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.
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.
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Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg, published by The Good Book Company, thegoodbook.com. Used by Truth For Life with permission. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company.