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The Third Commandment

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The Third Commandment

Exodus 20:7


After the American Civil War the managers of the infamous Louisiana Lottery approached Robert E. Lee and asked if he’d let them use his name in their scheme. They promised that if he did he would become rich.

Astounded, Lee straightened up, buttoned his gray coat, and shouted, “Gentlemen, I lost my home in the war. I lost my fortune in the war. I lost everything except my name. My name is not for sale, and if you fellows don’t get out of here, I’ll break this crutch over your heads!”

• Your name is a pretty important thing.

• It is not much fun running around in life with everyone calling out ‘hey you’

• As parents we tried to pick the names of our children fairly carefully.

• We wanted names that meant something, were unique and went with their last name.

• We even considered whether their name would rhyme with other words.

• I grew up being called a host of names because my name conveniently rhymed.

• In a culture where there are sometimes multiple people with the same first and last name it is not fun when your name gets disparaged because the other person with that name has acted badly.

• I have seen this happen and maybe you have as well.

• Our name is attached to a reputation and we all hope that it is a good one.

• This is somewhat the reasoning behind the third commandment.

• God has a name and he has made his name known to those he wishes to be in covenant with.

• They are to uphold and honor his name by keeping the covenant.

• There is power in God’s name and not necessarily how some have perceived.

• It is not in giving us whatever we want but in how his honor and reputation are upheld in this world.

The Command (Exodus 20:7)

20:7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain.

1. The Significance of God’s Name

• When God first introduces himself to Moses at the burning bush he does so a Yahweh ____________

• This name also refered to in Scholarly circles as the tetragrammaton consists of four Hebrew consonants that we translate as y, h, w and h.

• To this day we are not sure how to pronounce the tetragrammaton because it was not until the sixth century AD that vowels were added to the text.

• Before this only those trained in the Hebrew text could read the words with the proper insertion of vowels.

• After the exile the reverence for God was high-so high that they did not even want to pronounce God’s name so they were substitute Adonai in its place.

• This tradition continued through the time of adding vowels so that the vowels of Adonai were placed under the tetragrammaton to indicate that Adonai and not Yahweh was to be uttered.

• This practice has continued to this day among Jews faithful to God.

• To say the name Yahweh in their company is a great offence.

• It was in about ad 1520 that Petrus Galatinus combined the vowels of Adonai with the tetragrammaton and transliterated it into latin form to create the name Jehovah.

• The name Jehovah is not widely accepted as legitimate in this day although the KJV and the RSV still contain it.

• It is not for certain what Yahweh means but the closest that we can come is “to be” or the fuller version “I am what I am.”

• It speaks to God’s solidaridy, uniqueness, power and sovereignty.

• It is a statement about the fact that he is uncreated, the creator of all things and in control of all things.

• It indicates that he does not share power with any other deity and that no other gods even exist.

• God has revealed himself in a very specific way

• That means that when people try to bring unity to the religions of the world it is impossible to reconcile the different beliefs.

• They want to say that the god you worship and the god I worship are the same but we know him by different names.

• This cannot work for Yahweh’s name is intimately tied to how we worship and respond to him as well as how he interacts in this world.

2. The Meaning of the Command

• We may not be able to understand very well in western society the significance of a name.

• We don’t place a lot of weight on it seeing that there are many people who share our name.

• The closest we may come is when we identify specifically our first and last name together in the context of how people perceive me in particular.

• We also do not place any special meaning on a name-its root doesn’t concern us to much

• In the ancient near east your name was one you guarded, it was your reputation on the line.

• Your name also had a meaning and much of your life was thought to be guided or even determined by the meaning of your name.

• So when we read that we are commanded to not take God’s name in vain he is stating that it is more than the tetragrammaton.

• It is more than four consonants and two vowels.

• It has to do with the worship and honor due the one who is Yahweh.

• If it helps to understand it we can read it as ‘fame or reputation’

• When we get to the word ‘vain’ we have often thought of it as certain phrases that I will choose not to repeat.

• The way to understand this word is to think of it in terms of making something insignificant, or lessening its value or importance.

• In terms of Yahweh by using his name flippantly it reduces the value we have for who he is and makes him appear insignificant to others.

• The command therefore is very simple: do not make God into nothing.

