Summary: A sermon on the third commandment
When the 1960s ended, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district reverted to high rent, and many hippies moved down the coast to Santa Cruz. They had children and got married, too, though in no particular sequence. But they didn’t name their children Melissa or Brett. People in the mountains around Santa Cruz grew accustomed to their children playing Frisbee with little Time Warp or Spring Fever. And eventually Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise all ended up in public school. That’s when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. Every fall, according to tradition, parents bravely apply name tags to their children, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus. So it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy’s name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it. “Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?” they offered. And later, “Fruit Stand, how about a snack?” He accepted hesitantly. By the end of the day, his name didn’t seem much odder than Heather’s or Sun Ray’s. At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. “Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?” He didn’t answer. That wasn’t strange. He hadn’t answered them all day. Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn’t matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed was the word, “Anthony.” Luanne Oleas in Salinas, California, Reader’s Digest
Names are important to us, especially our own. A name is more than a means of identifying someone. It conveys information about our family, social and economic status, race and sometimes religion too. The mere mention of some names would elicit an immediate emotional response from you. What images come to mind when I say Sadam Hussein or David Letterman? How about Graham or Gotti? Have you ever known anyone who named their baby boy, Judas, or their baby girl, Jezebel?
Those names conjure up images that even nonreligious people resist. If you’ve had children there were certain names you would not consider because they reminded you of someone you did not like in school. On the flip side, we tend to name our kids after people who we feel good about. Names are important.
In the third of the Ten Commandments we find that God is protective of his name. We are commanded to proceed with extreme caution in handling the name of the Almighty.
"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. NKJV
"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. NIV
God is so concerned about the proper use of his name that there’s a promise of punitive action if it’s misused. Literally, God told his people not to lift up or take up his name with emptiness. Those of you who grew up reading an older translation of the Bible may remember this commandment as saying, “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Vanity means “nothingness” or “trivial.” To take God’s name in vain means that it has been treated lightly, not taken seriously.
The Jews were diligent concerning this commandment.
God’s name was so sacred to the Jews that it was pronounced only once a year by the high priest when giving the blessing on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27).
Michael G. Moriarty, The Perfect 10: The Blessings of Following God’s Commandments in a Post Modern World, p. 80
This reverence for the name of God holds true even today. One seminary professor told his students of a time when he was studying Hebrew under an orthodox Jewish rabbi. On that particular 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. Instead, students were to say “Adnonai” which is the Hebrew equivalent of “Lord.”
Here’s a little Bible study lesson for you. If you’re reading the Old Testament and come across the word “LORD” in all capital letters, it stands for YHWH, God’s covenant name. YHWH basically means “the One who Is.”
“YHWH” = “LORD” (Jehovah, Adonai, Yahweh)
Back to the story: In the class with the Jewish rabbi, one of the students inadvertently pronounced the name of God. Upon hearing it, the rabbi groaned loudly, put his hands over his ears and fled 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.