Exodus 20:7

Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 4, 2008


First Commandment:  God is number one (no other gods)

Second Commandment: Get the picture right (no graven images)

The third commandment:

(Exo 20:7 NKJV)  "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

The value of a name

In our society, a name doesn’t quite mean the same as it did back in Bible times.  We tend to name our kids more for what sounds good rather than what a name means.  Names like Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Emily, Emma, Madison, Abigail, and Olivia (top names of 2000).

Some people change their names, not because of what the names means but more likely because of how it sounds (can you guess what they changed their names to??):

Jennifer Anastassikis changed to Jennifer Aniston

Betty Joan Perske changed to Lauren Bacall

O'Shea Jackson changed to Ice Cube

Ernest Evans changed to Chubby Checker

Paul David Hewson changed to Bono

Eugene Maurice Orowitz changed to Michael Landon

Whereas names aren’t much more than a sound to us, in Bible Times a name meant something. 

Often a name was a hint as to a person’s character.

Nabal meant “fool
Hezekiah meant “Yahweh is my strength
Hephzibah (Hezekiah’s wife) meant “My delight is in her
Jesus, Joshua, means “Yahweh is salvation

And yes, even Bible people changed their names, but not because of the sound of the name, they changed their name because they had changed:

Abram (exalted father) became Abraham, “father of a multitude”
Jacob meant “tricky heal-catcher”, somebody you shouldn’t trust.  God changed his name to Israel (governed by God)

The name of God (hwhy) is based on four Hebrew letters, equivalent to our letters Y, H, W, H.  Ancient Hebrew was written only with consonants, no vowels.  The best we can guess as to how to pronounce those letters would be “Yahweh”.

Later in the history of the Jews, they became concerned that they might forget how to pronounce their language and they developed a series of dots and dashes that they put above, in the middle, and below the original letters.  But when they came to the name of God, they were concerned that people might misuse God’s name.  Because of the commandment that we are looking at today, they made a decision to put the vowels for “adonai” (the Hebrew word for “lord”) into the name of God. When you are taught beginning Hebrew, and you come up to the name of God, you are tempted to pronounce it the way it looks, the vowels for adonai and the consonants YHWH, which put together sound like “yeh-hoo-wah”.  But your teacher quickly corrects you and you learn to pronounce the word as “adonai”.  As I’ve taught you, your English Bibles use the same sort of thing, using the word “LORD” with all capital letters to give you a clue that God’s name is in the text.  By the way, if you were German, you would spell the word “yeh-hoo-wah” as “Jehovah

If Bible names have meanings, then what does “Yahweh” mean? 

It is based on the verb “to be” and could be translated as “the becoming one” or the “always is one”.  God is always present, always has been, always will be.  He transcends time.  He is currently at work in the past, in our present, and in our future, all at the same time.

Even though God has always had the name Yahweh, it was not a name that the nation of Israel was too familiar with in Moses’ time.

(Exo 6:2-3 NKJV)  And God spoke to Moses and said to him: "I am the LORD. {3} "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them…

It is the name of the God who answered their prayers and sent a deliverer named Moses. This name of Yahweh would become a name of power and deliverance.

A few chapters later from our passage, Moses wants to know God better.  What he will experience will involve the name of God.  Remember that the name describes the person.  Moses asks God…

(Exo 33:18-19 NKJV)  …"Please, show me Your glory." {19} Then He said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you…

Later Moses will have his closest encounter with God ever where God will “proclaim” or give a better idea what His name is all about:

(Exo 34:5-8 NKJV)  Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. {6} And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, {7} "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." {8} So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.
Yahweh is a name that is to be associated with mercy, grace, patience, goodness, and truth.  It is a name that is supposed to make us think of forgiveness as well as judgment.

This third commandment is going to deal with God’s name.

:7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

I grew up thinking that this was the “don’t swear or say bad words” commandment.  Is that what this is all about?  Let’s look at some of the words used.

shall not takenasa’ – to lift, carry, take; some translate it “attach to”; A very common word – used 654 times.  Look how it’s used:

Gen 7:17  The waters increased and lifted up the ark…

Gen 27:3 "Now therefore, please take your weapons, your quiver and your bow…

Gen 44:1  …"Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry

How is it that we “carry” or “take” the Lord’s name?

Ex 28:12 "And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod [as] memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a memorial.
The priests had two stones on the shoulder of their garment with the names of the tribes of Israel engraved on them.  The “bore” the names on their shoulders.
In our verse, perhaps we could look at this as “wearing” the name of the Lord.  Don’t wear God’s name in vain.
Ps 16:4 …Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer, Nor take up their names on my lips.
Here is means to speak the name.
The Jews have taken this idea with great seriousness.  They will not mention God’s name, Yahweh, out of fear that they have spoken it in an unworthy manner and transgress this commandment.  Their documents today will spell God’s name as “G-d” or simply “The Name” (Ha Shem)

in vainshav’ – emptiness, falsehood; nothingness; emptiness, lying

One commentary has this as “to lift it up or attach God’s name to emptiness”

hold him guiltlessnaqah – (Piel) to hold innocent, acquit; to leave unpunished

Some of the commandments don’t mention the consequences: 

(Exo 20:13-15 NKJV)  "You shall not murder. {14} "You shall not commit adultery. {15} "You shall not steal.

