The Third Commandment

Exodus 20:7

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2014

We are studying the Ten Commandments.  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.  It is the first commandment which deals with words.

The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with God. 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.  It deals with the use of the tongue and is very relevant in the day and culture in which we live.

Swearing is a very popular vices today. All of us have broken the Third Commandment at one time or another. It is one of the most frequently broken commandments, even by professing Christians.

There are many people who break this commandment repeatedly every single day. I worked with a man when I was in high school who cursed like a sailor. The Apostle Paul talked about people like this man who are “full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14). I gave him a challenge to try to go one single day without swearing, just one. He said that he couldn’t do that.  He could not even go twenty-four hours without swearing. 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.”

It is so much a part of pop culture (television, music, movies, radio, Internet, street, comedians). Hollywood routinely uses God’s name in vain and we have become desensitized to it. It has become socially acceptable in our world today.  It is common in rap songs.  It is not a big deal.

There are many people who swear on a daily basis and don’t even have the slightest feeling of guilt. They even try to justify it. It is just a habit. That becomes their excuse. If you were stopped by a police officer for running a stop sign, you wouldn’t say, “It’s a habit, I do it all the time”. A habit does not make something okay to do. Saying that your crimes are a habit only makes you more guilty, not less guilty.

The Seriousness of the Command

Most people only quote the first half of the verse. The second half of the verse says that God will NOT hold the person guiltless who takes His name in vain. This commandment has a warning, a very serious warning.  Misuse brings punishment.  If you misuse the name of God, you WILL be punished. I have has many conversations with atheists and it is a scary thing to think of what will happen when people who once denied God’s existence or mocked and ridiculed God one day stand before God and are held accountable for everything that they have said. 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).

God will not hold them guiltless on that day. The sinner may hold himself 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. We hear people swear every day and we do not think it is that big of a deal, because we are used to it.

God apparently takes this very seriously. He made it number three in his list of top ten sins. 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)

In America today that man would not have been put to death because he would have been given the right to free speech. He can say what he wants today but the OT was a theocracy. This was a crime which God took very seriously. God looks at sin a little differently that we do. The Bible says that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The Reason for the Command

What is wrong with taking God’s name in vain?  Why is this such a big deal? Each of us cares about our name. We want people to pronounce it right and spell it right. We do not like it when people make a joke about our name. We don’t like it when people slander our name or someone we love.  Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  If you have a choice between filthy rich or dirt poor but with a good reputation, which would you choose?  Many would choose riches.  Proverbs says a good name is better.  Ecclesiastes 7:1 says that “a good name is better than fine perfume”.  Solomon must have made this statement for the ladies.  He had a thousand wives.

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.  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.

God’s name is like no other because He is like no other.  His name is to be hallowed (Matthew 6:9). It is to be revered and respected and honored. God’s name is not only to be respected and hallowed but to be feared (Deuteronomy 28:58).

It is one of the most convicting of all of the ten.  We have all broken this one. The Jews did something very interesting.  They actually figured out a way not to break the Third Commandment.  The way to avoid not misusing God’s name is not to say it at all. From the third century B.C. on they never pronounced God’s name. Because they did this for so long, we do not know exactly how God’s name is spelled in Hebrew.

In Hebrew, it was spelled with four consonants.  Early Hebrew had no vowels, only consonants.  It was spelled with four Hebrew letters YHWH.  They did not pronounce it, so we did not even know how to say it for the longest time.  Some of the older Bible read Jehovah but scholars today agree that it is Yahweh.  Hebrew does not even have the letter J.

Jews do not even spell out fully the word “God” when writing it in English.  Even today, when Jewish rabbis write, “G-d” instead of “God”.   However, the Third Commandment does not say that we should not say God’s name at all. It says that we should not say His name in vain. It commands us not to misuse His name.  The Bible says that we are to exalt his name (Psalm 68:4), so there is nothing wrong with saying it.

Some may say that this does not apply to you.  You do not go around uttering four-letter words.  The interesting thing is that this commandment is regularly broken by those who would never utter 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. Many of you might think to yourself, “As long as I do not cuss, I am okay.”  What are some other ways that people take God’s name in vain today?  There are three other ways that this command is broken today, sometimes even by Christians.

Other Applications of this Command

1) By using God’s name lightly

We use God’s name in vain when we use it irreverently or disrespectfully but we also take God’s name in vain when we use it lightly.  The Hebrew word “vain” means empty, thoughtless, frivolous. Let me give two examples of this.

Many use God’s name routinely, almost in every sentence. They turn God’s name into a cliché and use it as an interjection or exclamation when they are shocked and surprised about something. They will say, “Oh My God, Did you see that?” or “Oh my God, I can’t believe she did that!”.  People use the acronym OMG for texting or instant messaging or chatting online.  OMG 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.

God said of some people who worshiped Him in the OT, “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” (Isaiah 29:13).  That is a very convicting verse.  Many of us take God’s name on our lips when we sing a song in church and don’t mean a word of it. We are just singing a song.  We give God our worship but it is meaningless because we are saying words that we don’t mean.

What is the lesson from this passage?  One lesson is that God wants our hearts when we worship Him.  He does not just want our words.  If we come to church and say a bunch of words but our hearts are a million miles away, we are hypocrites.  Another lesson is that God does not accept all worship. Some of it is IN VAIN. 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 worship.

Do we really mean what we say when we worship with God’s name on our lips or are they just words? If they are just words, we are taking God’s name in vain. 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 your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37)

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.  How many times have we had our foot in our mouth and have said something stupid when we were bored or angry or just not thinking?  Why would we be judged for idle words?  What is the big deal?  Even idle words say something about our character.

Notice what Jesus said right before this.  Matthew 12:33-35 says, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” 

Our words (even idle words apparently) are a mirror of the heart. What we say on the outside reveals what is in the inside. You can learn a lot about a person’s character, not just by the major things they say, but by the little things which slip out when they aren’t putting much effort into being careful. Do we use God’s name in a thoughtless or frivolous way?

2) By using God’s name falsely

Many use God’s name to justify their 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”. Oh really? 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 take God’s name in vain. They will commit some unspeakable atrocity and use their religion to justify it. They will take a sword and chop a man’s head off with the name of God on their lips and think that they are doing a good deed. Some preachers say that God wants everyone to be rich. That is taking God’s name in vain. It is using God’s name to justify false doctrine.

Many times Christians will say, “God told me to tell you this” or “God told me that He wants you to do this or that”.  What is the problem?  If it is true, there is not problem.  We have to ask ourselves, Is this really what God wants them to do or just something that we want them to do or think that they should do?  Is this really a Word from God?

The Bible talks about people who claim to be prophets and have a message from God.  They are called false prophets in the Bible and God takes this VERY seriously any time we take His name in our mouths.  People claim to have a message from God and God says, “I didn’t send them” (Jeremiah 23:21).  God says that they are just prophesying delusions of their own minds.  They prophesy lies.  People did that in OT times and they still do it today.

“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 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)

3) By making a promise to God and breaking it.

Leviticus 19:12 says, ‘‘Do not swear falsely   What is this about?  You make an oath or a promise and bring God into the equation as a witness and promise to do something which you do not do. This is a big deal to God (cf. Numbers 30:1-2; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Ecclesiastes 5:4-5). You say, we don’t make pledges like that anymore. One vow that we still make today and usually include God in is our wedding vow. 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”.

It is a public vow and most ministers quote the verse, “What God has joined, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Unfortunately, many do not take this vow seriously. They are just words to most people. Hard times come in all marriages and half of them end in divorce but God says, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). Do we keep the vows we make to God?



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