According to Jesus, the first priority of prayer is to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” This priority is rooted in the THIRD COMMANDMENT, Exodus 20:7—
You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
TO MISUSE the Name of Yahweh your God is the opposite of TO HALLOW it. Desecration of God’s Name has become commonplace in modern times, and yet it is among the most serious of all sins!
THE THIRD COMMANDMENT is designed to protect the Divine Name from being used in any way that brings God or God’s purposes for the world into disrepute.
It assumes the close relationship of name and reputation. A name is a precious thing; the way in which people talk about others—such as gossip or other vain and hurtful talk—will affect their standing in the community. In many ways, the NINTH COMMANDMENT—‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”—does for the people what the THIRD does for God.
In Biblical usage, a NAME is an expression of character standing for the person. To trust in the Name of God is to trust in God. To pray for God’s Name be HALLOWED is to render acknowledged reverence for the LORD. Intelligent beings of heaven and earth hallow God’s name with affections, honor, love and fear. Of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the first three are in behalf of the cause of God: the glory of His Name, the extension of his kingdom, and the prevailing of His will.
A primary concern of God in Exodus to this point has been that His Name be declared throughout the earth and the effect it will have on the people who hear it. His people who are called by His name must not ruin His reputation!
Will the world be drawn to it or repelled by it or remain in different to it? It largely depends upon God’s people who are called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. At the deepest level, use of God’s Name is a matter of MISSION. God’s mission for the world is linked to the use of His Name as asserted in Psalm 48:10 and 86:9—
Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth . . . All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.
Therefore, the THIRD COMMANDMENT is a strict prohibition not to damage God’s reputation in the world—YOU SHALL NOT MISUSE THE NAME OF YAHWEH YOUR GOD. Literally, the command reads, “You shall not lift up the name of Yahweh your God LASHSHAW. The adverbial phrase LASHSHAW denotes in VAIN, VAINLY, TO NO AVAIL. The primary meaning is EMPTINESS.
Most think of taking the name of the LORD in vain as swearing or cursing. If they don’t cuss, they don’t break it. But this commandment reaches far beyond profanity! It includes using the LORD’S name lightly, unthinkingly, or by rote—TO MISUSE God’s name in any way! Perhaps the Greek OT captured the best translation of LASHSHAW with THOUGHTLESSLY. Hence, it is to treat God lightly, irreverently, or insincerely.
How might we misuse, thoughtlessly or vainly God’s Name?
FIRST, we misuse God’s Name by HYPOCRISY, making profession of God’s Name, but not living up to that profession. If we call ourself a Christian, but are not Christ-like in our walk and talk, we desecrate the Name of our LORD.
Chapters 13 and 14 of Deuteronomy are an extension of the Third Commandment. These two chapters state firmly and positively that the Israelites would desecrate God’s Name if they worshiped other gods, did not observe clean and unclean foods, or failed to set aside for the LORD the tithes He required.
SECOND, we misuse God’s Name by COVENANT BREAKING. If we make promises to God, and perform not to the LORD our vows, we take His name in vain. God is not against VOWS or OATHS—in fact, He makes provision for them, such as Nazirite Vow in Numbers 6:1-3—
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins.
We must take our vows to the LORD seriously according to Deuteronomy 23:21-23—
If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth.
Numbers 30:2 adds—
When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
What kind of vows to the LORD do we make? Two that most of us have made come to mind: The first is made when we join the church, and we might say, “The LORD helping me to serve Him.” That is how to make a vow to the LORD.
The second vow that most of us make is Marriage. Whether we confirm it or not, marriage is always a vow unto the LORD. It is God’s institution, in which husband and wife participate. God is the primary Witness and the One who unites the couple according to Malachi 2:13-16—
Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?”
It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel.
To break our church membership or marriage vows is to misuse God’s Name. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth.
THIRD, we misuse God’s Name by RASH SWEARING, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, but to no purpose, or to no good purpose.
FOURTH, we misuse God’s Name by FALSE-SWEARING or LYING UNDER OATH, which some think is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment. Oaths may be made formally in court or informally out of court. In either case, Leviticus 19:12 says—
Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
For instance, someone says, “So help me, God, this is true,” then proceeds to tell an intentional lie. The reinforcement of a lie with the use of God’s Name violates the Third Commandment.