This one is serious enough for God to warn about breaking it.

I want to suggest five ways that we can be living out this commandment.

Lesson #1

Don’t use God to excuse your lies

As humans, we like to lie.  We get pretty good at it.  Sometimes we get so good at it that people can’t tell when we’re telling the truth.  That’s how the swearing of an oath got started.
If you don’t believe me because I promise I’m telling the truth, perhaps you’ll believe me if I swear to God that I’m telling the truth.  Our courts have you place your hand on a Bible and swear.
God did allow people to “swear”, to make an oath using His name:
(Deu 6:13 NKJV)  "You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name.
Under the Law, if a man swore in the name of God, then you were supposed to believe him.
(Exo 22:10-11 NKJV)  "If a man delivers to his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep, and it dies, is hurt, or driven away, no one seeing it, {11} "then an oath of the LORD shall be between them both, that he has not put his hand into his neighbor's goods; and the owner of it shall accept that, and he shall not make it good.
But God has a problem when people use Him as their excuse to lie to other people:
(Lev 19:12 NKJV)  'And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
Some businessmen need help with their reputation.  They use God as their crutch.  They advertise in the Christian business directory.  They have a fish on their store window.  And once you hire them, you find that you’ve been taken advantage of.
Jesus said,
(Mat 5:33-37 NKJV)  "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' {34} "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; {35} "nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. {36} "Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. {37} "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

God wants us to be men and women who keep their word.  When we promise to meet a client, we ought to show up on time.  When we advertise a certain service, we ought to deliver.  Jesus doesn’t want us to have to use God’s name to bolster our reputation, we ought to honor His name with our reputation.

Lesson #2

The name isn’t magical

People are always looking for magical powers.
There are some who would look at God’s name as if it had magical powers.
In the mediaeval Toledoth Yeshu, a popular work written by the Jews to discredit the gospel, it says,
“In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraven the letters of God's Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished.” 
The writings go on to claim that Jesus was so powerful and did so many miracles because He learned the secret of the name of God.
When Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was taking exploding, there were a group of Jewish exorcists travelling the countryside casting out demons with a new miracle formula:
(Acts 19:13 NKJV)  Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches."
Hocus Pocus – recall those magic words?  It is thought to be a corruption of the Latin words “hoc est corpus” (here is the body), words used in the Catholic mass when the priest is supposedly turning the bread into the literal body of Christ. Magicians taking the words and making them into magical mumbo-jumbo, an excuse to deceive people.
As Christians, we need to be careful that we don’t take the phrase “in Jesus’ name” as our own little magical formula.  Some people will quote:
(John 14:14 NKJV)  "If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

And they have this notion that as long as they tack on the magical words “in Jesus’ name”, that God has to answer that prayer.

What does it mean to ask “in Jesus’ name”?

I think it means to ask in the “character of Jesus” – does this request match the kind of things that I know about Jesus, about His name?  Is this something that Jesus would ask?  If Jesus were standing right here with us now, is this something that He would ask?

The power isn’t in the “magical” name, it’s in the God who honors prayer.

When Jesus taught about prayer, He said,

(Mat 6:9 NKJV)  "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed (“holy”) be Your name.

Lesson #3

Cursing and swearing

Mock Buddha and you’ll hear from the ACLU. Draw a cartoon about Mohammed and you might start receiving death threats. But use the name of Jesus Christ in any manner whatsoever and no one will even raise an eyebrow.
J. Vernon McGee writes,
Many people cannot express themselves without using profanity. A man who was wonderfully converted several years ago in Texas once told me, “When I was converted, I lost over half of my vocabulary!” And this is what he meant.
When someone says, “God damn it”, the words they are using are asking God to send that thing to eternal damnation, to send something to hell.  But that’s not what a person really means when they say those words; they just become a stupid expression of anger.
Desensitization – people don’t understand that the name of God is something that saves you, not something that helps you let off steam when you stub your toe.
It’s the name of God that was meant to save you, not curse you.
When Peter and John healed a lame man “in the name of Jesus Christ”, they were put on trial for what they had done…
(Acts 4:8-12 NKJV)  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: {9} "If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, {10} "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. {11} "This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' {12} "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
May we help change people’s perception about the name of Jesus.

May it no longer be a thing of cursing and damnation.

May it be the name by which men are saved.

(Rom 10:13 NKJV)  For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."

Lesson #4

Connecting the wrong things to God

If the idea is to not “attach God’s name to emptiness”, then perhaps we might be guilty of this when we attribute the wrong things to God.
This is one of many reasons why God hates false prophets.  They are giving people the wrong idea about God.
(Jer 23:16-17 NKJV)  Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the LORD. {17} They continually say to those who despise Me, 'The LORD has said, "You shall have peace" '; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, 'No evil shall come upon you.'"

