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.
-Picture the scene – the entire nation of some 3 million have been summoned to gather around the base of Mt. Sinai. They’re standing together in families, husbands and wives side by side, mothers holding their little ones, and dads with their hands on the shoulders of their older children. The summit of the mount is obscured by a bright swirling cloud from which comes bolts of lightening and booms of thunder, and then, deeper and more resonant and piercing than the thunder which has just terrified them, comes the sound of the voice of God as He booms forth the words of the 10 Commandments.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
“You shall make no graven image to worship & serve.”
“You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.”
-What goes through your mind in that moment – when you hear the words of the 3rd commandment? If it were me, I’d be thinking – “Take Your name in vain?!?! How could I ever do that? I mean, listen to that voice! I thought the thunder was scary! But now that I’ve heard Your voice, the thunder will never frighten me again! And Your glory swirling above my head is so awesome, so incredible, I know I’ll be telling my grandchildren about it, trying to describe Your grandeur and glory. But no words I could ever muster could come close to describing it! Take Your name in vain? No worries on that score. In light of what I’m experiencing right now – that should never prove a problem.”
-And yet, within a month, the people had nearly forgotten all Ten of the Commandments. Even with the glory of God still manifest on the Mount, they turned away and began to dream up their own ideas about God and how to worship Him. This reminds us that no matter how far we’ve grown in our relationship with the Lord, no matter how spiritually mature we may be or how intense our experiences of God, there is always the danger of turning from Him.
-Because we live in a fallen world, in unredeemed bodies, we face a constant battle – it’s a battle that wants to alter our knowledge of the nature of God, to pervert our understanding of the His character, and to defame His name.
-The main thrust of the Third Commandment applies to the taking of oaths. In the ancient world, because they didn’t possess writing materials in the abundance we enjoy today, they depended much more on verbal agreements. When two people entered into a legal agreement, they would go to the elders of the city who sat in the gate, and would exchange their vows, pledging to the terms of the contract – all in verbal form. As a way to seal the solemnity of the agreement, they would invoke the name of a deity, of one of the gods they worshipped. This deity was then supposed to hold the parties of the agreement to their vow.
-When God gives the Third Commandment, He means when the people make their vows, because He has just told them they are to have no other gods, they will invoke His name as the witness to their promise – therefore they must be certain to keep their promise, because unlike the false gods of the pagans, He’s real and He will not hold guiltless the one who takes a vow and then breaks it!
-Now, I know that this is not the way this Commandment has been interpreted today. Most people think this is a prohibition of profanity, and specifically of taking the Lord’s name in vain. While this does apply by extension – we need to understand the main meaning of this Commandment first.
-Now what I’m about to say may shock some, but it is true. In the Old Testament, oaths taken in God’s name were encouraged!
Deut. 10:20 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name.
-God even instructed the prophet Jeremiah to tell the people to swear by God’s name as a sign of spiritual fidelity to Him.
Jer. 12:16 And it shall be, if they will learn carefully the ways of My people, to swear by My name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ as they taught My people to swear by Baal, then they shall be established in the midst of My people.
-In the OT, oaths taken in God’s name were understood as a part of the committed life. But once they were made, such oaths were not to be broken under any circumstance.
-Moses repeatedly warned the people about breaking oaths made to God or in His name.
Numbers 30:2 If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Deut. 23:21 When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you.
-The purpose behind the 3rd Commandment was to enforce the idea that God’s people, like their God, must be truthful and full of integrity, that they would mean what they say, say what they mean, and do what they promise; that His covenant -people would be covenant-KEEPERS.
-But once the rabbis were done with their interpretations and additions to the Third Commandment, instead of it being a guarantee of integrity, it had become a clever means of deception. They said that an oath was not binding unless it contained the name of God. The Mishnah, which is a collection of Jewish writings making commentary on the Law, has an entire section on oaths defining which are binding and which aren’t.
-We see how this debate had grown at the time of Christ when He dealt with it in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:33-36 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
-Jesus identifies these particular oaths because they were in use at that time- the rabbis said that an oath taken with heaven, earth, or Jerusalem as a witness weren’t binding because they didn’t invoke God’s name.
-A person who wanted to sound sincere but who in fact was only trying to trick someone into entering an agreement, could swear by one of these without fear of divine wrath when they broke their end of the agreement, or so the rabbis said. These were empty, vain oaths; and while they appeared to be marks of integrity, they were in fact masks behind which deception grew.
-But the rabbis said they did not hold a person bound to the promise because they did not invoke God’s name. Jesus showed the error of such thinking. There’s nothing anyone could ever swear by that isn’t ultimately an invocation of God’s name because as the Creator of all things – It all belongs to Him.
-And that’s why Jesus concludes by saying in v. 37 “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
-Jesus gets back to the original intent of the Third Commandment which was to communicate the idea that the people of God must be like Him- trustworthy, truthful, a people of integrity who keep their promises.
-God’s people don’t even really need to invoke His name in their oaths, or when they make a promise because as His people, His name is already on them! If you’re a Christian – The Name of Christ is ON you! Therefore, there is no other course, no option for us than to be a truthful, promise-keeping people.
