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.
Exodus 20:7 is the text of the third commandment which speaks of the glory and majesty of God’s name. The commandment says we are not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Many times, I have commented on the spelling of LORD in all caps which in this part of the scriptures represents the Hebrew name of God transliterated into the letters YHWH known as the tetragrammaton. The true pronunciation of this name is not known, although in English we say Jehovah or Yahweh. This is the name by which God was known to Moses revealed in the supernatural appearance of the burning bush.
The Jews held the name of God in such reverence that what they wrote in the transcription of His word they would not speak when it was read aloud. Since they would not speak the name, this leads to the confusion over how the ancients would have pronounced it. Instead as they read, they would substitute another of the many names used throughout scripture. Most commonly, this would be the name Adonai. This seriousness over speaking the name aloud may have gone beyond the pale of reasonableness, but it nevertheless strongly insisted that God’s name should never be used in light-hearted frivolous ways and certainly never with profanity.
I am reminded of the many ways this command can be broken. Thomas Watson identified twelve ways it can be broken and in most of those ways he posited many sub-points. Ezekiel Hopkins gave five ways but those five were equally as verbose as Watson. This tells us most Christians do not know how many times they have broken the command without realizing it.
One of the most intriguing ways to me is the misinterpretation and misapplication of scripture. Whenever we interpret that God said something He did not say, we attach the authority of His name to a falsehood. I believe many preachers would do this without intent, but I believe many others are malicious or otherwise very careless in their study. They shake the foundations of truth and utterly blaspheme God. The worst offenders are the priests of Roman Catholicism and the preachers of the charismatic movement. These are opposite extremes although the gap between them is rapidly closing. In the gap between these two, are many Christians who know enough to be saved but are taught multiple false doctrines.
The danger of breaking the commandment in this way lays great responsibility on preachers to be very diligent in their studies. Every text must be approached carefully. The word of God is the expression of God Himself. Jesus is the living word as John 1 shows, which means any misinterpretation of it is a misunderstanding of Christ. We do not often consider these misunderstandings seriously, and as I said they are often unintentional.
Thankfully, the Lord knows our human frailties. He knows this commandment will not be kept perfectly until we reach the glorification of heaven. Then, we will know God face to face in all His perfections. Our service to Him will be perfect and all misunderstandings will fade away in the face of Christ. I cannot wait until that day comes. Until then, we will do our best to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.
Pastor V. Mark Smith