Ex 20:7, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
Deut 5:11, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
The 3rd Commandment must be understood in line with the two preceding, as of equal breadth and equally fundamental. The 1st dealt with internal worship, the 2nd external worship, now with the 3rd we have the profession of the mouth in true adoration of God. As the 2nd Commandment concerned the issue of exercising power over God, so the 3rd turns its attention to exercising God’s power over others or selfishly towards self-interest. Therefore, this commandment is not confined to the use of the name of God in oaths, whether false or trivial, No! It includes much more.
“You shall not take,” is the Hebrew negative Particle LO and the Qal Imperfect of NASA, ָנשָׂא for “take” that means, “to lift, to bear, to carry,” or sometimes “to forgive.” Here the context is the “use of” your words, beginning with the swearing of a false oath utilizing God’s name as a guarantee that you are actually speaking the truth, when in reality you are not. So, it means the lifting up of the voice in some form or fashion against God as noted in the next phrase.
The “name,” SHEM, שֵׁם, that you should not use in such falsehood, is the name of, “the Lord,” YHWH, יְהָוה, “your God,” ELOHIM, אֱלֹהִים.
The “name” of God stands for so much more than the mere pronouncing of His title of address. Unlike modern English, “name” is not restricted to “label.” It refers to one’s reputation or character. One’s name is a reflection of oneself. So, to use someone’s name is the equivalent of having their “power of attorney,” cf. John 14:13-14. As such, we see in Scripture that the “name” of the Lord includes:
1) His nature, being, and very person, Psa 20:1; Luke 24:47; John 1:12; cf. Rev 3:4.
2) His teaching or doctrine, Psa 22:22; John 17:6, 26.
3) His moral and ethical teaching, Micah 4:5.
No doubt, perjury and profane swearing are included in the breadth of this prohibition, but it reaches far beyond them. The name of God is the declaration of His being and character. We take “His name in vain” when we speak of Him unworthily that includes many glib and formal prayers, any mechanical, route, or self-glorifying worship, etc.
Ezekiel said that when the Israelites went into captivity, making the Babylonians believe that their gods were mightier than YHWH, the Israelites had “brought shame on (God’s) holy name,” Ezek 36:19-21. Thus, at the heart of this commandment is the call for the covenant partner to do nothing that would portray God as anything less than absolutely holy, to do nothing that would seek to use Him for their own ends, and to do nothing that would cause the world to see Him as less than He is.
In addition, it is not that the Israelites could not use the name of YHWH, even to swear an oath, Deut 6:13; 10:20, but they could not use His name if they were lying, swearing falsely, deviously entering into a contract with someone, or doing anything that would impugned the name of the Lord. This is found in the context of the phrase, “in vain.”
In fact, over the years, some have taken this commandment to mean you could not “swear” in a court of law using the name of God as your guarantor. But that is not the case. NASA is not the official word for “swear” in Hebrew. That word is SHABA, and SHABA is what Moses would have written had he meant “swear,” cf. Gen 21:23-24. Therefore, it does not mean that this commandment is against oaths. Certain people have come to this over the ages and say the Bible says, “Thou shalt not raise up the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” and this means if I go into a court, I cannot put my hand on the Bible and swear. Yet, that is absolutely not what this commandment says. This is not “swear,” SHABA, it is NASA, which means to lift or raise up and includes the application of oaths done falsely or with deceit, but it includes a far greater area than just a formal oath.
In addition, the later Israelite tradition of never speaking the name YHWH or replacing it with KURIOS in the Greek translation is not to be applied from this or any other verses. It is hard to see how refusing ever to use a name is equivalent to honoring it. On the contrary, we should observe that Deut 10:20, actually mandates the use of God’s name, YHWH, in taking an oath before any tribunal. Failure to do so is therefore an act of disobedience toward the God who commanded it.
Deut 10:20, “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear (SHABA) by His name.”