• Lev. 24:11-16:

24:11 The Israelite woman’s son misused the Name and cursed, so they brought him to Moses. (Now his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) 24:12 So they placed him in custody until they were able to make a clear legal decision for themselves based on words from the mouth of the Lord.

24:13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 24:14 “Bring the one who cursed outside the camp, and all who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the whole congregation is to stone him to death. 24:15 Moreover, you are to tell the Israelites, ‘If any man curses his God he will bear responsibility for his sin, 24:16 and one who misuses the name of the Lord must surely be put to death. The whole congregation must surely stone him, whether he is a foreigner or a native citizen; when he misuses the Name he must be put to death.

• Misusing God’s name was so serious that the punishment was death.

• Today we throw his name around so much that if we were in the Israelite camp there would be hardly a person alive to enter the promised land.

• Ezekiel 36:21 tells the reason for this command.

I was concerned for my holy reputation which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they went.

• So the reasoning behind the command is not so much that there is some power in God’s name but more so because that is the name he has given to himself and it is that name that carries all that God is.

• When the Israelites vowed to live by the name of God they were promising to be faithful to the covenant.

• When they disobeyed and rebelled they diminished his name.

• We can think of it in terms of representation.

• If a person represents you to someone else but they acts or says things that you would not approve of-the perception is left that you are as your representative is acting and speaking.

• Some have thought that this prohibited the making of vows or oaths in God’s name as Jesus tells us in the NT.

• But in Deut. 6:13 it says:

You must revere the Lord your God, serve him, and take oaths using only his name.

• How do we reconcile the OT with the NT.

• Vowing by God was not wrong-not keeping your vow made by him was.

• Jesus was encouraging people to not place themselves in the precarious situation of making of vow in the name of God that they could not keep.

• Again the emphasis is not so much on the vow but on the impression or fame God receives by you keeping or not keeping your promise.

• So the third command was to make sure that God’s chosen people in there interaction with each other and other nations would protect the sanctity and honor of Yahweh because they had entered into a covenant relationship with God.

• If they acted unholy it placed a negative relationship of God.

3. The Implication for Us Today

• In my experience I have always applied this command as a prohibition to use God’s name in bad language.

• I have worked on many construction sites and heard God’s name thrown around in some pretty unfavorable ways.

• I have watched movies and television and heard his name used repeatedly.

• It seems the whole world knows God pretty well at least in a particular fashion.

• When we lived in the States one of the most common phrases for every occasion was “O my God” and it was equally used among Christians and Nonchristians.

• To use God’s name as I have described completely demeans the respect and authority he should have in our lives.

• This way of speaking reduces God to nothing more than a figure heard without any control or power.

• This is one of the obvious ways of reducing his name.

• But we also see it when people attribute calamity to God-‘The storm was an act of God’

• Why should God get the blame, as if he was the one who created the disaster or was out to hurt someone.

• We see God’s name made into nothing when people say they worship God but then they describe a god very different than we see in the Bible.

• People have created God for themselves with the attitude of ‘who is God to you’

• This kind of perspective makes Yahweh into nothing.

• The one that probably hits closest to home is when we as Christians act hypocritically.

• This is the context for making vows or oaths in the OT.

• It wasn’t that the vow made by God was wrong-it was the not keeping vow that was the problem.

• When we declare that we are Christians and make a promise and then do not keep it we are taking God’s name in vain.

• When we lie or cheat or deceive and go to church on Sunday we are taking God’s name in vain.

• When we mistreat people we are taking God’s name in vain.

• When we abuse our families we are taking God’s name in vain.

• When the people of the church fight and bicker they are taking God’s name in vain.

• Whenever we do or say something as a Christian that goes against God and obedience to him we have taken his name and made it nothing.

• So I encourage you to be careful, if you are making a claim to Christianity then God’s name is attached to you.

• When you are a Child of God you bear his name and he does not want his name to be treated with contempt.

• In fact at the end of the command it says that he will hold to account anyone who does not lift his name high and exalt it.

• We should become more than just appauled when we hear God’s name misused by unbelievers or in a movie or Tv.

• For many they do not even know or understand what they are doing.

• It is when Christians throw around his name without regard.

• It is when Christians say things that are un-Christ-like

• It is when Christians do things that are un-Christ-like that we break the third commandment.

• So how will you increase the fame of God?

• Will your actions and words lift him up or will your actions and word make his name nothing?

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