Here’s how to fully obey the Third Commandment.
In two previous articles, ”The First and Great Commandment” and ”Beloved—Flee Idolatry,” we showed that the First Commandment forbids making a god out of anything—putting it in place of the true God. The Second Commandment governs how to worship the true God. God is the great Educator—He demands that we worship Him in the manner He chooses. God lovingly shows us what dangers to avoid in worship. Men must never make a graven image—any aid, picture or physical object—to worship God. God wants to be worshiped directly “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). A truly converted person does not need a physical aid to worship God.
The Third Commandment shows us how to properly use God’s great name.
Let’s continue our review of the history in Exodus 20. God personally spoke to His people a third time from Mount Sinai. He said, “Thou shalt not take the name of the [Eternal] thy God in vain; for the [Eternal] will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
Listing the proper use of His name as one of the Ten Commandments shows that God places great weight on this issue. To disrespect God’s name carries the penalty of eternal death (Romans 6:23). Why is that? What’s in a name?
In the Bible, personal names carry significant meaning. Names often indicate the character and nature, or the attributes, of an individual. The Bible states that Adam named his wife Eve because she was the “mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). The Hebrew word for Eve is Chavvah, meaning life-giver. At times, God renamed individuals in the Bible indicating the identification of an office, position of authority or change in character. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “a father of many nations,” because that was his God-ordained destiny (Genesis 17:5). When the patriarch Jacob wrestled with God (the Being who became Jesus Christ) all night, God changed his name to Israel (Genesis 32:28). The name Jacob in the Hebrew means heel-catcher or supplanter. It carries a negative overtone—implies a devious nature. Jacob did scheme with his mother against his aged, blind father to steal his brother’s birthright. He supplanted, or unseated, Esau from receiving Isaac’s blessing. His new name, Israel, in the Hebrew means to rule or prevail as God. The name change implies that by tests and trials God transformed Jacob’s character to that of godly righteousness.
Describing the Hebrew tradition of name-giving, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament states under the word for name (onoma), “[T]he name is used for everything which the name covers … [:] one’s rank, authority, interests, pleasure, commands, excellences, deeds, etc.”
This Hebrew tradition certainly applies to God’s name. Why? God is the originator of the tradition! God’s name reveals His high rank, authority, interests, deeds and—most important of all—His righteous character. In fact, the Bible shows that God has many names. Why? No one name can adequately express God’s fullness. Each name carries important meaning. We must hold great honor and respect for all of God’s names.
Use of God’s Name
It will take some deep study and meditation to understand the Third Commandment fully. To help you do this, let’s look briefly at the Hebrew meaning behind three words from the commandment: take, vain and guiltless.
The Hebrew word for take is nasa. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon shows that the biblical writers use the word in a variety of ways. It means “to take up, to lift up” anything. The root word of nasa expresses the idea of raising up or bearing. In reference to Exodus 20:7, Gesenius’ Lexicon specifically states the word means “to lift up or take up anything with the voice.”
The Third Commandment primarily requires that we properly use God’s name in our speaking, which includes everyday conversation as well as our speaking in public or private worship. But the spirit of the commandment requires that God’s people—those who bear His name—honor His name through right actions.
In the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba, David’s sin brought great shame to God’s name. God corrected him for this. He told David through Nathan the prophet, “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the [Eternal] to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:14). David was king of the nation that belonged directly to God. As king, he was required to act in a manner that would bring honor to God. Today, if we claim to be one of God’s own, we must act in ways that bring honor to His name.
The Hebrew word for vain is shav.Gesenius’ Lexicon gives the meaning, “… evil … which is committed, wickedness, iniquity … falsehood [or] a lie … emptiness, vanity [and] nothingness ….”
God prohibits the use of His name in connection with evil or wickedness. God is righteous character. God is not capable of doing evil. He demands that His name not be associated with any kind of evil act of human beings. For example, throughout human history, men have waged war in the name of God. The number one example of this kind of war is the Crusades. Yet God never sponsored such wars.
God requires men always to use His name truthfully. This commandment places great responsibility on all those who teach and preach for God. God prohibits attaching His name to false doctrine or heresy. God corrected ancient Israel and Judah for this exact problem. Through Isaiah, God thundered, “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the [Eternal], and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (Isaiah 48:1). To associate God’s name with a lie or falsehood is outstandingly bad. Realize that Isaiah’s prophecies are dual. They apply to our time as well (Isaiah 30:8). These verses show that God believes that we are equally as guilty as our ancestors.
Of course, this commandment also prohibits using God’s name casually or for a useless purpose.
Finally, the Hebrew word for guiltless is naqah.Gesenius’ Lexicon gives the meaning, “to be (or make) clean.” This word shows that God considers a person who abuses His name as spiritually unclean. How we use God’s name privately and publicly reveals the quality of our spiritual life. The acid test of our spiritual cleanliness is our attitude toward God’s name.
God’s Names Reveal God
God wants all people to know Him. Do you know what God is really like? Do you know what His personal interests are? Do you actually know what God’s offices are? God tells us through the pages of the Bible. Open up your Bible and search this matter out.