Therefore, this commandment does not exclude legitimate oaths, for they appear frequently, e.g., Deut 6:13; Psa 63:11; Isa 45:23; Jer 4:2; 12:16; Rom 1:9; 9:1; 1 Cor 15:31; Phil 1:8; Rev 10:5-6.
“In Vain,” is the Preposition LE that means here, “with or in,” and the Noun SHAW, שָׁוְא, (shav), that means, “worthlessness, falsehood, vanity, emptiness, evil, ruin, uselessness, deception, without result, fraud, deceit, etc.” The primary meaning of the word is deceit, lie, or falsehood. Literally, this sentence reads, “You shall not lift up (use) the name of the Lord your God in a deceitful manner.”
We will note this word again in the 9th Commandment found in Deut 5:20, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” in regard to lying in a court of law, which is forbidden.
In the 3rd Commandment, it refers to claiming God as your witness that what you say is true, when in fact it is not. The prohibition involves using the name of God to cover a lie, such as, “May God strike me dead,” or “God is my witness.” It also covers the attachment of God’s name to some project or action that someone would like to see undertaken or adopted by claiming that “It is God’s will.”
The same construction, LE SHAW we have in Ex 20:7, is also seen in Jer 18:15, regarding idols and false god worship.
Jer 18:15, NASB, “For My people have forgotten Me, they burn incense to worthless gods and they have stumbled from their ways, from the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths, not on a highway.”
This passage should read, “For My people have forgotten Me, in vain they burn incense, (to false gods), and they have stumbled from their ways, from the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths, not on a highway.”
Worshipping idols is declared worthless and a waste of time in Jeremiah. As we previously noted, idols have no power or strength to do anything. But when people fall away from worshipping and serving the One and only God, they forget about Him and fall into reversionism following false pagan god worship.
Seeing the similar use of SHAW, “vain,” in our verse and Jeremiah, we could say that “taking the name of the Lord in vain,” also has a connotation of false pagan god worship, either to the exclusion of the worship and service of the true God of Israel or in conjunction with Him.
In addition, when the Israelite would come to offer his sacrifice to God, if he did not truly believe its meaning and significance in his heart, He was doing it in vain, because it had no true meaning to him.
The same goes for you and I of the Church Age, we can confess our sins and pray all we want, but if we do not understand or believe in what we are doing, it is just a waste of time, cf. 1 John 5:14-15. Likewise, if you try to worship or serve God without the filling of the Holy Spirit, it is dissipation, Eph 5:18. Or if you go to church and perform all the rituals, thinking the ritual performance, (your good works), is what will save you, you are wasting your time.
Therefore, as the 1st Commandment states, God was and is the One true and only God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt and entered into a personal covenant relationship with the
Israelites, Ex 20:1-3. As such, they were not to enter into a relationship with other false gods, the 2nd Commandment, vs. 4-6. This meant that they were to have a very personal commitment of heart, soul, and life style to God Himself. We find the essence of the Covenant of grace expressed in Lev 26:12, “I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.” Cf. 2 Cor 6:16. As such, to misuse or speak flippantly the name of the Almighty YHWH, the covenant-keeping God, manifested an impious disrespect toward the Lord Himself, Cf. Lev 18:21; 19:12; 20:3.
Lev 19:12, “And you shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.”
Lev 18:21, “Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.”
“Walking with God,” and “being His people,” involves more than affirming a proposition in theology or a matter of mere theory. It implies a personal heart commitment between the Redeemer and His redeemed. More than living to please the Lord and measure up to his standards of conduct, this Covenant includes a very personal commitment of heart, soul, and life style to God Himself.
Therefore, the Israelites were not to use His name for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose, cf. Lev 19:12. This is a directive against using God’s name in a manipulative way, (e.g., His name is not to be used in vulgarity, profanity, magic, or incantations). For example, the Moabite King Balak attempted to hire Balaam to magically curse the Israelites in the name of the Lord, Num 22-24. People should not use His name for selfish or evil purposes, cf. Psa 139:20, thereby seeking to usurp His authority. Therefore, in ancient, as well as in modern times, God’s name was not to be invoked for some purely selfish human purpose.