Court oaths are not wrong, though some doubt their propriety. To hear God’s name slurred over in court makes some object to oaths. Oaths, however, were common in both the OT and NT. Abraham made Eliezer, his servant, promise with an oath not to take a daughter of the Canaanites for Isaac’s wife. Matthew 26:63-64 reports that Christ answered under oath—
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
An oath can be an act of worship and witness, for it recognizes God’s existence, His all-knowing presence, and admits His moral government over the world involving accountability to Him as Judge. No atheist or skeptic has a right to make such an oath. Yet, Jesus taught in Matthew 5:33-37—
Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes’, and your `No’, `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Jesus has two kinds of oaths in view here: One has do with one’s honesty and the other with one’s faithfulness to one’s word.
The Jewish legal experts had many ways to get around the Law and break oaths, so that a person’s promise might mean nothing. They substituted for Yahweh: heaven, God’s throne, Jerusalem, and even their own head so they would not misuse God’s Name in an oath. But Jesus’ closed their loopholes, saying to promise on things in heaven or on earth is the same as using God’s Name for everything belongs to Him. Jesus does not forbid us to take a legal oath, but He warns us to speak the truth and not embellish our conversation with oaths that are supposed to strengthen or words. In other words, have such integrity that people will believe what you say.
FIFTH, we misuse God’s Name by using the name of God LIGHTLY and CARELESSLY—to do what is forbidden or to corrupt any of those things whereby God makes Himself known is to use His Name vainly.
Flippant use of “the LORD told me . . . to do such and such“ is a careless use of His Name.
His Name is often misused with easy religion or the latest ideology of social reform or political cause. His Name gets dragged down to the level of the contexts in which it is used. As people hear it so used, they may come to associate the Name of God fundamentally with a cause they wish to avoid or reject.
Foolish vows drag down God’s name. In Judges 11, we discover that Jephthah swore, if victorious in battle, to offer as a burnt offering whatever first came out of his house to greet him. Little did he realize that his only child, his beloved daughter, would be the one. In 1 Samuel 14, King Saul foolishly vowed a curse on any man eating food before evening on a day of battle. His own son didn’t hear the curse and ate, but his life was spared by the people.
We take lightly and carelessly God’s Name when we use it to reinforce our opinions, claiming to know how God reacts to certain situations on which we have strong feelings, such as claiming God to be for the pacifist, total abstainer, or vegetarian. Annoyed parents who threaten their children with “God will punish you” may be using His Name in vain.
Using God’s Name as gap-filler in conversation is always sin. Little Sally, attending Sunday School for the first time one Christmas season, eagerly listened as her teacher told of the birth of the Savior. She thrilled to the story of the angels, magi, the star, and the gifts. Then the teacher added, “And they called His name Jesus.” “Why did they have to name such a sweet Baby a swear word?” Sally exclaimed. It was the fist time Sally had ever heard the name of Jesus except in swearing.
The careless use of God’s Name in conversation is all too common. If the Devil incarnate belched out blasphemy in our hearing, we would probably recoil. Likewise, our ears ought to burn to hear that God’s Name used flippantly in every other sentence by thoughtless people.
When someone sneezes, another may react with “God bless you!” If the heart at that moment genuinely desires God’s blessing, well and good, but if not, God’s name is used carelessly.
To a question the reply may be given, “Only God Almighty knows.” Such an answer could be a honest reference to divine omniscience. To often, however, it is just a flippant retort.
Many slang expressions are substitutions for or variations of powerful swear words. Instead of Jehovah, one says BY JOVE. GAD instead of God. DOGGONE IT and DARN IT are but a play on GOD DAM IT. GEE comes from the first letter of God and the first syllable of Jesus. GOSH and GOLLY are also slang words for God.
Perhaps you protest, “I say these words but I don’t mean anything by it.” That’s just the point. That’s exactly what the Third Commandment forbids. It could be paraphrased, “You shall not lift up the name of the LORD without meaning something by it.”
How people fall into this awful habit is understandable. Ruffled by some momentary excitement, the mind seeks a safety valve. It seizes on expressions which the person has heard others utter in moments of emotional strain. After giving vent to one’s feelings with swear words a few times, it becomes easy and second nature. Then swearing may be indulged even when the mind is undisturbed and unruffled.
Swearing is pointless. If some profit accrued from swearing, we might understand the practice. TEN REASONS WHY I SWEAR is the arresting title of a tract, which makes clear the foolishness of the habit.
1. It pleases mother so much.
2. It is a fine mark of manliness.
3. It proves I have self-control.
4. It indicates how clearly my mind operates.
5. It makes my conversation so pleasing to everybody.
6. It leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind as to my good breeding.
7. It impresses people that I have more than an ordinary education.
8. It is an unmistakable sign of culture and refinement.
9. It makes me a very desirable personality among women and children and respectable society.
10. It is my way of honoring God, who said, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
When we consider that Jesus Christ came from heaven to shed His blood for us, it is bewildering that anyone should use that name in profanity. If you have this problem, I have a suggestion for you. Substitute your mother’s name for our Lord’s! Why? First, your love for Christ is to exceed that of the fondest mother! And second, it will not take too long for you to realize the repulsiveness of swearing.
Someone said that God’s Name is taken in vain more times in church than anywhere else. Needless repetition of God’s Name or some form of it too frequently and needlessly—borders on vain use. So does singing God’s Name without proper respect or concentration. Do we sing His praises without contemplating His worth? Do we make promises to Him in hymns without thinking of what we are pledging?
The one who prays for health or deliverance while seriously sick or in desperate danger, and then reneges on the promises made in the hour of need, is guilty of violating the Third Commandment.
When someone prays, “God bless my business,” then indulges in crooked commercial practices, God’s Name is slandered! But the one who is honest and gives God the glory for success, hallows His Name.
God has a very strict policy for people who are called by His Name when it comes to marriage: Israelites are to marry Israelites. Christians are to marry Christians. 2 Corinthians 6:14 gives the reason—
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
Thus, unbelievers marry unbelievers—God exercises no restrictions over unbelievers because they are living in rebellion! A violation of God’s marriage laws is to misuse His Name thoughtlessly and make it empty!
Today, there are pressures from inside and outside the church for pastors to marry couples in violation of God’s laws. If the pastor caves into the pressure, He lifts up the Name of the LORD thoughtlessly in the marriage ceremony! In such cases, the pastor, the couple and the church place themselves under the penalty clause of the THIRD COMMANDMENT. What is the penalty clause?
For the lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
To degrade the LORD’S name is to degrade Him, and He will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His Name. Notice its says ANYONE—there are no exceptions. GUILTLESS means to be free, be exempt from punishment, or to be held free from an oath. Both ideas are implied.
First, God is jealous and He will not tolerate misuse of His Name. The sinner may perhaps hold himself guiltless, and think there is no harm in it, but God implies He will Himself 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.
Second, God is not going to free you from your oath or vow, but hold you to it even when you misuse His Name. God takes what we promise with His Name seriously, even when we don’t! Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 cautions—
When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfil it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.
We might treat the use of God’s Name lightly, but He will not! Leviticus 24:15-16 records the penalty the LORD gave to Moses for those who BLASPHEME His Name—
Say to the Israelites: `If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.
BLASPHEME is a technical term relating to Jeweller’s work. It means to pierce through and make a hole. Figuratively, it means to put a hole in God’s reputation. If God’s penalty were enforced in America, every street corner, tennis court, bar room, business office, lunch counter, bathroom, bus station, football stadium, garage, restaurant, courtroom, jail, hospital, and traffic light would have a pile of stones by it!
We will not be taken out and stoned, but we should treat God’s Name as if we would be executed!
Christians who keep the First and Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” do not misuse the Name of God. If you love, you do not slander and drag down into the mud the one you love.
If you have broken the Third Commandment, confess your sin to God and receive His forgiveness through Christ. Repent and fulfill all your vows made in His Name!
Cultivate a sense of FEAR OF THE LORD. Whenever, you speak God’s Name, think of who God is— the only true God, who is great, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, unchangeable, holy, righteous, and just. And He is good, loving, kind, and gracious. Think of what God has done—His care, providence, and above all, His gift of Christ. Think of what Christ has suffered on your behalf. Do this and your respect and awe for the Name of God will grow, making it difficult if not impossible to use it frivolously.
Cultivate a sense of GOD’S PRESENCE. If you were in the presence of some earthly king, you would not misuse his name. By remembering you are always in God’s presence, you will be careful how you use His Name.
It is said that Sir Isaac Newton never mentioned God in conversation without a visible pause, and if his head were covered at the time, he raised his hat.
Can you give similar respect to God and Hallow His Name?