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Do We Take the Lord’s Name in Vain? Another Look at the Third Commandment

I am a follower of Christ seeking truth in the mire of false doctrines that are pervasive today.

"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." (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." (Exodus 20:7)

The Traditional Interpretation

For many, if not most of us, this passage has come to mean that we should never use the name of God in a context of insincerity or especially in the form of a curse word. While I agree that we should always be of sincere mind when speaking of God, and I certainly do not condone the use of God’s name with cursing lips, I also feel that we should not feel restrained in our use of the word God, Jesus, Jehovah, or any other of the many forms of God’s name used today. Jesus calls us brother and if our relationship with God is of the right framework, we can call the Creator of the universe “Abba”. As far as I am concerned, the ideology that the Father and Son are not within our reach and that our relationship can not be intimate and personal actually goes against scripture.

Maybe It Is Time To Reevaluate The Third Commandment

It is funny how you can go through your whole life thinking that you had always understood the full meaning of a particular passage. Sometimes we inherit that “this is the only way to interpret this” mentality and we feel content with our understanding. Then suddenly, something sneaks up and smacks you in the face and you are suddenly forced to reevaluate what you had previously held to be undeniably true.

Case in point: I was scanning through the channels on the radio in my car recently when I stumbled upon a recorded sermon of some guy whose voice I did not recognize. I missed the topic of his sermon as I had, without a doubt, tuned in somewhere in the middle of the sermon. But, in those few minutes, I heard him tell a short story that immediately made me want to go and check a Hebrew Lexicon so that I could refute his statement or at least settle this issue in my own mind.

This pastor told his congregation about an email that he had received, in this email the writer made it clear that he was upset that the preacher had repeatedly taken the name of the Lord in vain by saying “God” in his sermons. The preacher then retorted to his congregation that this person had, without realizing it, done the very thing that he had chastised the preacher for supposedly doing in the email. This comment by the preacher really caught my attention and I was all ears, and then he briefly explained why. He said that to “take” the name of Lord in vain meant to pretend to belong to God when you really don’t according to your actions. I thought “Wow, that is really profound!”. Still, I wanted to check with the Hebrew to make sure that this preacher wasn’t standing on shaky ground.

Examining The Hebrew Text

I will only focus on the first half of this verse, as I feel that the second half is self-explanatory as it merely points to the consequences of failure to obey what was previously commanded. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. I believe the key words to understanding this passage are “take” and “vain” as they contain the verb and the condition of the object which is Lord, or properly “Yahweh.”

The short definition of the Hebrew word nasa or nasah which has been transliterated as “take” is to lift, carry, take. When you look at how this word is used elsewhere you see words like accept, bear, carry, incur, exalt, lift, raise, receive, regard, etc. The most common uses are lift(64), bear(61), carry(45), carrying(20) and bring(10). In all, there are 653 occurrences of nasa found in the Old Testament. Notice that all of these transliterations seem to involve a physical act of holding or bearing something as in a physical action. I also found it interesting that there was absolutely no reference to this word meaning anything about something spoken, said, or conveyed verbally. This word nasa or nasah definitely seems to imply the physical act of carrying, bearing, or taking something.

Now, the word shav which has been transliterated into vain has a more limited use in scripture and is found only 52 times. The short definition is simply vain and its most common translation is vain(18), false(9), falsehood(7) as well as deceit, lies, and emptiness.

Was God telling the children of Israel not to be pretentious in being called by His name? Yeah, I think that is a great possibility if we take the text from a literal standpoint. Let’s consider what was going on at the time and how the children of Israel responded to the giving of the Ten Commandments.


The Giving Of The Ten Commandments, Why?

As most of you already know, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai to give to the people and were to be strictly obeyed. The children of Israel had just been led out of Egypt by the power and might of God’s own hand. They had been purchased or redeemed out of Egypt as a precursor to the redemption that Christ made by the shedding of His own blood for the bondage of sin of all mankind. The laws and customs of the Egyptians had ruled over their lives for over 400 years, so it was fitting that God give them His rules that they should follow and obey. The need for God’s law was evident, for even as Moses was coming down from Mt. Sinai carrying the first tablets of stone in his hands, the Israelites were already busy worshiping a golden calf which they had persuaded Aaron into forming with his own hand. By this act, they had already violated the first two commandments not having any other gods and not making any graven images.


The Mosaic Covenant - A Marriage Covenant

I believe that scripture gives ample evidence that the covenant made between God and the children of Israel is compared to that of a marriage covenant. God was to be Israel’s faithful husband and it was up to Israel to maintain and preserve their end of this covenant contract.

In Deuteronomy 5 Moses said the following before repeating the Ten Commandments.

