Scripture: “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.” Exodus 20:7 ESV
Observation: Scholars debate the etymology of the Hebrew word šawʾ, translated as “vain” above. Some contend it refers to cursing (using the name to say something harmful toward others), while others argue it applies to any form of misuse. Given this same root word appears three chapters later about “false” reports (23:1), the third commandment likely prohibits saying anything false about God—whether or not it is harmful to others. With this in mind, historical Jewish observance of this commandment forbade speaking the name Yahweh (I AM), opting to refer to God simply as Hashem (Hebrew for “the name”) as a safeguard against saying anything false about him.
Takeaway: So what does this third command say about us? We, the creatures, are prone to expressing ourselves without regard to our Creator, whether motivated by:
- surprise (flippant reaction),
- anger (cursing),
- fear (denying accusations), and
- anxiety (carelessly filling in the gaps in speeches or even prayers).
And what does it say about Yahweh’s attributes? His name speaks to his loving care for us:
- revealing himself to us (Exodus 3:14, John 17:6, 26),
- adopting us (John 1:12),
- communing with us (Micah 4:5, Revelation 3:4),
- rescuing us (Exodus 3:15; 6:6; 15:3), and
- redeeming and protecting us (Psalm 20:1; Luke 24:47).
While the above is certainly not an exhaustive list, it adequately reminds us why we should hallow his name. So perhaps the best way to obey the third commandment is to keep at the fore of our mind that our Lord’s name is above all other names—incomparable and to be treasured with the utmost respect.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for revealing your name to us, which marks our relationship to you as your adopted children. Would you please provoke us through the guidance of your Holy Spirit to revere your name above all other names that we might bring you the glory that is yours alone? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling