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.
As the Second Commandment concerns the manner in which God is to be worshiped (namely, according to His revealed will), so this one bids us worship Him with that frame of spirit which is agreeable to the dignity and solemnity of such an exercise and the majesty of Him with whom we have to do—that is, with the utmost sincerity, humility, and reverence. "Fear this glorious and fearful name, the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 28:58). O what high thoughts we ought to entertain of such a Being! In what holy awe should we stand of Him! "The end of this Precept is that the Lord will have the majesty of His name to be held inviolably sacred by us. Whatever we think and say of Him should savor of His excellency, correspond to the sacred sublimity of His name, and tend to the exaltation of His magnificence."1 Anything pertaining to God should be spoken of with the greatest sobriety.
Let us first endeavor to point out the scope and comprehensiveness of this Commandment. By the Name of the Lord our God is signified God Himself as He is made known to us, including everything through which He has been pleased to reveal Himself: His Word, His titles, His attributes, His ordinances, His works. The Name of God stands for His very nature and being, as in Psalm 20:1; 135:3; John 1:12, etc. Sometimes the Name of God is taken for the entire system of Divine Truth: "we will walk in the Name of the Lord our God" (Micah 4:5)—in that way of truth and worship which He has appointed. "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men Thou gavest Me" (John 17:6)—instructed them in the heavenly doctrine. But usually, and more specifically, the Name of God refers to that by which He is called and made known to us. To "take His Name" means to employ or make use of the same as the object of our thoughts or the subject of our speech. Not to take His Name "in vain" is the negative way of saying it must be held in the utmost awe and used holily in thought and word and deed.
It will thus be seen that this Commandment requires us to make mention of the Name of God. Since He has given us so many and gracious discoveries of Himself, it would evince the vilest contempt of the greatest of privileges if we expressed no regard to those discoveries and made no use of the same. Those who make no religious profession and desire not to be instructed in those things which relate to the Divine glory are guilty of thus slighting the Most High. We make use of God's Name in public worship, in private prayer, and when taking religious oaths or making solemn vows. When we draw near to God in prayer we should adore the Divine perfections with a becoming humility, as did Abraham (Genesis 18:27), Jacob (Genesis 32:10), Moses (Exodus 15:11), Solomon (1 Kings 8:33), Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:15), Daniel (Daniel 9:4), the inhabitants of heaven (Revelation 4:10-11).
Negatively, this Commandment prohibits all dishonoring thoughts of God, all needless, flippant, profane or blasphemous mention of Him, any irreverent use of His Word, any murmurings against His Providence, any abuse of anything by which He has made Himself known.
How God's Name is Taken in Vain
Let us now point out more specifically some of the ways in which God's Name may be taken in vain.
1. When it is used to unworthy ends
First, when it is used without propounding to ourselves a due end. And there are but two ends which can warrant our use of any of His Names, titles or attributes:
- His glory
- The edification of ourselves and others
Whatsoever is besides these is frivolous and evil, affording no sufficient ground for us to make mention of such a great and holy Name, which is so full of glory and majesty. Unless our speech be designedly directed to the advancement of the Divine glory or the promotion of the benefit of those to whom we speak, we are not justified in having God's ineffable Name upon our lips. He accounts Himself highly insulted when we mention His name to idle purpose.
2. When it is used without due consideration and reverence
God's Name is taken in vain by us when we use it without due consideration and reverence. Whenever we make mention of Him before whom the seraphim veil their faces, we ought seriously and solemnly to ponder His infinite majesty and glory and bow our hearts in deepest prostration before that Name. They who think and speak of the great God promiscuously and at random—how can they use His Name with reverence when all the rest of their discourse is filled with froth and vanity? That Name is not to be sported with and tossed to and fro upon every light tongue. O my reader, form the habit of solemnly considering whose Name it is you are about to utter—that it is the Name of Him who is present with you, hearing you pronounce it, who is jealous of His honor, and who will dreadfully avenge Himself upon those who have slighted Him.
3. When it is employed hypocritically
God's Name is used in vain when it is employed hypocritically—when we profess to be His people and are not. Israel of old was guilty of this sin: "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 sware by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness" (Isaiah 48:1). They used the Name of God, but did not obey the revelation contained therein, and so violated this Third Commandment (compare Matthew 7:22-23).
When using the Name of God, we must do so in a way which is true to its meaning and to its implications, otherwise He says to us, "Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). In like manner, we are guilty of this awful sin when we perform holy duties lightly and mechanically, our affections not being in them. Prayer without practice is blasphemy, and to speak to God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him is but a mocking of Him and an increasing of our condemnation.
4. Light or irreverent oaths
God's Name is taken in vain when we swear lightly and irreverently, using the Name of God with as little respect as we would show to that of a man, or when we swear falsely and are guilty of perjury. When we are placed under oath and we attest that to be true which we do not know to be true or know to be false, we are guilty of one of the gravest sins which man can possibly commit, for he has solemnly called upon the great God to witness that which the father of lies has prompted him to speak. "He that swareth in the earth shall sware by the God of Truth" (Isaiah 65:16), and therefore it behooves him to consider well whether what he deposes is true or not. Alas, oaths have become so excessively multiplied among us—being interwoven, as it were, into the body politic—and so generally disregarded, that the enormity of this offense is scarcely considered.
Zechariah 8:17 "Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts; against his neighbor; and love no false oaths, for all these are things that I hate," saith the LORD.
And what shall be said of that vast throng of profane swearers who pollute our language and wound our ears by a vile mixture of execrations and blasphemies in their common conversation? "Their throat is an open sepulchre … the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" (Romans 3:13-14). Utterly vain is their thoughtless plea that they mean no harm; vain their excuse that all their companions do the same; vain their plea that it is merely to relieve their feelings! What a madness is it when men anger you, to strike against God and provoke Him far more than others can provoke you! But though their fellows do not censure, the police arrest, or the magistrate punish, yet "the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His Name in vain." "As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him … as he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water" (Psalm 109:17-18). God is dreadfully incensed by this sin, and in the common commission of this heaven-insulting crime many nations have incurred terrible guilt.
It has become almost impossible to walk the streets or enter mixed company without hearing the sacred Name of God treated with blasphemous contempt. The novels of the day, the stage, and even the wireless, are terrible offenders, and without doubt this is one of the fearful sins against Himself for which God is now pouring out His judgments upon us. Of old He said unto Israel, "Because of swearing the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil" (Jeremiah 23:10). And He is still the same: "The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His Name in vain." Sore punishment shall be his portion, if not in this life, then most assuredly so, eternally so, in the life to come.
Taken from Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 20, No. 5, May 1941.
- ^John Calvin.