The Third Commandment—Exodus 20:7


Levi Durfey




1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.


4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.


7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.


12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.


I. The Crime


Some of us should be very glad about the family that we were born into and the family name that we inherited. One very unfortunate young man was born into the “Stink” family. When he grew into an adult, Charlie Stink was constantly being advised by his friends and co- workers that he should have his name changed. Finally he agreed, and went to court to have the process completed. The next day back at work, his associates inquired, “What did you have your name changed to?” He answered, “for the life of me I can’t see what difference it’s going to make! I changed it to George Stink.”[1]


The third commandment has to do with God’s name…


Exodus 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


“Thou shalt not take the name” is literally, “Not you will lift the name of Jehovah” (UBS). 


“in vain” refers to emptiness or “empty purpose” (UBS).


So you could say, “Thou shalt not raise up Jehovah’s name for no good purpose.”


Why is God’s name so important to him? Isn’t just a little bit on the picky side to care about how people use his name? Perhaps a word association game will help us grasp the importance of God’s name to himself.


What do you first think of when you hear the name: Obama or ISIS? Or, to change it up, the name of your spouse…Baker Spartans? You see, names are not merely labels, they are invested with meaning. 


In Bible times, names were sometimes a reflection of a person’s character or destiny. This was especially the case with God’s personal name, which he revealed to Moses.


14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. 15 And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. (Exodus 3:14–15)


God’s name is like a trademark in our culture. When something is trademarked, it cannot be used without special permission. The reason that something, like Pepsi, is trademarked, is so that others cannot make a profit off from their work or to use it in a way to bring shame to the Pepsi company.


We generally only think of using God’s name in vain as cussing and swearing, but it is actually much more than that. There are several ways to misuse God’s name. Some of them are attempting to make a profit off from God’s name.


A. Sorcery


Sorcery is the taking of God’s name in a way to try and manipulate other people or forces, or to tell the future. A sorcerer believes that he can manipulate supernatural forces by using a divine name. We see a classic example of this in the New Testament:


11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. 14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? 16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:11-16)


So the sorcerers got themselves in trouble because they were messing with God’s name, a power greater than themselves.


It’s because the use of sorcery can violate the third commandment that God forbids it’s use among his people:


10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. (Deuteronomy 18:10–12)


B. False Prophecy


Prophets often say, “Thus saith the Lord.” The question is…are they speaking the truth or not? In Jeremiah’s day, the Lord said that there were false prophets speaking in his name—


14 Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. 15 Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed. (Jeremiah 14:14–15)


Christians still misuse God’s name in this way today. We might try to manipulate a group of people by claiming that God said such and such. We might phrase it as, “I feel that God wants us to…” However we say it, it’s just a way to get God on our side, to give us more credibility.


C. False Oaths


Sometimes people will try to convince someone that they are telling the truth by using God’s name. 


2 And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely. (Jeremiah 5:2)


When you misuse God’s name in this manner, it’s what we call perjury—lying under oath.


Jesus addressed this issue in the Sermon on the Mount—


33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Matthew 5:33–37)


The Jews of the day made it a practice to swear by whatever they felt was most important in order to convince others that they were telling the truth, when in fact, they were lying through their teeth. They were like the car salesman who says, “This car will run forever, I swear on my sweet mother’s grave!” “Oh really, I just had lunch with your mother!”


A false oath is similar to a false prophecy in that both are trying to get God on your side. The difference is that false prophecy puts words in God’s mouth and a false oath puts God’s approval on your words.


D. Cuss Words


Finally, there are the cuss words. It’s ironic that, even though fewer people profess to believe in God and Jesus, they are saying their names more than ever! 


Cussing is the least sophisticated of the misuses of God’s name. People who cuss aren’t trying to get anything from God, or to bolster their position by appealing to God’s name, they are just cussing. The misuse is a lack of reverence for God.


It’s certainly distressing to Christians as we can hardly go through a day without hearing a coworker, a coffee buddy, or a television show where God’s name isn’t misused with cussing. How do we address these folks in a way that comes across in a manner that doesn’t incite them to simply cuss us out?


Bill, a pastor I know, had a neighbor that was always cussing. He would kid the neighbor about being a great man of prayer because he was always mentioning God’s name. A similar tactic was used by Phillip Ryken:


Some years ago, after a long speaking itinerary in the midwest, I boarded a late-night flight to return home. I was tired and looking forward to a rest. Sitting behind me in the airplane were two salesmen whose conversation was peppered with profanity. I had finally had it when they began running the Lord’s name into the gutter. I raised myself up from my seat and turned around so that I was looking down on them from my perch. Then I asked, “Are either of you in the ministry?”


The one in the aisle seat raised his eyebrows incredulously and said, “What the … would ever make you think that?”


“Well, I am in the ministry,” I said with a smile. “And I am amazed at your communication skills. You just said God, damn, hell, and Jesus Christ in one sentence. I can’t get all of that into a whole sermon!” They both blushed, and I didn’t hear another word from them for the remainder of the flight![2]


The third commandment makes it a crime to use the Lord’s name in vain—let’s look at what the punishment for breaking it is.


II. The Punishment


Exodus 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


Have you ever gotten in trouble for saying something like, “I don’t got no time to work on that”? What did you do? You used a double-negative. Turns out, a double-negative is a perfectly biblical thing to use. 


The phrase, “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless,” is a double-negative, the Lord will hold him guilty. How will the Lord hold him guilty? Whenever someone breaks a commandment, they are guilty before God. Sometimes God’s judgement comes later, sometimes sooner. Look at one example in Leviticus:


10 And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp; 11 And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the LORD, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:) 12 And they put him in ward, that the mind of the LORD might be shewed them. 13 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 14 Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death. (Leviticus 24:10–16)


Now that’s pretty shocking—but it shows us the seriousness of sin.


What about the Christian who drives a screw through his finger while hanging drywall and uses God’s name in vain? Of course, we say that’s no problem—he won’t lose his salvation—but then is the punishment here impotent, nothing to worry about?


The Christian is still guilty, but because we are in Christ, all our guilty stains are wiped away. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can and should sin indiscriminately—that’s an abuse of grace and possible evidence that we’re not really saved. 


But it does mean that we’ve added one more sin to the stack of sins for which Christ died for us.




How do we use God’s name properly?


The Jews were so worried about the misuse of God’s name that to this day, a devout Jew will not speak or write God’s name (they write G-d instead). 


This is a misuse of the Lord’s name in another way, for he has given permission for us to speak his name, so far as we use it correctly. Think of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father…” 


In addition, the name of Jehovah (translated LORD) is used something like 6,000 times in the Old Testament. The name of Jesus appears 1,000 times in the New Testament. God gave us his name so that we could call on him personally in times of distress, trouble, or delight!


If anyone called on the name of the Lord, it would be those, like David, who wrote the Psalms. We can conclude this lesson by looking at a few psalms and seeing how they used the name of the Lord.


1 O LORD our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens. (Psalm 8:1)


2 I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. (Psalm 9:2)


22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: In the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. (Psalm 22:22)


3 O magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34:3)


2 Sing forth the honour of his name: Make his praise glorious. (Psalm 66:2)


8 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come into his courts. (Psalm 96:8)


What do we gather from these samples? Is it not that God’s name is to used to glorify him in our lives with praise, with thanksgiving, with honor? Never to aid ourselves and our image, but only to lift him up.


There will be people calling themselves Christians, who will discover that the Lord did not appreciate their use of his name.


21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21–23)


Furthermore, every person will come to a point where they will bow to the name of Jesus, whether in judgment or in praise.


9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; (Philippians 2:9–10)




[2] Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 585.

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