Moses’s first personal contact with God came after age 40. At that time, he certainly knew of God but didn’t have a close relationship with Him. God took the first step and brought Moses into His presence through the miracle of the burning bush. He introduced Himself, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Moses actually never saw God here—just the flames. At this supernatural meeting, God commissioned Moses to return to Egypt and bring His people out of slavery. Moses was reluctant to accept God’s commission. He looked for ways to get out of the job. Before the conversation ended, Moses wanted to know God’s name. He said, “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” (verse 13). God then identified Himself as “I Am that I Am” (verse 14).
Although this verse has stirred up much controversy among scholars, essentially God was explaining the meaning of His name. God was giving the definition for the name Lord found in the King James Version. Other Bible versions translate Lord as Jehovah or yhvh. The name comes from the Hebrew word hayah, which corresponds with the English verb to be. God told Moses that He is the Eternal, Ever Living or Self-Existent One. This is God’s name forever (verse 15). Only the great Creator of the angels, universe and man can claim such a name. It reveals His very person, His character, His power, His authority, His reputation. This name deserves our utmost awe and respect. Essentially, God was saying that “I Am” would be actively involved in what He was requiring Moses to do in Egypt. There was no need for worry or concern on Moses’s part. The name implies that I Am is a covenant-making God. This God was establishing a relationship with Moses. There was to be a team effort, and I Am was to play the major part.
All mankind must come to the full understanding that God has always existed and will forever exist to carry out His purposes and plans. He has the power to keep His covenant and promises to His people. He will always exist to bless them. What an incredible name!
It is interesting to note that the Jews of Christ’s day knew that this name should only be associated with God. Jesus Christ applied this same name to Himself, and the people attempted to stone Him for doing so (John 8:58-59).
When Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave Egypt, God revealed another name to Moses to encourage him. God told Moses, “I am the [Eternal]: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them” (Exodus 6:2‑3). The name God Almighty comes from the Hebrew words El Shaddai, meaning strength,mighty and power. What a fantastic confidence-booster for Moses at that most difficult time when he must have felt totally powerless! God showed Moses that he could rely on His almighty power—for God is the source of all power in heaven and in the universe.
The other names of God listed in the Bible are Most High God (El Elyown), Lord (without all-capital letters in the Old Testament of the King James Version) is the word Adonai, Everlasting God (El Owlam), Lord of Hosts (Jehovah Sabaoth), God our Healer (yhvh-Rapha), and the most important of all, God (Elohim). None of these names are old or out-dated. They are current and depict God as He is today. (Request our free booklet The Plain Truth About Healing.) You need to get to know your God.
Any good Bible lexicon will give the meanings of these names. Throughout the Bible, God’s name is connected with His actions, His mercy, His faithfulness, His wisdom and His love. In the first several verses of Psalm 91, four of God’s names are used: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the [Eternal], He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (verses 1-2). This was probably authored by King David, who knew God well. God calls him “a man after mine own heart” (Acts 13:22). David put his whole heart into getting to know God. He learned about God by studying, relying on and honoring the meaning behind God’s various names. We must imitate David’s sterling example.
God Is a Family
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In this first verse of the Bible, God reveals something utterly fantastic about His true nature. The Hebrew word for God here is Elohim. This is the very first name for God used in the Bible. The English word God in no way communicates the significant meaning of this name. Herbert Armstrong explained, “Now once again to Genesis 1:1 …. This originally was written by Moses as God inspired him. Moses wrote in Hebrew. The Hebrew word translated ‘God’ is Elohim—a noun or name, plural in form, but normally singular in grammatical usage. It is the same sort of word as family, church, group—one family consisting of two or more members—one church composed of many members—one group of several persons.
“It is referring to precisely the same Persons, making up or composing the one God, as we found in John 1:1—the Word and God—and each of those two Persons is God.
“In other words, God is now a Family of Persons, composed so far of only the two—God the Father and Christ the Son. But if the Holy Spirit of God dwells in someone, and he is being led by God’s Spirit, then (Romans 8:14) he is a begotten son of God. But, at the time of Christ’s return to Earth in supreme power and glory to set up the Kingdom of God, restoring the government of God abolished by Lucifer, then all human beings filled and led by God’s Spirit shall become born sons of God. The God Family will then rule all nations with the government of God restored!” (Mystery of the Ages). This is incredible knowledge that few know today. Some who do know it, reject it. But it is the very truth of God. You may request a free copy of the incredible book Mystery of the Ages—it will unlock the mysteries of God for you that men have desired to know for centuries.
The name Elohim reveals God’s most intense desire—to have a Family of persons with His very name, nature and righteous character (2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:9). Mankind’s incredible human potential is to be born into the very Family of God. This knowledge alone should drive us to know God better.
