The 3rd Commandment

The third commandment is one of the most misunderstood commandments of the ten commandments. The reason for this misunderstanding I believe stems from the ten commandments being taught in a watered down fashion. We have all seen the plaques or posters of the ten commandments which have them listed in a manner similar to this below:

1. Thou shalt not have any other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in Vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

This is the proper order, but let us take a look at the scriptures and see how they describe these same ten commandments.

Ex 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
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.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 ΒΆ Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

As you can deduce, the two lists are not exactly the same. Their order is the same (note: please do not confuse the verse numbering above as the number of the commandment- those are simply the verse numbers that the commandments are found in). That is not the issue here. What I am trying to point out is that there is more to the commandments than the “reader’s digest” version that most Christians are familiar with.
One night in the recent past, I was driving home from publicly preaching on the campus of the University of Michigan and I was having one of those conversations with the Lord in my mind about the ten commandments. I had memorized them as they are in their entirety many years ago and I began asking the Lord why he had put such a strong warning at the end of the third commandment. Here it is again as written in Exodus chapter 20 and verse 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 you can read above, that is a strong statement for what seems to be a minor thing. I thought it strange that God makes this strong comment and warning for this commandment, but yet he says no such thing for killing or adultery or stealing. I then began to think about the wording of this commandment. It says “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”. It dawned on me that it doesn’t say“Thou shalt not say the name of the Lord in vain”. This is exactly what we have been told all our lives.
The usual teaching concerning this commandment goes along the lines of saying “G-d D–n”. It is said that using God’s name as a cuss word is what the 3rd commandment is condemning. While that may fit the bill for what the Bible calls blasphemy, I do not see that as being the case with the third commandment at all. Here is why.
When my wife and I were married, she “took” my name. She didn’t just “say” my name but she took it as hers and she is now known as Charity Ickes and no longer Charity Hardin. She has my name now and not her father’s name. In Exodus, God was making a covenant with Israel. They would be his people and He would be their God. All the nations around them had gods that they identified with. Israel had the living God as theirs now. They now represented Him. They carried his name with them. They were the people of God. We can see this principle in the following verses:

Le 19:12 And ye shall not swear (this carries with it the sense of an oath, and not the idea of cussing which is synonymous with swearing in today’s understanding) by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

Nu 6:27 And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.

2Ch 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land

There are many more that go along in this manner. If one were to search out the phrase “my name” in the Bible they would see the importance God puts on his good name. Israel had taken the name of the Lord as their own. They were known by his name to the nations around them. They were called by his name.
This is what the third commandment is talking about. The nation had taken his name and were to follow God’s commandments. Deuteronomy chapter 28 gives us a good description of God’s covenant with Israel. If they obeyed they would get blessed. If they rebelled they would be cursed. Why? Is it just for the good of the people? Or is it that God is jealous of his name. It is the latter of course.

Isa 52:5 Now therefore, what have I here, saith the LORD, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the LORD; and my name continually every day is blasphemed.

When the nation lived in sin and rebelled against their God, the heathen nations would blaspheme God because of the actions of Israel. This is why the third commandment has such a strong warning.

Ex 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.

Taking the name of the Lord therefore had to do with the idea of identifying with the true God, yet living in rebellion to his word. Today, we could apply this to taking the name of Jesus Christ in vain. If we are “Christians” then we should live like someone who is in obedience to the Lord. If we do not, we have taken his name in vain and it is our Lord’s name that will be blasphemed. Unfortunately, I see this all the time when out in public and preaching. People hate Jesus, and its not because of Jesus Christ himself but because of all the hypocrite Christians that they know of.
Friends, please, if you name the name of Christ as yours, then live like it. Let us not bring shame to our Saviour. If you are not going to walk the talk, then just be quiet. We must live a life that backs up our talk of the Lord. Its not all about us, but it may just hinder someone from becoming a Christian and getting born again because he sees hypocrisy in the lives of those that have taken the name of the Lord in vain.
Are there many people that claim to be Christians and are not really saved? Of course.I cannot make the judgment call as to who is saved and who isn’t, but it is safe to say by examining the lives of many “Christians,” that they do not know the same Saviour that changed you and I forevermore. Have they then taken his name in vain? Yes they have, and now you know what the 3rd commandment is.