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Taking God’s Name in Vain

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The Ten Commandments are ten interconnected realities which, when given expression in our lives, all point back to the very first Commandment – I am the Lord your God. 

We can therefore say that the Ten Commandments, and therefore the Law of God as a whole, give expression to the very nature and character of God. They show us a path to expressing His nature and character in our lives and can be seen as 10 steps – each building on the meaning of the previous reality. 

Starting with the first reality, God declares that He is the one who has freed us from our slavery to sin. Our response to this declaration is contained within the second reality – which declares that we are not to worship any other god. This mirrors a marriage contract – one which is an exclusive relationship and which will produce a steadfast love.

From this position we now move to the third reality. We see that this command is split in two parts. Firstly we have the command itself:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,…”

Deuteronomy 5:11a

Followed by:

“…for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Deuteronomy 5:11b

We shall discuss these two parts separately.

Commonly, the Third Commandment is interpreted as a prohibition against using the name of God in a profane or blasphemous way. This is most certainly one aspect of the command, however there is also a deeper message hidden which is revealed when we understand that the commandments do not each stand on their own, but are a set of interconnected realities.

To Carry the Name

The Third Commandment is represented by the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet – the Gimmel.

Hebrew is a pictographic language, and the Gimmel is representative of a camel, a benevolent beast of burden who assists the traveller to survive the harsh desert sun by carrying him to his destination. Just hold this thought as we look to some of the Hebrew words that are used in the third reality.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…”

Deuteronomy 5:11a
  • The word “take” has been translated from the Hebrew נָשָׂא nasah, which means to lift or to carry. 
  • The word “name” is the Hebrew שֵׁם shem – this is not just an arbitrary designation but something which describes the very nature or essence of a person or thing. It conveys reputation and authority.

We carry the name of God. We have been created in His image, and having been redeemed by the sacrificial blood of our saviour Jesus Christ we are His sons and daughters. 

Taking the name of the Lord our God in vain is much more than profanely using His name in our speech. We take the name of the Lord in vain when we comport our lives in a way that is not consistent with the name and nature of God. It is the act of being unfaithful. It is not trusting in His covenantal faithfulness, His righteousness and Justice, in His authority, and in what He has done for us.

We take the name of the Lord our God in vain when we express unbelief.

Unbelief and Taking the Name in Vain

The ancient Israelites were not able to enter into the Promised Land because of their unbelief. They saw the giants in the land, and were too well aware of their own inferior strength. They did not believe in the strength of God to deliver them.

We read about this in Hebrews 3:16-19:

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Hebrews 3:16-19

The second part of the Third Commandment contains a stark warning:

“…for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

Deuteronomy 5:11b

When we understand that taking the name of the Lord in vain equates to unbelief, it follows that it will not be possible to enter into the Kingdom if one does not believe in the faithfulness of God.

Practical Application

As society moves further away from God, as it rejects His Word and instead embraces evil under the guise of championing freedom, choice and equality, being an authentic Christian becomes a harder thing to do. 

As Christians we are all realising that we are quickly approaching that line in the sand of compromise where we must say “no more, I can go no further”. Perhaps, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we will realise that this line has already been crossed, we have compromised too much in order to fit in, to be accepted, to not rock the boat, or to just make life work. By doing so we have taken the name of the Lord our God in vain. We have doubted in His power and authority to carry us through, and instead we have lifted ourselves up higher, trusting in our own understanding.

When we faithfully carry His Name into the world, shining His Light into the darkness we must be prepared to share in His suffering. Being a Christian in today’s world is be be counter cultural, and with that comes persecution.

But don’t let this discourage you, as when we faithfully carry His name we give expression to our trust in the very power of what our Saviour has done for us. He has already overcome sin and death. They have no power over us. When we stand in that reality, even in the midst of the persecution and chaos of our world, we can enter into His rest, the sabbath day, knowing that He will carry us through.

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