Ten Commandments #3 Exodus 20:7

Using God’s Name

Ex 20:7


"He made free use of Christian vocabulary. He talked about the blessing of the Almighty and the Christian confessions that would become the pillars of the new government. He assumed the earnestness of a man weighed down by historic responsibility. He handed out pious stories to the press, especially to the church papers. He showed his tattered Bible and declared that he drew the strength for his great work from it as scores of pious people welcomed him as a man sent from God. Indeed, Adolf Hitler was a master of outward religiosity--with no inward reality!" (Today in the Word, June 3, 1989)

An observation before we examine the 3rd command. With the exception of #4 and 5 these commands are negative - “you shall not.” I know negativism is not popular in our day, but perhaps the best way to respond to those who object is, “Deal with it!”

The third commandment is found in NAS Exodus 20:7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

Perhaps it is obvious that this command can best be understood in two parts. The first is…

I. God prohibits wanton use of His name 20:7a

Two terms demand our attention – “take” and “vain”. The NIV translates these with one word – “misuse”.

First, to “take” the name of the Lord is to “lift up” or “carry” the name. In fact this is one of the key OT words for redemptive substitution (Lev 10:17 – the priest “bore” the sins of the congregation). He represented the congregation before God.

So, the idea is to represent the Lord to others or substituting for Him. Thus we “carry” his name as we conduct our daily affairs. The implications of this carry quite a wallop! The people of God actually represent Him.  Apparently God was concerned about how well they did. And for good reason! Hence, this command.

The second term, “vain”, connotes the basic idea of “waste”.  It is often used to describe emptiness, ruin, worthlessness, or devastation. The attached preposition here means “for”, not “in”.

When these two concepts are welded into one the result is a prohibition against using or representing his name for worthless purposes. As we represent God, we must never lift up his name before people in a wasteful way. His name is to be used only for good and profitable purposes. We must never cast any dishonor on the one we represent.

Thus, the concept is much broader than merely speaking the Lord’s name. Here are some thoughts about what the Lord may have in mind for us today by issuing this command. We can be guilty of lifting up the Lord’s name in vain in the following ways.

A. By disrespectfully using the Lord’s name in speech. This would include:

  • profanity (using the Lord’s name in the place of unworthy objects, thoughts, emotions, or expressions = “God Damn” or “Jesus Christ”)
  • perjury
  • invoking the name of Lord to give credence and respectability to questionable endeavors (this is a potential struggle for every clergy person who is asked to bring an “invocation” for a secular event)
  • trivial swearing in ordinary course of life = “O God”, “What in God’s name are you doing?”, “My God” (His name should be spoken only in awe)
  • flippant references to God = things like “the man upstairs”

So, we take the Lord’s name in vain by improper speech. Also by…

B. Professing identification with the name of God but living contrary to His name.

This is the simple concept of Scripture that profession and practice must be cut of the same cloth. Note the scathing accusation in Rom 2:17-24.

We are given the name “Christian” – a little Christ. Thus we should soberly reflect on NAS 2 Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, " The Lord knows those who are His, "and," Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness. "

"Years ago in Germany, there was a young Jewish boy who had a profound sense of admiration for his father. His family’s life centered on the acts of piety and devotion prescribed by their religion. The father was zealous in attending worship and religious instruction, and he demanded the same from his children. While the boy was a teenager, the family was forced to move to another town in Germany. There was no synagogue in the new town, and the pillars of the community all belonged to the Lutheran church. Suddenly the father announced to the family that they were going to abandon their Jewish traditions and join the Lutheran church.

When the stunned family asked why, the father explained that changing religions was necessary to help his business.

The youngster was bewildered and confused. His deep disappointment soon gave way to anger. That disappointed son, disillusioned by his father’s lack of integrity, eventually left Germany and went to England to study. He sat daily at the British Museum, formulating various ideas and writing a book. In that work, he introduced an entirely new world-view, envisioning a movement that would change the social and political systems of the world. Drawing from past experiences with his father, he described religion as an “opiate for the masses” that could be explained totally in terms of economics and personal gain. His name, of course, was Karl Marx, and his idea was communism. And it all began with his father’s misuse of the name of God for the sake of profit." (Source Unknown)

Remember, the issue is representation.

