The Third Commandment

Exodus 20:7

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2016

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

We have been doing a studying the Ten Commandments. They are one of the most important sections in the whole Bible.  Much of modern law comes from the Ten Commandments.  It is God’s message to the world.  God gave these commandments to the Jews but the moral character of God does not change.

Most of us think that we have kept the Ten Commandments.  We haven’t killed someone.  We have not cheated on our wife.  We have not robbed the local liquor store or saloon.  We don’t have any little idols in our house.  We don’t have any Buddha dolls.  We are like the rich young ruler who said to Jesus “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Matthew 19:20 KJV).

Today, we come to a commandment, we have all broken.  This is one of the most frequently broken commandments.  This is a commandment that is routinely broken, even by professing Christians. Some preachers break this commandment.  There are many people who break this commandment repeatedly every single day.

Swearing is a very popular vice today. We live in a cursing generation. Swearing is almost universal.  The Apostle Paul gave a description of the unsaved world.  One of the things he said about them is that they are “full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14).  I was talking to one of my students last week and asked him what his parents did for a living.  He told me that he was a sailor.  I asked him if he cursed and the student said “all of the time.”

Many not only swear; they wear habitually. It is a bad habit. They can’t even stop.  When I was in high school, I knew a man who cursed like a sailor. I offered to bet him that he could not go single day without swearing. He refused to take the bet, even though it involved money.  It was too hard.

He felt that it was completely impossible for him to go twenty-four hours without swearing. The Bible says that the tongue is hard to tame. James 3:7-8 says, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (NIV).

This is a command that is still very relevant today.  It has not gone out of date.  It is also a command that is counter-cultural.  It has become socially acceptable in our world today.  It is so much a part of pop culture.  Hollywood routinely uses God’s name in vain in television and movies.  It is heard on the street.

Musicians take God’s name in vain, especially rappers.  I work with young people and have observed that the more inappropriate the music is, the more some people seem to like it.  Comedians love to be vulgar and irreverent and take God’s name in vain.  They joke about God’s name.

We have become completely desensitized to it. We are no longer shocked when we hear it. We are not shocked by it anymore and we do not even feel guilty for using God’s name in vain today.  It has become socially acceptable.  We do not think it is a big deal.  We think our words are fine if they do not hurt anyone.

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.  He does not think the way we do.  Not only did He put this commandment third on his top ten list, He also gave a warning with this commandment.  It is a strong warning.  “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (NIV).  The NLT reads, “The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

Misuse brings punishment.  If you misuse the name of God, you WILL be punished. God meant what He said[1]. He will not hold you guiltless.  We don’t think we have done anything wrong.  We often do not feel guilty for what we say. We hold ourselves guiltless. Society may hold him guiltless and not punish him. Your family and friends may hold you guiltless but God will not hold you guiltless.

Jesus said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by our words we will be acquitted, and by your words we will be condemned.” (cf. Matthew 12:36-37 NIV).

That has to be one of the scariest verses in the Bible.  Jesus did NOT say that we would be held accountable for every bad word (although we will). He said that we would be accountable for every idle word on Judgment Day. What makes a word idle? It is a careless word.  It is a word you speak without thinking.

It is a word you say when you have your foot in our mouth and you say something stupid. If we are going to be held accountable for all of the empty, idle or careless words, how much more will we be held accountable for all of the bad words that come out of our mouth?

The whole point here is that words reveal a person’s character.  They come out of our hearts.  Words are a mirror of the heart. What we say on the outside reveals what is in the inside. We will be held accountable for all of our words.  When we take God’s name on our lips in vain, God will not hold us guiltless.

The NT says that “It is a fearful thing or a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 NLT).  I have had many conversations with atheists.  I work with some.  It is a scary thing to think of what will happen when people stand face-to-face with the God they once denied, mocked, ridiculed and disobeyed.

General Observations

1) This commandment is short

Last week, we looked at the Second Commandment, which is one of the longest of the Ten Commandments.  It is three verses.  Today, we will look at the Third Commandment which is very short.

2) This commandment deals with words

It is one of two commandments that deal primarily not with actions but with WORDS.  This commandment deals with the tongue. It is a convicting commandment.  The Third Commandment deals with how we talk about God.  It deals with the use of the tongue and is very relevant in the day and culture in which we live.

3) This commandment comes with a warning

It is a strong warning.  This commandment has a warning, a very serious warning.  We saw a warning in the Second Commandment.  God promised to punish the children of the third and fourth generation for the sin of the parents.  We looked at that last week. This commandment has a warning but the warning is not to the children but to the person who breaks this commandment. The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

God apparently takes this very seriously. In fact, it was so serious that it was a capital crime in the Law of Moses.  You take the name of God lightly in the OT and you died.  There is one example in the OT of someone who blasphemed.

“Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) They put him in custody until the will of the Lord should be made clear to them.

Then the Lord said to Moses: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death” (Leviticus 24:10-16).

Notice what happened here.  This was a fight.  Two men get into a fight.  One was a full blooded Jew and one was biracial.  He was half Jewish and half Egyptian.  The bad guy in this story was the full-blooded Jew.  He began to curse the name of God.  His punishment was death.  He was executed.

In America today that man would not have been put to death because he would have been given the right to free speech. Some might compare this to the intolerance in the Muslim world.  There are many Muslim nations today which outlaw blasphemy.  It is a crime in these countries.  Is the Law of Moses in the Bible no different from blasphemy laws in the Middle East today?

There is an important difference.  The Jews at the time of Moses lived in a theocracy.  God was working openly and visibly in the world through the nation of Israel in a way that He is not working today. We do not have a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud.  The kingdom of God was on earth at that time.  We do not live in a theocracy.  We will live in one when Jesus returns.

