The Third Commandment: No Misuse of God’s Name

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

Exodus 20:7

When I was a boy, I heard someone use the expression, “Oh, God!” Not long thereafter, I used it myself, much to the chagrin of my parents. They explained to me that I should not “take the Lord’s name in vain,” using the traditional translation of Exodus 20:7. What I learned from my parents was reinforced at Sunday School, where the third commandment was understood to prohibit swearing.

Now I believe my parents gave me wise counsel about my use of language, though I’m not sure their sense of “taking the Lord’s name in vain” was what was intended in Exodus 20:7. Indeed, the original sense of this verse is broader than prohibiting exclamations that use the name of God. Not taking the Lord’s name “in vain” (lashawe in Hebrew) has to do with anything that cheapens God’s holy name, and thus his sacred character. In its original context, the third commandment was meant, among other things, to prohibit curses that used the name of God, as if humans could control God’s power by using his name.

Today, we would do well to avoid using exclamations that employ God’s name, unless we really mean what we’re saying. Many Christians I know used “Praise the Lord” as an equivalent for “Yippee!” This may cheapen God’s name just as much as the omnipresent “Omygod” that appears on the lips of my teenaged daughter’s friends (or as OMG in their text messages). But, even more significantly, we can misuse God’s name by bringing it in to get our way. How many Christians say things like “God told me to do this” when, in fact, we’re simply trying to advance our own agenda? Or how many politicians trot out the name of God when they’re trying to win over an audience? Such practices are to be avoided by those of us who seek to honor God with our lives and our words. By treating God’s name with reverence, we nurture in our souls a reverence of God himself.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When have you experienced the misuse of God’s name? Do you ever misuse God’s name? When? Why?

PRAYER: Gracious God, well, after many years of discipline, I’m finally at a point where I don’t say “Oh God!” as an exclamation. I’m not even tempted to do so. Thus I might be inclined to ignore your third commandment as irrelevant to me.

But when I consider the deeper meaning of this verse, I realize that I might very well trivialize your name by using it to further my own agenda, whether or not it’s your will. It does sound so much better to say “God wants” than “I want.” So, forgive me, Lord, for times when I don’t give your name the honor it deserves . . . when I don’t give you the honor you deserve.

Help me to honor your name in all things, even as I seek to honor you in all things. When I use your name, whether in prayer, in teaching, in writing, or in ordinary discourse, may I always do so with reverence and respect.

All praise be to you, God Almighty, Yahweh, Father! Amen.