we were going to name the Boys. We went through 20 books or so, and spent hours on the Internet. We wanted something that didn’t remind us of anyone else and at the same time sounded strong and compassionate. To be honest we didn’t even consider Judas, or Ahab because we understand that names do stand for something.
In the scriptures, the significance of a person’s name defined their life. A name wasn’t just a label. It stood for the person, revealed his character and identified his role. And sometimes they needed a name change.