Do Not Take His Name in Vain
If we were to take a poll asking people which of the Ten Commandments they regard as the least significant, I wonder if the “winner” would be the third. When compared to false gods and graven images, the third command doesn’t seem like such a serious offense. But if the one who wrongly uses the name of God incurs guilt, then it must be important—and we need to understand why.
Scripture is clear that God’s name is precious and powerful. One place where we see this is in the encounters between God and Moses. In Exodus 33, Moses asks God to reveal His glory. His request invites a death sentence because it is not possible to see God’s glory and live. But God graciously grants the request in a way that prevents Moses’ demise, for He demonstrates His glory not by a physical manifestation but by revealing His name: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6; emphasis added). His name reveals His character, which in turn reveals His glory.
Earlier, in Exodus 3, God had revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush. Moses had been tasked with a weighty mission and wanted to know what to say when people asked who had sent him. God told Moses to say, “I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). By using a form of the verb to be to name Himself, God declared that He is self-existent, self-sufficient, and sovereign, depending on no one and nothing. Who else can claim such a name?
In declaring and disclosing Himself, God does not merely identify Himself; He reveals the wonder of who He is. So to misuse God’s name is to misunderstand His greatness and glory. Only when we grasp this can we understand why the third commandment is so significant.
In what ways, then, might we break this commandment? For one, we break it every time we use God’s name to strengthen our vows and promises, bringing down the name of divinity in order to make ourselves sound more believable (James 5:12). We also blaspheme God when we use His name in anger, in arrogance, or in defiance of who He is. We misuse His name when we utter falsehoods and use it to back them up. Perhaps closer to home, in every worship service we attend where we worship God with our lips only and not from our heart, we break the third commandment.
Only when we see the glory of God’s name and when we use it in praise, love, prayer, obedience, and gratitude do we understand why our Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9, KJV, emphasis added). His name is to be hallowed because it proclaims who He is, reveals His character, and is a strong refuge for all who call on it (Proverbs 18:10). And it is to be hallowed in the lives of His people—including in your life, as you bear the name of Christ and take it on your lips with reverence and love.
The Burning Bush
1Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
13Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”1 And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord,2 the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 16Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.3 20So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”
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