-Does God keep His promises? If we are His people, will we? Does God keep His covenant? If we are His people, will we?
-If I make a promise to you, and feel like a have add oaths to it, what does that say about me? It says I’ve given you reason to doubt my integrity, so I have to add solemn words to make you believe I really mean what I’m saying.
-Christian – Let’s heed the Third Commandment because it goes right to the heart of what it means to be the people of God in this world. We took the Lord’s Name the moment we were born again. We cannot bear that name lightly – it’s a glorious Name; a Name that speaks of truthfulness and trustworthiness. It is a covenant-keeping name. We must be men and women who are trustworthy, true, and faithful.
-You and I are called to respect and honor the Lord, not that we would feel the need to change our clothes every time we read His name (as the Jews did), but that the Lord would hold such a holy place in our thinking that it would never, ever cross our minds to do anything that would defame or discredit Him in the minds of others.
-Listen to the words of the Third Command again –
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
-You shall not TAKE it! Do we? – do we take it in vain? – not do we USE it in vain – do we take it?
-When God’s name is being defiled and defamed by those around us, do we take it? Even worse, are we entertained by it?
-Many minority groups today are exerting their collective muscle to resist what they see as historic abuse and prejudice. They say they aren’t going to take it anymore. Decades and sometimes even generations of abuse aren’t going to be tolerated any longer – they’re going to stand up for themselves and not just sit back and take it.
-I think it’s time we adopted that mentality as far as the abuse of God’s name in the popular media. One of the most common profanities you hear today is the abuse of God’s name.
-When “Gone with the Wind” came out in the 30’s, it created a firestorm of debate all because of the use of one profanity at the end of the movie – when Clark Gable uttered the word “damn. Newspapers printed editorials about the debasing of culture, sermons were preached all across the country.
-Today – “damn” is not even one of the words censors care about! It’s used by nearly everyone in the popular media, even many moral conservatives, and as a result, it’s lost its meaning!
-Damn comes from damnation, which refers to the assigning of someone to hell. It’s a curse! The wishing and pronouncement of doom. When someone “damns” something or someone, what they’re saying is they want that person or thing consigned to hell. Now think about it – isn’t this the very opposite of the desire and will of God?
-Didn’t Jesus come to save us from hell? Didn’t He endure the cross all so that we might be saved from such a fate? Friends, the devil has concocted an effective strategy for making light of the work of Christ by gutting the word damn of its real meaning and then spreading it so liberally through modern speech.
-“Gone With the Wind” had 1 profanity and created a massive debate; many new, lauded movies contain hundreds of profanities!
-And you know what? Everyone seems to praise those movies for “good acting” or “realism” or “good action.” Nobody even cares anymore about how offensive the language is.
-One of the most common verbal abuses is the use of God’s name in a profane way. The overall effect is to make God so common that He becomes trivial. The repeated use of His name desensitizes people to His reality and holiness.
-Think about it – Men, how would you like people using your wife’s name as a profanity? Or your mother’s name? Ladies, how would you like your husband’s name, or you son or daughter’s name bantered about by millions of people in an empty, yet mocking fashion?
-We’d be outraged – and every time we heard it, it would grate on our ears like fingers on a chalkboard! Like a dentist’s drill bearing down on our tooth.
-And yet, we will sit in a theater, and listen to one abuse of God’s name after another and hardly even notice. It’s time we stopped taking it – stopped taking His name being used in vain, as a profanity.
-Jesus died for my sins, and I am not going to sit here and listen to you throw His name around like some kind of despised thing!
-One day, at the mention of His Name, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord!
-We ought not be offensive or mean-spirited in our opposition to the misuse of the Lord’s name. As in all things, we must be gentle and polite.
-If we’re going to stand up for His name then we’d better represent it as something lovely and winsome, not prudish, angry or hostile.
-There is no greater honor we can show the name of God than through worship, not just in the songs we sing, but in the lives we live. Worship is more than singing – that’s just one form of worship.
-The truest worship is a life lived before the Face of God – being conscious of the Lord’s presence 24/7/365. Let’s carry the Name of Our God, Jesus Christ, in this world high.
-Do you defame the Lord’s name not verbally, but in how you live? Are you getting drunk, looking at pornography, using bad language, making sexual jokes or laughing at someone’s coarse joking, or lying or deception? Do you know that as a Christian bearing the Lord’s name, that when you do these things, that you are in essence taking the Lord’s name in vain?
-In doing these things, you are not being a representative of the Lord…His nature, His goodness, His honesty. When you do these things, you are bearing bad witness for His name to others…so even by how you live you can defame His name and thus violate the 3rd commandment.
-Christians, we must all be wary of not taking the Lord’s name in vain, not just in our speech, but in our very lifestyles. We must live lives that give honor to the Lord’s name and in our very lifestyles and the way we live and the things we say and do, we must represent the Name that is on our very being as Christians in an uplifted, holy, righteous manner because He is holy and righteous. Let us always represent Him in right manner not by just our speech, but our very lives.
Adapted from a study by Pastor Lance Ralston of Calvary Chapel of Oxnard.