Summary: The Third Commandment reminds us to honor God in our manner of worship and living. We are to worship and live in reverence and humility, not misusing God's name, for His name means salvation to those who believe.
“Revering God’s Name” Exodus 20:7
We have been studying some of the threads of the Gospel in the Old Testament as the Drama of God’s salvation has unfolded throughout history. We are looking at the Ten Commandments and today we examine the third commandment from Exodus 20:7; Let’s read Exodus 20:1-7:
"And God spoke all these words, saying: 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 "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.”
God’s Name is to be Honored
Some lines from Shakespeare are very renowned and used often. Juliet says this to Romeo: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.” (“A rose by any name smells the same.”) For the people in Shakespeare’s story, a name was insignificant for Romeo and Juliet compared to their deep relationship, but that is not the case with God’s Name. The third commandment given to us by the One True Holy God is this: “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.” If you believe in the God who created all things and revealed Himself as the “I AM” God, then He alone is to be worshiped. The Everlasting Almighty Holy God teaches the manner in which He is to be worshiped and that His name is to be revered and honored.
The ancient Hebrew scribes took this commandment so seriously that whenever they wrote God’s name, they would wash their hands before and after transcribing it. After 200 AD, Jews would not even speak God’s Name for fear of breaking the third commandment. What a contrast to today’s society where OMG is habitually used in texts and used in TV and movies so often that it sickens the heart. (“Oh, my God” is the expression and I don’t even like to use it as an illustration. Some other euphemisms are “golly”, “gee”, “Oh my gosh”, “doggone”.)
God’s choice of Hebrew words in this commandment is very important in helping us to understand this command; Let me explain some of the words used in this verse.
1. “The Hebrew word “nasa”, translated “you shall not take," means to “lift up”. It is widely used to describe “willful misuse or manipulation of an item or idea.” It is used both figuratively and literally. Here are some of the ways it is used: to lift up your hand in taking an oath, to lift up one’s head as in restoration to honor or joy, to lift up the eyes as in love or desire of men or of God, to lift up your voice as in weeping, praying or singing. Another way it is used is in “carrying” guilt or punishment, but the third category of the same word stressed “the taking away” or forgiveness of sin and guilt.) The idea is this: Do not “lift up” God’s Name inappropriately. Do not misuse His Name.
2. “The Hebrew word for "name," “shem”, also means reputation, fame or glory. “Name” in the Old Testament included a description of character and set one person apart from another. The word, “shem”, also suggests something high or elevated, implying that God’s name is majestic and excellent. Psalm 8:9 proclaims that truth: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” God’s name marks Him as the most outstanding in all of the universe. His name signifies everything about His glorious nature, His reputation and character, and distinctiveness, setting Him apart from all other beings as the Only One Eternal and Everlasting God; God’s very essence is concentrated in His name.
3. Misusing the name of God is clarified by the final phrase "in vain," translated from the Hebrew word “shav”; “Shav” is a noun meaning "emptiness, nothingness, vanity, emptiness of speech, lying, or worthlessness." Using the Lord’s name “in vain” is to speak of God with irreverence or disrespect, speaking of God in an unworthy or frivolous manner. The name of the Lord is holy in that same way that He is holy. His name is a representation of His glory, His majesty, and His supreme deity. We are to esteem and honor His name as we revere and glorify God Himself. To do any less is to take His name in vain.