So, we take the Lord’s name in vain by improper speech and by professing identification with the name of God but living contrary to His name. Also by…

C. Praying in God’s name but not believing in God’s power to hear and answer.  This is using his name in a hallow manner. It can also be praying for show. Also, the repetitive use of God’s name in praying.

D. Mishandling or abusing God’s Word. God’s name and His Word are closely associated. People are guilty of this when they mock the Bible as being old fashioned; when they criticize the Bible as being unscientific or non-historical; when they charge the Bible with error; or when they use the Bile to support personal sin or defend heresy. Sadly this concept was graphically illustrated by a prominent person in my church who used David’s demand to have his previous wife, Michal, returned to him (2 Sam 3:13-14) as justification for an affair with another man’s wife.

So, we take the Lord’s name in vain by improper speech and by professing identification with the name of God but living contrary to His name and by praying in God’s name but not believing in God’s power to hear and answer and by mishandling or abusing God’s Word. And also by…

E. Performing ‘religious” works in God’s name without personal knowledge of Him. That this is possible is tragically made clear in NAS Matthew 7:22 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS. All such works were empty or vain.

Positively, how can we honor his name? Well, we can worship him, we can speak his name only in awe, we can call on others to join us in our journey with him, we can defend his name to those who blaspheme, and we can live godly lives. In short we can bring our total life into conformity with his total being.

Here is really what is at issue. We must come to grips with the concept that the “name of the Lord” stands as a representation for the Lord Himself. Indeed, the term “name”  has the idea of a mark or origination. Clearly “name” stands for the person. Gen 12:8 where Abraham built an altar and, “called on the name of the Lord.”

What is the first thing that comes into your mind. When I say Kevorkian, ACLU, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates? Names are more than just a way of finding someone in the phone book. Eventually, a person or an organization’s name comes to symbolize the kind of character that that person or organization possesses. How many of you when you were picking names for your children chose “Jezebel” for your girl or “Judas” for your boy?

So it is not merely a name we are to be concerned about. It is the Lord Himself. Don’t do anything to tarnish his reputation. To do so is to strike at his very person.

We have learned that God prohibits wanton use of His name. Now…

II. God threatens punishment for those who improperly use His name 20:7b

NAS Exodus 20:7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

This threat is logically connected to the prohibition – “for” or possibly “because”.  In other words, sit up and take notice – do this or God will punish.

The idea is to be unpunished (or better NIV be guiltless) in the sense of being clean. The picture is that of being emptied out or poured out as a libation used in sacrifices. I like the concept of cleaned out. Do your kids clean out the cookie batter from the bowl and lick the wooden spoon, the spatula, and the mixing tines. Of course; and Dad helped. We really didn’t need to wash them after they got done.

So here God says I will not leave the person who represents me in an unworthy manner clean or innocent. I will punish them. He will not disregard violation of His commands.

Just following the giving of the Decalogue we learn the same thing about God, NAS Exodus 34:6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…"

God is ready to pardon sin. How can he do so? We are guilty. Well, the good news is that he can hold us guiltless because of the work of Jesus Christ. He was innocent and He has taken our place.


Alexander the Great would sit in judgment on the battlefield. There he was judge and jury. His word was law. Before him would be brought all of those with charges against them. Many times his judgment could be extremely harsh, especially in those situations of desertion.

Before him one day was brought a young lad. He was a fair-haired youth. Alexander asked what the boy’s name was. The officer presenting him said, "Alexander, sir." At once, the great general’s countenance softened. It was as if he was flattered that the boy had his name. His men breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps there would be some leniency for this young man, whatever his crime.

Alexander inquired as to the nature of the charge against the young lad. His officer replied, "Cowardice, sir. He fled in the heat of battle."

The once soft countenance of the great general was suddenly transformed into an intense, tight-jawed grimace. Looking the boy squarely in the eye, he said to him deliberately, "Son, what did you say was your name?" The lad replied, "Why, Alexander, sir." Speaking again to the boy, this time in a louder tone he said, "Young man, what did you say was your name?" The young man answered in a stutter, "Why, uh-uh Alexander, sir."

To that answer, the emperor bolted off his throne and grabbed the terrified young soldier and said to him, "Young man, change your behavior or change your name!" (Source unknown)

© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2015. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.