Today I would like to share with you on the topic of honoring God’s name, specifically how we use God’s name in our speech. And this, of course, leads us to the third of the ten commandments.
Exodus 20:7 – “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.” (Also Deuteronomy 5:11)
This is the English Standard Version and is a fairly traditional rendering. The New Living Translation says, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”
Now, we all know this verse, but let’s look at each part carefully so that we know what it teaches. First, we have the phrase –
Take . . . in vain
What does this mean?
- “take” – means to lift up, utter, pronounce
- “in vain” – means in a deceitful, empty, worthless or insincere way
As we saw, some newer translations put these words together and simply say “do not misuse the name.” The idea is don’t use the Name in a deceitful, empty, worthless or insincere way.
Now let’s look at –
God’s personal name is spelled YHWH. This is found over 6,000 times in Old Testament. In our translations this word shows up when you see “LORD” or “GOD” in all capital letters.
In the ancient world Hebrew writing didn’t have vowels, they were only added in when the words were spoken. And since the Name was eventually deemed too holy to speak (in part with regard to the 3rd commandment) its pronunciation was actually forgotten among Jews. So we just have the consonants – YHWH.
A little history here. When Jews read the Bible, they would say “Lord” or sometimes “God” in place of the divine Name in order to avoid saying it. Later, when vowel marks were added to the Hebrew Bible (ninth century), the vowels of the Hebrew word “Lord” or Adonai were put with the divine Name, as a cue to say “Lord.” This is where the word “Jehovah” comes from. When you put the consonants YHWH plus the vowel sounds of “Lord” together, you get “Jehovah.” But it wasn’t until, perhaps as late as the 1500’s in Europe, that people starting reading this as a real word, even though it was not. Now, of course, we have made it a real name or reference for God.
“YaHWeH” seems to be the best pronunciation or the best way to add in the vowels. This is based on some early Christian texts that have vowels with the divine Name, the pronunciation of Samaritan priests who have pronounced the Name throughout the centuries, and archaeological finds with inscriptions that spell out the divine Name.
Well, it’s this personal name of God that is focused on in the 3rd commandment. It says, literally, “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
In New Testament times, Yahweh wasn’t used. But the concerns of this command are applied to other references to God:
- In Romans 2:24 when Paul refers to God’s name being blasphemed, he applies the concern of the third commandment, not to misuse the Name, to the word “God.” (Theos in Greek)
- In Matthew 6:9, when Jesus calls God, “Father” and then prays, “Hallowed be your Name,” he applies the concern of the third commandment, to honor God’s name, to the word “Father.”
So, the scope of the command covers all our references to God: “God,” “Lord,” “Father” and certainly also to “Jesus,” “Christ” and “Spirit.” However we name God, that’s what’s covered by this command.
Now let’s look at –
Wrong uses of God’s Name
First, it should be noted that we can dishonor God’s name without ever saying anything. That’s because we bear God’s name as God’s people and we bear the name of Christ, as Christians. So when we don’t live up to this in our actions, when we sin, we dishonor and thus misuse God’s name (Romans 2:23-24). But we’ll keep to our focus and look at wrongful uses of God’s name with regard to our speech.
1. Swearing falsely. The basic idea here is that if you invoke God’s name in an oath and then, for instance, don’t tell the truth, you have misused God’s name. You use the name to give the appearance of telling the truth, but it is really being used as a cover for a lie.
Leviticus 19:12 makes the connection between swearing oaths and the third commandment. It says, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Swearing falsely profanes the Name.
2. Use of God’s name in profanity. You know how it works, adding the word “damn” to God’s name in anger or saying “Jesus” and/or “Christ” in anger. This is using God’s name to vent our anger or to try to be vulgar or to curse others or to get attention. We treat God’s name as a plaything that is at our disposal. We use God’s name for effect. This is not what God’s name is for.
3. Use of God’s Name to justify our ideas or actions. In Scripture this shows up when people speak in the name of God, for instance prophets, but are really only saying their own thoughts (Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 22:28)
Today we have similar ways of doing this. For instance, politicians, who wrap themselves in “God language” in order to gain legitimacy for their ideas and agendas. And, has there ever been a war that wasn’t warranted by reference to God? And that, paradoxically, on both sides? These are examples of using God’s name to justify our actions, much or all of which have nothing to do with God.
We too need to be careful when we use God’s name to justify our actions. For instance, “I feel like God wants me to quit this job” – when really we just want to quit and don’t want to give the real reason. Or when we say, “God wanted me to tell you such and such . . ..” Well, if he didn’t, you have misused God’s name. You are using it to give more weight to what you have to say, when God doesn’t have anything to do with it.
4. Careless use of the Name. This is where we treat the Name as common, or use it in a casual way. This is, perhaps, where we have the most work to do. For instance everyday exclamations – “God knows!” or “O My God!” (texting OMG) or “For God’s sake.” These phrases may have all begun as real references to God, but that’s not how we use them. In these and in similar examples, what we are doing is trivializing God’s name into a kind of verbal punctuation mark for our conversations. This isn’t what God’s name is for!
Another example would be using God and God’s Name in humor. There may be differences of opinion on this, but it’s my counsel to you that it’s just best to stay away from this. We live in a very casual, informal culture and I am fine with that, but we still need to show deference to God. We need to treat God differently. I would encourage you to leave God out of your humor.
Well, we need to be careful with how we use God’s Name, especially as we look at –
Why this is so serious
A name in the Bible is connected to who you are. It has to do with your reputation and character. 1. So how you use a person’s name reflects how you view the person. When we misuse God’ name we show that we have a low view of God. We don’t understand God’s awesomeness. We don’t have a proper reverence for God in our hearts, and so our mouth speaks out what is in our hearts – words that misuse God’s name.
2. This is serious because we will be judged for doing it. Exodus 20:7 ends with the warning, “The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.” (NLT). This is a promise from God that you don’t want to receive. God looks after his name. Rather, we need to ask for and receive forgiveness from God for our misuses of his name, and learn to be more careful.
Let’s end with looking at –
How to use God’s Name rightly
- Psalm 119:132 – We are to love God’s Name.
- Psalm 102:15 – We are to fear his Name.
- Psalm 113:3 – We are to praise God’s Name.
- Psalm 103:1 – We are to bless God’s Name.
- Matthew 6:9 – We are to hallow God’s name. That is, we are to treat it as special, not common. Just as God is holy, so is his name.
We should only use God’s Name reverently, sincerely, and thoughtfully.