In Jeremiah’s day, the people had become quite wicked.  They needed to change some things.  They needed to turn their lives around.  They were like people addicted to meth, but all the religious people were saying were, “Don’t worry, be happy”.  They were saying things that God wasn’t saying.

Perhaps this might happen when we as Christians, as representative of Jesus Christ, give people the wrong idea about God.
I think of the people that have been abused by Catholic priests – how often I hear people connecting the abuse with God.
I think of people right inside our own Christian churches who have also abused people.  Parents who have abused their children. The other day hearing on the radio about a guy who swindled people in a church out of $12 million dollars.  Pastors who abuse their authority, have affairs with women in the church, or steal from the church.
(Mat 7:21-23 NKJV)  "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. {22} "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' {23} "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
Why was Jesus not pleased?  Because the name was dishonored.

Lesson #5

Honor the name

That’s what this commandment is all about.
Just as the high priest “wore” the names of the tribes on his shoulders, we wear the name of Jesus on ours.  It’s like we’ve been given Jesus’ name badge.
I’m a Cathers.  I was given that name at birth.  I’m also Richard Tomlin Cathers, the same name as my dad.  The more I love my dad, the more I want to honor his name.
(Heb 6:10 NKJV)  For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
I’m also a Christian.  I bear the name of Christ.  I want to honor that name.


Pediatrician David Cerqueira shares a story of how a dying girl showed his church the honor of serving God:

One Sunday my wife had prepared a lesson on being useful. She taught the children that everyone can be useful—that usefulness is serving God, and that doing so is worthy of honor. The kids quietly soaked up my wife’s words, and as the lesson ended, there was a short moment of silence. [A little girl named] Sarah spoke up. “Teacher, what can I do? I don’t know how to do many useful things.”

Not anticipating that kind of response, my wife quickly looked around and spotted an empty flower vase on the windowsill. “Sarah, you can bring in a flower and put it in the vase. That would be a useful thing.”

Sarah frowned. “But that’s not important.”

“It is,” replied my wife, “if you are helping someone.”

Sure enough, the next Sunday Sarah brought in a dandelion and placed it in the vase. In fact, she continued to do so each week. Without reminders or help, she made sure the vase was filled with a bright yellow flower, Sunday after Sunday. When my wife told our pastor about Sarah’s faithfulness, he placed the vase upstairs in the main sanctuary next to the pulpit. That Sunday he gave a sermon on the honor of serving others, using Sarah’s vase as an example. The congregation was touched by the message, and the week started on a good note. …

During that same week I got a call from Sarah’s mother. She worried that Sarah seemed to have less energy than usual and that she didn’t have an appetite. Offering her some reassurances, I made room in my schedule to see Sarah the following day. After Sarah had a battery of tests and days of examinations, I sat numbly in my office, Sarah’s paperwork on my lap. The results were tragic. [She had leukemia.]

On the way home, I stopped to see Sarah’s parents so that I could personally give them the sad news. Sarah’s genetics and the leukemia that was attacking her small body were a horrible mix. Sitting at their kitchen table, I did my best to explain to Sarah’s parents that nothing could be done to save her life. I don’t think I have ever had a more difficult conversation than the one that night. …

Time pressed on. Sarah became confined to bed and to the visits that many people gave her. She lost her smile. She lost most of her weight. And then it came: another telephone call. Sarah’s mother asked me to come see her. I dropped everything and ran to the house. There she was, a small bundle that barely moved. After a short examination, I knew that Sarah would soon be leaving this world. I urged her parents to spend as much time as possible with her.

That was a Friday afternoon. On Sunday morning church started as usual. The singing, the sermon—it all seemed meaningless when I thought of Sarah. I felt enveloped in sadness. At the end of the sermon, the pastor suddenly stopped speaking. His eyes wide, he stared at the back of the church with utter amazement. Everyone turned to see what he was looking at. It was Sarah! Her parents had brought her for one last visit. She was bundled in a blanket, a dandelion in one little hand.

She didn’t sit in the back row. Instead she slowly walked to the front of the church where her vase still perched by the pulpit. She put her flower in the vase and a piece of paper beside it. Then she returned to her parents. Seeing little Sarah place her flower in the vase for the last time moved everyone. At the end of the service, people gathered around Sarah and her parents, trying to offer as much love and support as possible. I could hardly bear to watch.

Four days later, Sarah died. …

I wasn’t expecting it, but our pastor asked to see me after the funeral. We stood at the cemetery near our cars as people walked past us. In a low voice he said, “Dave, I’ve got something you ought to see.” He pulled out of his pocket the piece of paper that Sarah had left by the vase. Holding it out to me, he said, “You’d better keep this; it may help you in your line of work.”

I opened the folded paper to read, in pink crayon, what Sarah had written:

Dear God,
This vase has been the biggest honor of my life.

Sarah’s note and her vase have helped me to understand. I now realize in a new way that life is an opportunity to serve God by serving people. And, as Sarah put it, that is the biggest honor of all.

Condensed from an article in Today’s Christian © 2008 Christianity Today International.