We must all protect our reputations. A good reputation goes a long way in the public square and in our relationships. If you run a business your reputation is everything. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets you in the door to be heard.
We associate a reputation with a name. When I hear a company name like Walmart there are certain things I think of that go along with that name. When I hear Chick-Fil-A I first think of great tasting food. Then I think about their Christian roots, that they’re not open on Sunday.
God also has a reputation not only in Israel but around the world. And he has many names based on the experiences people have had with him. These names are based on Yahweh, his covenant with Israel.
As we continue to look at the first four of the Ten Commandments we come to the third commandment that teaches us how to handle God’s name. God declares to Israel on Mount Sinai, “You must not use the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave unpunished the one who uses his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
What It Is and Isn’t
If we take the Lord’s name in vain we are committing a terrible sin against the Lord. But we must know what it is so we don’t do it. The Israelites thought that taking the Lord’s name in vain was to use it too often or to even speak it. But this is not really what taking the Lord’s name in vain means.
To take the Lord’s name in vain means to make it common or profane. His name and reputation are holy. They are separate from all the other names we can use. We must not speak his name in anger, surprise, or pain, for example.
When people hit their thumb with a hammer and scream God’s name in one of its facets, this is part of what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain. We are abusing his reputation by calling out his name when not calling on him.
When we call out in surprise or pain because we smashed our thumb with a hammer we are not calling for him to help us. We are using his name inappropriately. Some people use the name of God as a swear word. They are profaning his name in their anger or so nonchalantly that they don’t even care they said his name.
Down on pageEven the Christian swearing we do when we make up a word that sounds close to the name of God is taking the Lord’s name in vain. There is no reason for us to use these methods when we can call on God in our pain, anger, and grief.
Instead of using his name in vain, why don’t you simply call out to God and ask him for his help in your situation. If you hurt your thumb ask the Lord to relieve your pain and heal your thumb. If you’re angry, call on the Lord to help you find a way to redeem your anger or make it righteous anger.
Protecting the Name
One of the most interesting things the Israelites did to protect the name of God and preserve it was to reference it without saying his name. They believed that even speaking God’s name was a violation of this third commandment.
The Israelites followed this commandment to the extreme. They refused to even say the name of God. Even today we don’t know the original pronunciation of God’s name in Hebrew. But we have a pretty good idea. They took his name, Yahweh, and replaced it with Adonai, another word for “Lord.” If you ever hear Jews reading the Bible and they come across why each WH they read it as, “Adonai.”
In the seventh century AD, they added vowels to the words. Hebrew can be read with the consonants alone. Reading Adonai instead of Yahweh preserved God’s name. They overlayed the vowels for Adonai onto the letters for Yahweh.
So when they were finished altering the vowels it looked like this: Yehowah. German scholars pronounced this word, “Jehovah.” They don’t have a “y” sound so they used a “j” sound instead. Then they used the modern pronunciation of “v” for the “w” letter.
That sounds complicated, but that’s how the Israelites interpreted taking the Lord’s name in vain. They thought speaking God’s name profaned it. This is where we get the origins for some of the ways we pronounce God’s name today.
Another way they protected God’s name was to use the word, “HaShem” which is the Hebrew word for, “The Name.” It was a reference to the tetragrammaton (YHWH), Yahweh, the name of God. Often times “The Name” could stand in for the very presence and Person of God. There is an entire theology surrounding this usage of God’s name.
But we don’t have to protect the proper pronunciation of God’s name. Just speaking his name, as long as it is in the right situation, is not profaning it. We are not emptying or taking in vain God’s name just by saying it. We empty the meaning of God’s name and his reputation when we use it in improper situations I have explained.
God can protect his own name and reputation. He doesn’t need our help. But he does need us to not abuse his name and reputation, and him. He calls us to love him by preserving his name as sacred because it is. When we revere and honor his name and reputation we honor the Lord.
Name and Reputation
I keep talking about name and reputation simultaneously? In the Bible, names and their reputations were almost one in the same. This commandment is all about respecting and revering God by properly using his name.
When we misuse God’s name we misuse his reputation. We drag it through the mud, so to speak. Some of the examples of names being important and referring to reputation are when God changes names.