Psa 139:20, “For they speak against You wickedly, and Your enemies take Your name in vain.”
J. Vernon McGee noted in, “Thru The Bible,” “Many people cannot express themselves without using profanity. A man who was wonderfully converted several years ago in Texas once told me, “When I was converted, I lost over half of my vocabulary!”
To say it another way, your name stands for your character and reputation, what you are and what you do, John 17:6, 26. When you say that someone has “a bad name,” you are not criticizing what is written on his birth certificate. You are warning me that the man cannot be trusted. If God is the greatest being in the universe, then His name is the greatest name and must be honored as such. In fact, the first petition in the Lord’s template prayer is, “Hallowed be Your name,” Mat 6:9.
Therefore, we blaspheme God’s name by using vulgar language, making a promise, or taking an oath when we know we will not fulfill the commitment. All of this is making worthless or cheapening His name and blaspheming God, see Lev 19:12, once again.
On the positive side is the requirement that our speech of God should fit our thought of God, and our thought of Him should fit His Name; that our words should mirror our affections, and our affection be a true reflection of His beauty, love, and glory; that cleansed lips shall reverently utter the Name above every name.
In addition, this command is designed to keep people free from being falsely accused or convicted, or erroneously coerced into some action by bringing in God’s name. God’s name is rightly and legitimately used in our prayer, praise, thanksgiving, love towards God, doctrinal communication, and worship. It is a name of power, strength, reverence, and refuge.
Prov 18:10, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.”
Then we have the warning of discipline for committing this sin, “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” This is the warning of Divine discipline towards the one or one(s) that break this commandment.
“For the Lord” is the Conjunction KI, with the Noun YHWH; His proper name.
“Will not hold him guiltless,” is the negative Particle LO, and Verb NAQAH, נקָה that means, “to be free, to exempt, to be innocent, or acquit.” In other words, He won’t let them off the hook! They will fall under His sovereign Divine judgment / discipline. That is, God will not leave him unpunished.
“Who takes” is the Qal Imperfect of NASA, “lifts up.”
“His name,” is SHEM, and “vain,” is LE SHAW. Therefore, this warning of discipline is for anyone who profanes, trivializes, or abuses the name of God, as we have noted above.
Given the linkage to the 1st and 2nd Commandments, this too means having a negative relationship or more strongly an antagonistic relationship with God. It is a symptom of having other gods before Him, worshipping, and serving them.
After the heart, comes the soul, and then comes the lips. The lips speak what is in the soul, and what is in the soul comes from the heart. If sin is there, then sinful words come from the lips. As such, both mental and verbal sins are now in the life of this sinner, along with their antagonism towards God. The covenant sinner will be discipline by God to get him back on the high road of righteousness and a relationship with God.
In the relationship of love, prayer provides a right and proper form of communication with God, always expressing gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving. The person whose prayers are concentrated on their own advantage, and invokes God’s name as a means to an end, is subject to the solemn warning.
The sinner may hold himself guiltless, and think there is no harm in it, and that God will never call him to an account for it, yet God will not hold him guiltless, as he hopes He will. God Himself will be the avenger of those that take His name in vain; and they will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Likewise, when a maximum number of people in a national entity habitually take the name of the Lord in vain, national disintegration follows and results in Divine Judgment on the nation. This is seen in the vision of Zechariah of the “flying scroll.” The flying scroll of YHWH was an embodiment of God’s judgment through the Holy Spirit who reveals sin. It was a written source for indictment on those who stole and those who took the Lord’s name in vain, Zech 5:3ff.
New Testament Usage:
As noted previously, God is the greatest being in the universe, His name is the greatest name and must be honored as such. That is why the first petition in the Lord’s template prayer is, “Hallowed be Your name,” Mat 6:9.