Let’s review what we have learned in the Ten Commandments.  We are in the first part of the Ten Commandments that deal with God.  The first two commandments dealt with God’s Worship.  This commandment deals with God’s name. The First Commandment deals with WHO we worship.  The Second Commandment deals with HOW we worship.  The Third Commandment deals with how we talk about God when we are worshiping Him or not worshiping Him.

God is concerned about his name.  What is the issue about God’s name?  Why is it such a big deal? This command is all about RESPECT.  The Fifth Commandment is about respect for parents.  The Third Commandment is about respect for God based on how we use his name.  A person’s name in the Bible is a big deal.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  This verse says that it is better to be poor but have a good reputation than rich but have a terrible reputation. Ecclesiastes 7:1 says that “a good name is better than fine perfume.”  Solomon knew something about fine perfume.  He was wealthy and was married to a thousand wives.

God’s name is his reputation. God’s name represents who he is.  It embodies His character.  God’s name stands for his person. The two are used interchangeably (Psalm 20:1).  How we use God’s name determines what we think about Him.  When we disrespect the name of God, we disrespect God Himself.

Each of us cares about our name. We want people to pronounce it right and spell it right. We don’t like it when people misuse or slander our name and businesses do not like it either.

God’s name is like no other because He is like no other.  God’s name is to be hallowed (Matthew 6:9).  ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” What does that mean?  What does it mean to hallow God’s name?  That is not a word we use too much today?  It means to treat it as holy.  His name is also to be feared (Deuteronomy 28:58).  God’s name is to be honored, feared.  It is also to be praised (Psalm 99:3).

Modern Applications

The greatest myth about this commandment is that it only deals with profanity.  That is simply not true.  Most of us do not go around uttering four-letter words.  The interesting thing is that it is possible to break this commandment without uttering a profane word.  There are other ways that this command is broken.

I am convinced that many people, including some Christians, use God’s name in vain and don’t even know it.  You do not have to cuss like a sailor to break this commandment. What are some other ways that people take God’s name in vain today?

1) Using God’s name lightly violates this command

We not only take God’s name in vain when we use it irreverently or disrespectfully.  We also take His name in vain when we use it in a thoughtless or frivolous way.  That is what the Hebrew word “vain.” People say OMG all the time.  It simply means “Wow”. It no longer has anything to do with God.  It is used so thoughtlessly that even atheists sometimes say it. It becomes a meaningless phrase.

2) Using God’s name insincerely violates this command

During a typical worship service, many people are not even singing.  They are like they are at a rock concert.  It is just entertainment.  Other people sing a song and do not mean a word of it.  Worship has to come from the heart.  Isaiah 29:13 says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” That is a very convicting verse.

Some of the worship in churches all across America is worthless in God’s eyes.  God does not accept all worship. Jesus called some of it is in vain (Mark 7:6-7). It is a big waste of time. That was true of worship by the Jews in the OT and it is true of worship by some Christians today.  Worship is many churches is vain. It is formalistic and ritualistic.  It is meaningless.

How do we avoid vain worship?  Worship has to be genuine.  It has to be sincere.  God wants our hearts when we worship Him.  He does not just want our words when our hearts are a million miles away. God does not want us to just go through the motions at church.

3) Using God’s name falsely violates this command

How do people use God’s name falsely?  Some use God’s name to justify their own sin. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “I am leaving my wife for another woman because God told me to do it”. That is using God’s name in vain. It is using God’s name to justify sin. People do it all the time.

Muslim terrorists in the Middle East take God’s name in vain all of the time. They chop someone’s head off or blow people up.  They commit mass murder with the name of God on their lips.  That is taking God’s name in vain.  It is something He hates.  Their feet run to commit evil and they do it in the name of God.

Some use God’s name, not to justify sin but to justify false doctrine. Some preachers teach that God wants everyone to be a millionaire.  Other people make a prophecy that does not come true.  They claim God told them something.

If you go on the Internet, you can find all kinds of Christians who claim that God told them that Hillary will be the next president.  They predict that Jezebel will be in control of the White House.  God gave them a word.  Other Christians claim that God told them that Trump will be the next president.  In about a month, we will find who the true prophets of God are.

God takes this VERY seriously any time we take His name in our mouths and claim to have a message from God.  He does not like it when people misrepresent Him, anymore than we do.  God says in Jeremiah 23:21, “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied” (ESV). Not everyone who claims to have a message from God does.  God says that many of these people are simply liars.  They are false prophets.  They prophesy figments of their own imagination and God says that He is against them.

 “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. “Is not my word like fire,”

“Therefore,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’  Indeed I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:25-32 NIV)

4) Using God’s name hypocritically violates this command

We do not use God’s name as an oath that much today.  People used to do it all the time.  They would say, “As God is my witness.”  We still use God’s name in the courtroom.  We swear to the tell the truth the whole “so help me God” and yet how many people make that oath and lie.  It is bad enough to lie but it is even worse to take an oath and add God’s name to it and continue to lie.

Another way people do that today is with wedding vows.  When we get married we make a vow. It is a binding promise to our spouse. We promise to stay with our spouse “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live”.

Wedding vows are sacred.  They are public.  They are made in the presence of God.  In America, they are not taken seriously but God takes them seriously.  Do we keep the vows we make to God?

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it” (NIV) 

Deuteronomy 23:21-23 says, “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. 22 But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty.23 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” (NIV).

[1] This does not necessarily mean, as some have suggested that this is the unpardonable sin of the OT.  It simply says that if you commit this sin, God will not hold you guiltless.  He will hold you guilty.  Actually, that is true of all of the Ten Commandments.  If you commit adultery or murder, He will also hold you guilty.  This does not mean that these sins cannot ever be forgiven.  Jesus said “all manner of sin and blasphemy is forgiven men” (Matthew 12:31).

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