verse X – the third commandment
Have you ever misused someone’s name, or misrepresented what someone said? Knowing in that exact moment that you were not being completely honest about how you were representing them? Many of us, even if we have not done so as adults, can probably remember misrepresenting something that our parents said when we were children. Human nature, prone to follow the urge of its sin inclination, will often do so to its own immediate benefit – having lost sight of the long term consequences.
As we consider these song of the Mountains, these songs of Moses and Yeshua/Jesus, we quickly recognize that covenant Lord expects, commands even, that those formed in His image will properly represent Him, and act as moral agents in society. In Leviticus 22:32 we read,
וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתֹוךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲנִי יְהוָה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם
“And you will not pollute My holy name, but I will be made holy among the children of Israel. I am the Lord who makes you holy.”
The word I have translated above as “pollute,” חָלַל, can mean profane or desecrate. The root meaning is to perforate or pierce through. The holy name of the Living God is not to be: polluted, profaned, desecrated, perforated or pierced through, among those made holy by it. What is the moral instruction here? And how do we apply it to 21st century living?
I added the verse from Leviticus to help our consideration of the Third Commandment – “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
Many of us are familiar with this command in relation to peoples corrections of the expletive use of the Lord’s name, more specifically the title “God.” (More on that another time) Notwithstanding the undesirable use of the Lord’s name as an expletive, this is not the direct intention of the command itself. The focus is verbal worship; and how verbal worship influences our actions and representation of Him. Proper use of the Lord’s name not only guards the sanctity of His name, but it also guards His reputation (Ps. 135:13). Does His reputation really need to be guarded? Sadly, yes, as a misrepresentation of who He is can drive people away from knowing Him as Savior.
At the revelation of His name to Moses in Exodus 3:14, He “introduces” His Name: יהוה (often represented as YHWH). His name is rooted in the Hebrew verb אהיה, “to be,” and is often translated to the phrase “I am Who I am.” By using the first person of the verb “to be,” the Lord is revealing His self-existence, self-sufficiency and ultimately His sovereignty. We find a similar revelation spoken by Messiah Yeshua in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
What does His name reveal?
His name reveals the condition of His being, and His character. We find evidence of this throughout Scripture, equated with: His authority, His protection, His doctrine, His strength, His honor, His glory, His holiness, His majesty, His moral standards, His reputation and His saving power (Ps. 8:1; 20:1; 22:22; 86:9; 106:8; 111:9; Prov. 18:10; Micah 4:5; Jn. 12:28; Acts 4:30; Ro. 10:13).
While revealed in Exodus 3:14, His personal name יהוה does appear in the Book of Genesis. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, used and called upon His name. Yet, we read in Exodus 7:3, “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai (God Almighty). Yet by My Name, יהוה, did I not make myself known to them.” What does this mean? The Hebrew text indicates that the patriarchs did not have an intimate knowledge of the meaning of His name. Their relationship primarily focused on the Lord as provider – El Shaddai. In Exodus, however, we are witnessing a deepening of relationship – not only as “God the provider,” but also God as Savior.
What using the Lord’s name implies.
Speaking in the name of, or with the name of another, implies three things: 1) relationship, 2) authority, and 3) a right of possession. Speaking in His name implies that we have relationship with Him, and that we have authority to do so; which was part of the revelation of His name to Moses – Moses was given the authority to speak in His name, by relationship.
The third commandment, then, forbids the misuse or misapplication of the Lord’s name.
לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת-שֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לַשָּׁוְא
Translating, “Do not bring, or carry, the name of the Lord your God to emptiness” (emphasis added).
It is not just to misuse the four consonants that form His name, but to be dismissive of all that His name means. His name seals His covenant offer of salvation. Mishandling His name, or carrying it to justify our own selfish gain, is to treat His character with contempt. How then do we bring the name of the Lord to emptiness? We bear His character hypocritically.
Yeshua makes an interesting statement in John 17:6, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.” Yeshua properly demonstrated for us what it means to come in the name of the Lord – which does not lead to our glorification but to our humility – the subject of the beatitudes. The name of God represents His character, His nature – who He is – and by Yeshua’s example, as we walk properly in His name, others give glory to Him (Matt. 5:16).
The Lord wants us to call upon His name, but also to use it properly. In the messianic faith, we use the authority of God’s name by relationship is several ways: 1) we believe in His name, 2) we baptize in His name, 3) we worship His name, 4) we glorify His name, 5) we sing of His name, 6) we remember His name, 7) we bless His name, 8) we trust in His name, 9) and we fear His name.
Yet, we use it improperly, and even profane His name, when we use it hypocritically or attach false teaching to it. Consider the words of Jeremiah in 14:14, “These prophets are prophesying a lie in My name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a false vision, worthless divination, the deceit of their own minds.” Today we find some believers doing this with the “God said…” or “God told me,” or “God told me to tell you…” statements in a destructive or manipulative way. Additionally, we may mistreat others due to inconvenience or mistake in service. We might treat our family one way privately, while presenting another appearance publicly.
These are but a few examples of how we might misuse the name of the Lord. We need to be intentional in how we use and treat the name of the Lord – it is holy.
How does this affect public witness?
When we reduce His name to a bumper sticker idiom – “God is my copilot” – is it any wonder that His name is not hallowed among non-believers? If His name is used flippantly in our personal lives and our congregations, when we do not fulfill our word, society is just following our example. What example are we showing?
What is our duty here?
Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz comments, “The Second Commandment lays down the duty of worshipping God alone, and worshipping Him in spirit and not through images. The Third Commandment forbids us to dishonor God by invoking His name to attest what is untrue, or by joining His name to anything frivolous or insincere.”
There are certainly times when we might approach the Lord God with the “right words” but with the wrong heart; as Isaiah says, “Because this people has drawn near with its mouth, and with its lips they have esteemed Me, and it has kept its heart far from Me, and their fear of Me has become a command of men that is taught” (Isa. 29:13). Let us therefore be cautious as to how we use, represent and speak of His name; recognizing that for some, we will be their only contact with the name of the Lord – our lives may be the only Gospel they ever read.
Take seriously the apostle Paul’s words, “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified from every good work. But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 1:16 – 2:1). Taking God’s name seriously, sanctifying it, requires that we take Him seriously – living with a God-centered theological perspective. It is easy to use His name, but in our day we find little fear and awe of it.
In traditional Judaism, the title “HaShem” (literally “the name”) is used in place of the divine name, and in some cases the word “God” – for purposes of reverence, fear and awe. His name cannot be brought to emptiness if the sanctity of it remains at the forefront of our mind – if only this safeguard insured proper conduct! To use His name casually erodes our sensitivity to the reverence we owe it, as is said, “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Why must we take the Lord’s name seriously? It is the power of salvation, provision, protection, presence and intimate relationship.
In a word, we bring His name to emptiness when we cause others, by our actions, words, deeds and lifestyle to stumble because of it. It is an awesome responsibility to know we have been saved by it, that we bear it and that we share it; so when we misuse it, He will correct us.
“O my soul, bless the Lord; and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Ps. 103:1).
Shalom. Be well.