Our Lord reminded the Pharisees about one aspect of this commandment in Mat 5:33-37. The legalistic Pharisees were interpreting Ex 20:7, and Lev 19:12, cf. Num 30:3; Deut 23:22, in such a way that they distinguished between taking an oath by the name of God or by created things, cf. Mat 23:16-22. The first was considered binding, while the second allowed for withdrawal. But God is Lord over all His creation; thus any breaking of an oath insults His name.
The fact that the old-time rabbis made a difference between oaths, making it more serious to break some of them than others, led to evasions of the truth and to less and less faith in each other. This is similar to how certain denominations make some sins more egregious than others by classifying them “mortal” and “venial.” Yet, in God’s eyes, a sin is a sin, is a sin.
Therefore, this does not exclude legitimate oaths, e.g., Rom 1:9; 9:1; 1 Cor 15:31; Phil 1:8; Rev 10:5-6, but instead of swearing all these oaths, especially the ones you do not intend to keep, believers are to be simple, honest, and sincere where your “yes,” means “yes,” and your “no,” means “no,” Mat 5:37. There is no need for legalistic swearing; just down right Biblical honesty is all that is necessary.
The followers of Jesus should be known as men and women of their word. If they are known to have an honorable regard for truth, then what they say will be accepted without the support of any oath. The idea that a man or woman can be trusted to speak the truth only when under oath (if then) springs from dishonesty and suspicion, and tends to weaken mutual confidence in the exchanges of everyday life. No one demands an oath from those whose word is known to be their bond; even a solemn oath on the lips of others tends to be taken with a grain of salt.
By debunking this one aspect of “taking the Name of YHWH in vain,” Jesus also points to the intent of the Commandment. To think, act, and speak in righteousness. When you do, you are a witness through your life of the righteousness of God and lift up His name on high. But when you do not walk in righteousness, you are lifting up His name in vain, as your life reflects sin and Satan’s cosmic system rather than God.
2 Tim 2:19, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness”.”
For the Church Age, God the Father has revealed Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, KURIOS IESOUS CHRISTOS. Having the name “Lord,” which is KURIOS in the Greek that is equivalent to YHWH in the Hebrew, tells us that Jesus is YHWH. Therefore, His name Jesus meaning, “YHWH is salvation,” or Christ meaning, “Anointed One,” should NOT be taken in vain. Cf. Phil 2:9; Eph 1:21.
Phil 2:9, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.”
Eph 1:21, “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”
The New Testament tells us that those who rely on the Law to save them or even to live the Christian way of life take the Lord’s name in vain, Rom 2:24.
In fact, the anti-Christ of the Tribulation will be “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Rev 13:6, “And he (the Beast – anti-Christ) opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.”
Paul’s apostolic authority and power was based on the “Name” of Jesus Christ, 1 Cor 1:10; 5:4.
1 Cor 1:10, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
1 Cor 5:4, “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
All that we do in the Christian life should be done unto the Lord. Therefore, we are to live it so as to glorify Him and not defame, slander, or blaspheme His name, Col 3:17; 2 Thes 1:12; Heb 6:10; 13:15; Rev 2:13; 3:8.
Col 3:17, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
2 Thes 1:12. “In order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ”
Heb 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”
Heb 13:15, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
Heb 2:12, “I WILL PROCLAIM YOUR NAME TO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING YOUR PRAISE.”
Rev 2:13, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”
Rev 3:8, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
In the eternal state, we will be sealed with and recognized by the Name of Jesus Christ, Rev 22:4.
Rev 22:4, “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”
The warning aspect of the 3rd Commandment is not directly reiterated in the New Testament, but we do have the doctrine of Divine Discipline stated throughout, for those who fall into carnality, reversionism, and apostasy, cf. 1 Cor 11:30; Heb 12:5-11; Rev 3:19. This includes the doctrine of compound Divine discipline, where we understand that for verbal sins there first had to be mental attitude sins. If either or both are persistent in our lives, God will discipline each and the doubling effect occurs when we have both mental attitude and verbal sins in our lives.
Therefore, James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you, (lift you up).”