“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
Commandment 3: Thou Shalt Not Take The Name Of The Lord In Vain
The First Commandment instructs man to reverence the Person of God, serving Him alone. The Second Commandment instructs man to reverence the worship of God by not identifying the eternal, invisible God with an idol; we are forbidden to substitute any image for the Living God. The Third Commandment, which we now come to, reminds us that even the name of God is sacred and must be treated as such.
Although the Third Commandment surely includes such, it is not simply limited to using the holy name of God as a curse, byword, or utterance of profanity. The term in vain refers to any false use or misuse of the name of God. Nor was the original intention to prohibit the swearing of an oath by the name of the Lord. The Lord Jesus taught His followers to abolish the practice (Matt. 5:33-37), but God was precisely the One by Whom the Hebrews were instructed to swear in their oaths (e.g., Deut. 6:13, 10:20, and Ps. 63:11). We understand that, under the New Testament, we should not swear at all, but under the Law of Moses a person was only guilty of profaning the name of God when they either lied by His name or failed to honor an oath wherein they had bound themselves by that name.
To take the name of the Lord in vain is a sin committed whenever the name of God is invoked or uttered in any manner that blasphemes or dishonors it. Obviously, to speak the name of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, or even the Holy Spirit in a filthy or profane connnotation violates the Third Commandment, but so does uttering these names in insincerity, disobedience, or deception. The atheist who calls upon the Lord to “damn” his golf club after he slices a tee shot is guilty of taking God’s name in vain, as is the travelling “faith healer” who uses the name of Christ to enrich himself, or the unconverted church member who happily prays in the name of Jesus yet does not even know Him. The name of the Lord is grossly misused and abused in all of these cases.
Should We Use His Name At All?
“I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 69:30)
Many modern Jews, and even some Christians, refuse to even write out the name “God” on paper or on their computer for fear of inadvertently taking His name in vain. They will write “G-d” or some other substitutionary spelling to keep from accidentally blaspheming the name of the Lord by writing it insincerely. I have also heard that some people believe that if the paper on which God’s name is written is ever destroyed or disposed of, His holy name will be dishonored and blasphemed — I don’t know if there are those who really believe this, but such a belief is more akin to pagan superstition than orthodox Judaism or Christianity.
It became the practice of ancient Hebrews to substitute the word “Adonai” (Lord) for “Jehovah” (God’s proper name) in order to prevent the misuse of that name by simply forbidding it to ever be spoken or written. To this day, no one is even certain how to correctly pronounce the four letters of God’s Hebrew name (YHWH, sometimes said as Jehovah, other times as Yahweh) because of the taboo against speaking the name aloud. Yet, in Scripture, it is the misuse of God’s name that is prohibited, not the reverential, proper use of it. In fact, we see repeatedly in both Testaments the admonition to praise the name of God and to give thanksgiving to that name.
God’s name is sacred and holy and we blaspheme that name when we misuse or abuse it. But the Lord never intended man to not speak His name, on the contrary, He shared His name with mankind that we might give Him glory by praising that name. It is right and proper to honor the name of the Lord when we worship and serve Him. But the Lord will not hold them guiltless who take that name in vain.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,