Jacob fought with God and God took his hip out of his socket. He demanded from Jacob, “What is your name?” Jacob, probably in an ashamed way, stated his name was, “Deceiver.” And God changed his name from Deceiver to, “He Struggles with God.” Jacob struggled with God to see his blessing.
Another example is the prophet Samuel. His name literally means, “He hears God.” Remember when Samuel was dedicated to the Lord and lived near the tabernacle, or near the holy place where they kept the Ark of the Covenant, God called to him in the night and he heard God’s voice. That’s a great name to have when you are the mouthpiece of God to speak to his people. It’s good to hear his voice so you can speak his message.
Virtually every name in the Old Testament was not chosen as we choose them. It wasn’t just because the parents thought it was a cool name or it sounded good. It meant something and it predicted what the parents thought the child would become.
Nabal, Abigail’s husband before she married David, was a fool and treated David foolishly. His name means, “Foolish.” Isaac was born to elderly parents as the promised son. His name means, “Laughter.” Sarah laughed at God when he said she would have a child in her old age. But when she had the child she laughed out of her joy from God’s blessing. And the examples go on and on.
God’s name, Yahweh, is a form of the verb, “to be.” It almost sounds like a breath. By his name got declares himself that God exists, the Living God. He is just a breath away when we need them. And if we abuse that relational name we anger the Lord.
Another practical way we can keep this commandment as Christians is to live out the teachings, commandments, and principles that Jesus put in place for those who believe in and follow him. His disciples must be the kind of people who do not abuse his reputation in the world.
Here’s what I mean. We were first given the name, “Christian” in the book of Acts. Unbelievers were calling followers of the Way, of Jesus, Christians because they resembled, “Little Christs.” They were literally making fun of Jesus’ disciples. But Christians took the name and ran with it.
As we live our lives we are Little Christs, disciples who resemble Jesus so closely that unbelievers think we are him. We must live out this principle of being Jesus to those around us. As one person said, we are Jesus with skin on. You may be the only Jesus people ever meet.
This makes it even more important that we refuse to make vain and empty the name of Jesus. The last and we would want is for unbelievers to hate Jesus because they met us. This means that we must live up to the reputation of Jesus.
We must practice his teachings, principles, and commandments. The world knows who Jesus is on paper. And when they look at us if they do not see him in us we are violating this commandment. We are trampling on the good reputation of Jesus.
The way we treat others matters to God very much. And when we miss treat them in his name, we are taking his name in vain. People who don’t live for Jesus but take his name as a Christian are CHRINO’s.
I’m choosing this name from a political background. RHINO’s were given this name because they were Republicans In Name Only. They were registered as Republicans and called themselves Republicans but they didn’t act like Republicans without the values of the Republican Party. They were fake Republicans.
In the same way, when we do not live the values, teachings, principles, and commandments that Jesus has set in place for his disciples we are fake Christians. We take the name of Jesus but we destroy it with our behavior and lifestyle.
We must not take the Lord’s name in vain as Christians. We must not only profess to be Christians, those who are disciples of Christ, but to practice his high standards in our lives before others. It’s not just to look good in front of others. It is to be what we say we are and represent him in this world.
No Christian is perfect and we are all on the path to holiness together. We’re all on different steps in that path. Some are brand-new Christians, and others have been Christians for 40 years. We all fall short but we must not stay there. We must get up from falling, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and walk the path with him again.
No one can live the life Christ prescribes on his or her own willpower. We trust in and obey the Holy Spirit at every turn. Everything he puts before us we do to become more like Jesus. But this is what the world should see, us becoming like Jesus and showing him to the world.
There’s a heavy penalty for taking the Lord’s name in vain. We would be guilty of breaking this commandment, but it’s much more than that. Emptying God’s name of its glory and the honorable reputation he holds will place us in a path of guilt and unforgiveness. God will exact his vengeance and wrath upon anyone who takes his name in vain without confession and asking forgiveness.
We must not take the Lord’s name in vain. We want to honor God by living our lives for him. We want to follow his commandments and do everything Jesus tells us to do. We want to show Jesus to the world and show others his glorious reputation.
So let us live for Jesus at every opportunity. Let us show his excellent reputation by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. May others look at us and see Jesus. May you be Jesus with skin on, the only Jesus other people see. And may you successfully show who he is and all his glory to them. Leave a comment and talk about how you show Jesus to your world.