The Third Commandment

“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” (v. 7).  

- Exodus 20:7

Now that we have considered the three uses of the Law and have briefly considered the comprehensiveness of the Ten Commandments, we will examine two of these statutes and their applications today. The first commandment we will study is probably the most widely broken law in the society at large and perhaps in the church as well. We are speaking of the third commandment, which forbids us from taking the name of the Lord in vain (Ex. 20:7).

The term vain is a synonym for futile; thus, the third commandment is warning us not to use God’s name in a futile or trivial manner. This is something our Creator takes very seriously, for the commandment adds a special note that He “will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” in order to make us pause before we use the Lord’s name flippantly. If the commandments enjoin the opposite of what they forbid, this law mandates that we set apart the name of God as holy. Jesus Himself indicates this is the case when He tells us the very first thing we should pray for is that the Lord’s name be hallowed (Luke 11:2).

Outright blasphemy is an obvious transgression of this commandment, but it can be violated in other ways as well. A common violation of this law occurs in the swearing of oaths. When we ask the Almighty to bear witness to a vow, we testify that He is omniscient and able to see every point at which we break or keep an oath. Moreover, we witness to His omnipotence, confessing that He can and will deal with us even if no one else disciplines us for breaking a promise. To swear an oath by anything besides the Lord attributes these qualities wrongly to something created and makes us guilty of idolatry. For example, we might casually swear on our mother’s grave to affirm the truth of our words, but what can our mother’s grave do to us if we do not keep our promise?

Christians can misuse God’s name in saying things like “the Lord moved me to tell you…” when we feel that a friend needs to hear a special word. Yet this intuition does not necessarily find its origin in God’s prompting, and we should not attribute words to the Lord unless they are found in Scripture. Otherwise we might put false words in His mouth and inadvertently make Him a liar.

Coram Deo

It is often said that the way we talk about God in everyday conversation is more revealing of what we think about Him than anything else. Take some time today to consider how you use the Lord’s name. Do you take the oaths made before Him seriously and fear the consequences if you break them? Is your speech about our Father reverent, or do you refer to His name in a flippant manner? Be mindful to hallow His name in everything that you say.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 24:10–16
Deuteronomy 5:11
Luke 12:8–10
2 Peter 2:1–2

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.