Deuteronomy 5:1 Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.

Then Moses repeats to Ten Commandments as had previously been recorded in Exodus 20:3-17. As statutes and ordinances, these ten commands from God were to be the civil and moral laws of the people, breaking any of these commandments was to be met with severe punishment. In Exodus 24 we read that the Children of Israel had accepted the terms of this covenant:

Exodus 24:3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” 4 Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Just as the new covenant was ratified with the blood of Christ, the old covenant was also ratified with blood. In ancient times, This was a binding contract and the children of Israel confirmed that they were willing to accept the penalties for breaking this covenant.

What does all of this have to do with taking the name of God in vain? Plenty! When the Children of Israel entered into this covenant they agreed to a type of marriage contract with God. Just like when two people get married and promise to be “faithful until death do us part”, this was a binding contract in which Israel would then be called by the name Yahweh. The Children of Israel became the old covenant equivalent to the “bride” in the new covenant.

Isaiah 43:7 Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory,Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

As being betrothed to God, the first three commandments have to do with being faithful; not having any other gods, fashioning gods with their hands, and as a bride to God, they would not accept that responsibility and privilege lightly. As being the bride of God, they took on the name of God and it was their promise to bring honor to His name in a monotheistic, monogamous relationship. This theme of Israel being like a bride to God is reiterated in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 3:8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.


Divorce - The Result Of Unfaithfulness

More evidence in scripture that God's covenant with Israel was like that of a marriage is found in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 3:1 God says, “If a husband divorces his wife And she goes from him And belongs to another man, Will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; Yet you turn to Me,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 3:8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.

And in Malachi.

Malachi 3:5 “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity.

11 Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

15 But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

Then of course the entire book of Hosea is concerning Israel and Judah's unfaithfulness. They are compared with being a whore as they continually went after other gods and abandoned their first love.

What Is In A Name?

In many cultures, and even in some corners of Americana today, your name means everything. A father will instill into the psyche of his children that what they do in the community reflects upon the family name. The family name was to be honored and its reputation defended, what the children do is a reflection of their parents. If a child misbehaves, it looks bad on the family as a whole.

When I was a teenager we lived in the mountains of New Mexico and the roads around our home wound through the hills and there were numerous roads that meandered about to seemingly nowhere. I remember one night I had a few friends over who were in their own cars, they couldn't remember the way back to the main road so they asked if I would escort them back. I decided to play a joke on them and I sped away and started taking some of the side roads just to throw them off. As I came to one turn my tires lost traction and I slid into the ditch because of my driving too fast. The result was a blown tire and a small dent in my fender. I had to leave the car beside the road until the next day when my father could pull me out.

I remember my mother crying because everyone in that area knew everyone and they all knew that the bright red Mustang II that I drove belonged to that Muse boy. She was concerned that the neighbors would think that I had been driving while drunk or something, thus tarnishing the "family name". Truth is, I never drank alcohol, but it doesn't take much to get the gossip mill spinning.

My point is this—how we act does reflect on the family name. If we are children of the King and are to be called by the name Christian, then we should, in all that we do, strive to reflect His character in all of our interactions with others. If our behavior is not in keeping with being called a follower of Christ, then we are taking the name of Christ in vain out of insincerity. As some families proudly display their family crest, we should also proudly bear the cross of Jesus Christ.

A Deeper Understanding

While I am not about to suggest that this is the absolute meaning and interpretation of the third commandment, I do believe that a closer look is warranted. If we are indeed betrothed to our Lord, then our lives should be in keeping with being called by His name.

*** All passages quoted from the NASB

© 2018 Tony Muse


savvydating on May 09, 2018:

This article recalls Luke 6:46...""Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Your version makes sense.

I remember when someone I knew was very angry at me for some reason which I didn't fully understand. He wrote a letter to me which listed all my faults and which, frankly, struck me as quite unfair. Anyway, he ended the letter (paraphrase), "If you continue to be this way, then G__, Bless You. I was astonished and mortified! I felt as if I had been slapped in the face and I wondered how he could use God's name in such an inappropriate manner.

To me, that was taking the Lord's name in vain since his letter had been unkind. My little story may be "too much information" but my point is that I believe we have no business referencing God's name, in any context, if we act badly ourselves.

Long story short, I agree with your synopsis: that our behavior reflects upon the Christian community, and that the 3rd Commandment is a call to honor God in our actions---though I still believe we should be careful not to use God’s name in anger.

Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on February 27, 2018:

Thank you, Betty. I believe that the Bible is full of precious nuggets waiting to be discovered.

