Summary: This sermon covers the Second Commandment from Exodus 20:7 to not take the name of the Lord in vain.
THE PRECIOUS NAME OF THE LORD
The use of the name of God played an important role in Israel’s life. Listen to the scriptures that refer to the name of the Lord:
Called on the name of the Lord--Genesis 4:26
Blessed the name of the Lord--Psalm 72:19
Praised the name of the Lord--Psalm 69:30
Trusted the name of the Lord--Isaiah 50:10
Sought refuge in the name of the Lord--Zephaniah 3:12
The “name of the Lord” is used 98 times in Psalms. “Name” is used in the Old Testament 750 times! Names were obviously very important.
Likewise, they were forbidden to misuse the name of the Lord. They were not to:
Profane the name of the Lord--Leviticus 20:3
Blaspheme the name of the Lord--Leviticus 24:16
Curse the name of the Lord--II Kings 2:24
Defile the name of the Lord--Ezekiel 43:8
Abuse the name of the Lord--Proverbs 30:9
Swear falsely by the name of the Lord--Leviticus 19:12
God’s name was associated with God’s being and character. God’s name often went unspoken and unwritten because it was considered so holy. When they saw “Yahweh” written, they would substitute it with Adonai or My Lord. Yahweh, the word that is translated as Lord, was considered so sacred that when the scribes would come to it in their recording, they would wash, put on new clothes, use a new quill, write the name and throw away the quill. This was serious business!
We might loosely compare God’s name to something like trade names that are used in business. They cannot be repeated. Everything around it is associated with that trade name. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructed us to say, “Hallowed be your name.”
A young soldier was causing problems among the other soldiers and was brought before Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great asked the soldier, “What’s your name?” The young soldier replied, “Alexander.” Alexander the Great then said, “Either change your name or change your conduct.” In the scriptures, when someone’s character changed, so did their name. So it’s no longer Abram, but Abraham. It’s not longer Sarai, but Sarah. It’s no longer Saul, it’s Paul. It’s no longer Simon, it’s Peter.
The exact meaning of the commandment and original translation would be something like, “You shall not use God’s name in an empty or groundless way.” “Vain” can mean empty, idle, insincere, phony, frivolous, lacking in reality or truth. For instance, to use God’s name in the same breath as a falsehood, such as saying, “I swear to God,” when God’s truth is furthest from the statement. Perjury is one of the concerns.
The way this commandment can fail to be followed can take several forms. As John Wesley put it, “If we make promises to God, and perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain.” Perhaps not keeping our church membership vows, vows that pastor’s make or even marriage vows.
We can break this commandment when we misuse God’s name, perhaps by attributing evil things to God, saying God caused some catastrophe or saying “God told me something” yet not confirming that through prayer and consultation with the saints of God.
It has been said that it means to not use God’s name for a false or evil purpose, such as casting spells or doing magic. Not to use God’s name in swearing false oaths, which means that illegal, immoral or life-depriving activities should not be executed in God’s name. Bible Scholar Brevard Childs puts it this way, it means not to use God’s name “to support a false oath which had the intent of inflicting evil upon another.”
A pastor tells a story about visiting a family who had recently attended his church and were interested in becoming members. After some time of casual conversation, the man’s wife said to her husband, “You have to tell him what’s going on here!” Her husband became silent and looked down. “The relationship between my husband and my son is horrible! They pass each other in the hallways without speaking to each other or looking at one another. It all started over an incident that we can barely remember. My husband was mad at my son over something and swore to God that he would never speak to him again.” The husband joined in, “That’s right. I made a vow to God and I have to keep that vow.” The pastor was appalled and responded, “God does not honor that kind of vow. You need to put this behind you and restore your relationship with your son.”
John Wesley went on to say that this commandment includes: not being hypocritical by making a profession of God’s name but not living up to that profession. It also means not using the name of God lightly and carelessly.