Abusing God’s Name
People may not realize it, but the abuse of God’s name is commonplace in our modern world. Look at our entertainment industry. Each night on television and in movies, God’s name is used in a flippant manner continuously. It seems as if the writers of such entertainment look for every possible way to make the use of God’s name into a punch line. Decades ago, this current custom was known for exactly what it is—profanity! Use of profanity on television and in movies was not permitted. Look at how far we’ve degenerated in our language and conversation. Even little children are accustomed to using God’s name as an expletive.
This is considered a very serious sin to God. God warned Israel, “I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name” (Leviticus 20:3). This verse speaks of the first three commandments directly. God will not stand for our frivolous use of His name much longer. In fact, as stated in Leviticus, God is going to deal personally with our disobedience of the Third Commandment. Here is real proof that the peoples of America and Britain will experience the brunt of the Great Tribulation for our violation of this and other commandments.
It is also a common custom to use God’s name in connection with damning someone. This is not using God’s name truthfully. Why? It is not God’s intention to damn any human being. To believe that it is in God’s nature or character to damn men is heresy and a lie! God desires to save all men. Jesus Christ told His disciples, “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56). To call on God to damn someone is to ask God to do something He never desires to do. It is true that some men will eventually suffer the punishment of the lake of fire. However, the fault will be with the lack of repentance in the human beings caught in that fate—not with God’s intention.
It is a violation of the Third Commandment to make light of the name of God in jokes or stories. This robs God of the deep veneration and respect that His high office as Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of the universe deserves.
Some try to avoid the misuse of God’s name by substituting another seemingly more acceptable word, called a euphemism, in place of God’s name. Using such words is still a violation of the Third Commandment. We must rid such expressions from our conversations. Never forget Jesus Christ’s instruction in the model prayer: We are to always hallow—or venerate—God’s name (Matthew 6:9).
Should we swear an oath by using God’s name? This is a common practice in many legal ceremonies in some countries.
Jesus Christ said, “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:34-37). Jesus Christ taught that God’s name is so sacred and holy that we are commanded not to use it to back up our words or our oaths. Isn’t it common knowledge that many people connect God’s name with their words and oaths, yet know in their hearts that they intend to lie? What a travesty! God is not capable of lying (Titus 1:2).
Fortunately, the American justice system was established by men that read the Bible. They made great allowance for men and women to live by the Bible. No one in America is forced to raise a hand in court and swear on the Bible. A provision has been made so that anyone who so chooses may simply use the word affirm instead of swearing. This practice is used in other countries as well. The honest word of human beings with character is to be trusted far more than a dishonest person swearing in the name of God.
Profane Religious Titles
Jesus Christ commanded that certain religious titles should be avoided. He said, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Several large religious organizations on this Earth flagrantly ignore this clear statement. Our only spiritual Father is God! Connecting such a title with a man in a religious office violates the Third Commandment. This tradition is a false assumption of a divine title.
In a similar fashion, for a man to accept the title Reverend is also a violation of the Third Commandment. The term reverend means someone to berevered or worthy of worship. No human being is worthy of such a title because no human being is worthy of worship. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Of course, this verse applies to ministers along with all human beings. The Apostle Paul acknowledged that ministers are “compassed with infirmity” (Hebrews 5:2). The point is, God has reserved the title Reverend for Himself alone: “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name” (Psalm 111:9). Any human being desirous of a title reserved solely for God will have to repent or suffer the consequences.
Naturally, we are able to call our own human parent father. Even God does so in the Fifth Commandment. And of course, we should do this with the utmost honor and respect. Also, certain spiritual leaders whom God has used to bring many to the truth—like the Apostle Paul—have been described as fathers in this sense (1 Corinthians 4:14-16). But this should not be confused with assigning the title “father” to any man.
To the Religious
The spiritually minded must carefully consider the use of God’s name. It has become common practice to say Jesus Christ’s name repeatedly in a prayer-like fashion in private and public worship. Christ said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). Remember, Jesus Christ is God (Hebrews 1:8). God the Father has given Him a name “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21). To say Jesus Christ’s name repeatedly is a vain, or useless, repetition. To begin or end every sentence with His name is vain repetition. Notice that Christ recognizes that people who truly know God would not do such things. Vainly repeating God’s name is a heathen practice! We must reverence God’s name even in our praying.
But there is more. Jesus Christ said, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Prayer without obedience is the most subtle form of blasphemy. Religious people who talk about God all the time but do not obey God’s Word and His commandments are guilty of a far greater sin than the ones who admittedly live a sinful life but do not pretend to be religious. Religious hypocrisy is a violation of the Third Commandment.
Jesus Christ vehemently went after the rampant hypocrisy in the spiritual leaders of the first century. We must cut such spiritual cancer out of our lives if we truly desire to enter into God’s Kingdom. Christ also said, “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” (Matthew 7:21). Holding reverence for God with our speaking is clearly not enough. We must strive to obey God’s Word and commandments. We must desire to do God’s will.
It is time that all men, women and children deeply reverence God’s great name. His name represents His high office as Creator, His character and His dignity. God desires to be worshiped in “spirit and in truth.” He also commands us to use His name truthfully. Let’s be sure that we learn how to—then do so.