Betty A F from Florida on February 27, 2018:

Tony, You did an outstanding job with your article. It's the kind of stuff I love reading because it reaffirms some of the things that I have studied. I love articles that sharpen the reader, as yours did, "Iron sharpens Iron." Discussions on the different subject are always a blessing.

Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on February 26, 2018:

RTalloni - I can't take full credit for this, but it is indeed a thought provoking look at this commandment. Thank you for reading it and my God bless!

RTalloni on February 26, 2018:

Thank you for this post filled with food for thought on a topic that should always cause us to do important soul searching before the Throne of Grace. To think vainly (emptily) of God is a chilling thought. You've expanded on the theme of not taking God's name in vain in a manner that can help us consider our ways. Again, thank you.

Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on February 26, 2018:

Betty - Very well stated, thank you! I feel a bit ashamed that I didn't use the passages that you quoted in my article now. :-) Yes, it was and still is about letting the love of God as manifested in the life of Jesus Christ shine through us. In my opinion, the condition for salvation is pretty straightforward, but if the fruits of the Spirit are not demonstrated in our lives, then we must re-evaluate our relationship with Christ. I think that this is what Paul meant when he stated that we must all work out our own salvation; not that it is by our works, but faith and love, which is a pretty simple recipe for salvation.

Betty A F from Florida on February 26, 2018:

You make some good points Tony Muse.

I was reading through Ezekiel 33 with my family a few nights ago, and there's a passage contained in it that reminded me of something written in the books of Matthew and James. The passage I'm referring to from Ezekiel 33 says:

Ezekiel 33:30 Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD.

Ezekiel 33:31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.

Jesus said this as well:

Matthew 15:8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

James said this:

James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

It's a heart matter, and if the law is written on our hearts and minds as the book of Hebrews states:

Hebrews 10:16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

Hebrews 10:17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

If God's laws are written on our hearts and minds, then His will is written there, we always have choices, and the bible makes it clear that we are tested, which is why we need to keep our minds and hearts stayed on God.

With that in mind, if we are breaking the laws of God, then how can we possibly be living and demonstrating what is written on our hearts by God?

Other passages that tie to the Hebrews verse:

Jeremiah 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

Jeremiah 31:32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:

Jeremiah 31:33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

There's just one plan of Salvation, and that is by the Son of God, Jesus, who shed His blood for the remission of sin. (Remission is an interesting word.)

Both Paul and Jesus showed us that loving God with all our hearts mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves establishes the law. "All of the law rests on these two."

Romans 5:5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

His work in us that brings about the actual love described in both the Old and New Testaments.

Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on February 26, 2018:

Hi Betty, thank you for your kind words. I agree, when we love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, then the whole intent of the law is kept. Deut. 5 tells us that the Ten Commandments were statutes and ordinances of the covenant between God and the children of Israel; they were civil laws that were to be kept by everyone, otherwise they would be cut off.

As Jesus illustrated, one could actually keep the Ten Commandments to the letter and yet still miss the intent.

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

If one keeps the Ten Commandments only out of obedience and not out of love, then they have totally missed the point. The law was intended to point to Christ, if we are i Christ and love as He did, then have fulfilled the law.

Galatians 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.


Betty A F from Florida on February 25, 2018:

Hi Tony Muse,

I completely enjoyed reading this! What you said about your mustang, and your mother being concerned about "what people would think," reminded me of my own mother when I was growing up. Things sure have changed since then.

I also love the fact that you addressed the 3rd commandment. I agree that there are many, names that even the Bible attributes to God, at the same time, He knows our hearts even better than we do, and so He knows who it is that we are referencing when we use any of His bible names. It comes down to the state of our hearts.

I also wanted to point out something that Jesus said about reflecting the Father, (because faith and faithfulness go hand in hand.) To love Him with all our hearts, minds and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, Jesus summed it all up when He answered this question.

Matthew 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Matthew 22:38 This is the first and great commandment. Matthew 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Paul said this about it:

Romans 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Romans 13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

I read a study a few years ago that stated that 60% of Americans could not name the first five commandments. I personally believe that it's important that we as believers know them. Without knowing the ten commandments, how can we love God or our neighbor, or even know what context the word "love," is being referenced,?(Because the word "love," has many applications.) The law shows us what it means, as both Jesus and Paul stated.

Excellent article. I'm looking forward to reading more of your studies. I love the depth that you go in getting to the root of the meaning of a word.

Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on February 22, 2018:

Hi Anna, thank you for your kind words.

Anna Watson from Atlanta, GA on February 22, 2018:

"how we act does reflect on the family name. If we are children of the King and are to be called by the name Christian, then we should, in all that we do, strive to reflect His character in all of our interactions with others."

Very well put, Brother Muse. Thank you