“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).
Names are very important. The first question on almost every application form is “What is your name?” Companies protect their names and make sure no one uses them for illegal purposes. Names also speak of the character of the people they belong to. For example, what springs to mind when we hear the name ‘Adolph Hitler’, ‘Osama bin Laden’, ‘John Newton’ or Florence Nightingale’? Solomon said, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1). How do we feel when our names are misused? If we have a good name we want people to speak of us in a honourable way.
What is in a name?
God’s name is far more important than our own. His name expresses His nature and character. How do we use God’s name? What meaning do we attach to His name? Do we know God well enough to use His name correctly? The majority of people in this world use God’s name as a curse word.
When God created the first man He gave him the name “Adam” which means, “man.” When woman was created she was named “Eve,” which means “mother of all living.” God changed “Abram” to “Abraham”, which means “father of multitudes.” The name “Esau” means “red and hairy,” because Esau was red and hairy when he was born. Jacob was the twin brother of Esau and was second to be born but he had a grip on Esau’s heal as he was born, thus he was named “heal-grabber.” It was a name he lived up to throughout most of his life. Later God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which signified that he was a “prince of God.” The name Samuel means, “asked of God,” because his mother pleaded to God for a son. Names mean something.
Many of the names for God seen in the Bible reveal a important truth about God’s character. God provided a lamb to be offered as Abraham raised his knife to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. It was then that Abraham called God “Jehovah-jireh,” which means, “God will provide” (Genesis 22:8), because God provided a ram instead of Isaac.
Moses called God “Jehovah-nissi” when God gave Israel victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17:14). Joshua went out to fight them while Aaron and Moses went to the top of the mountain to pray. As long as Moses held up his hands to heaven Joshua’s forces prevailed. “Jehovah-nissi” means “The Lord is my banner.” It was this aspect of God’s character that the psalmist remembered when he called upon God, “O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again. Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh. Thou hast showed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment. Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah. That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me” (Psalms 60:1-5).
When God called Gideon to fight the Philistines an angel appeared to Gideon reassuring him of God’s call to deliver his people from oppression, “Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites” (Judges 6:24), “Jehovah-shalom” means, “the Lord is our peace.” The altar remained there as a memorial after Gideon’s victory. These names were used to describe God’s majesty, glory, power and greatness.
The word “God”, in Exodus 20:7 is translated from the Hebrew word “Elohim”, which means “God is the faithful and the strong one.” Many Jewish names ended with the letters “el,” which were an abbreviation for “Elohim”, such as Daniel, Joel and Israel.
Taking God’s Name in vain
The third commandment is about lifting God’s name up in vain. The Hebrew word translated “take” means “to lift up”. This reveals that we must not lift up God’s name in a blasphemous or profane way. God does not want His name attached to that which is dishonourable. But the commandment goes beyond simply using God’s name disrespectfully. We are right to be concerned when we hear people of the world use God’s name as a curse word, but the commandment was not given to the world, instead it was given to those in a covenant relationship with God. It was given to those whom God had chosen as His people.
The commandment is applied to those who claim that they are the children of God, “If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD” (Deuteronomy 28:58-59). As God’s people it is our responsibility to correctly represent His name to the world. We are to live honourably and to bring glory and honour to His name. God has delivered us from sin, and expects us to exalt His name in the world. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). No matter what kind of name a person may have, they cannot be saved without God’s name. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). God does not want us using His name unless it is for the purpose of prayer and teaching His word.
When we as Christians take up the name of Christ, we take up God’s name. The names for God in the Old Testament were progressively revealed. God is now fully revealed to us in Christ. If we have seen Christ we have seen God, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Matthew wrote, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). To take upon ourselves the name “Christian” we are saying that God is with us and we accept the responsibility of honourably lifting God’s name to the world. “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:14-17).
To exalt God’s holy name we must know Him personally. We are not going to know how to exalt the name of God until we seek Him with all our hearts. To exalt Him we must know His word and His will. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The major reason Christians become bored with church, prayer, Bible study and worship is because they are not personally experiencing God in their daily lives. Too many churches are trying to make everything exciting for its members. How excited are we about what God is doing in our lives?
In Psalms 23:1, David calls God, “Jehovah-Rohi,” which means, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” David discovered God as his Shepherd as he sought to do the will of God with all of his heart. We must know God as our Shepherd too. We sometimes sing the hymn which says, “Have Thine own way Lord, Have Thine own way, hold o’er my being absolute sway! Fill with Thy Spirit, Till all shall see Christ only, always, Living in me.” But do we study God’s word to learn His will that He might lead us and fill us with His Spirit? How can God be our Shepherd if He does not hold over our lives absolute sway? “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).
I once returned a credit card to its owner because her name was embossed on it. Can the world trace our lives to Christ because they can see His name engraved on our hearts? Do we see the results of His name in our lives? Are we glorifying God by being changed into His image? Paul writes, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17). If we are not living the true Christian life, then we are taking God’s name in vain.