The Third Commandment – The World of the Text

Today we are going to look at the Third Commandment, as found in Exodus 20: 7:

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

rootedchristYou (like me) are probably more familiar with how we have heard this from the King James – Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.  This is one of the short of the initial commandments, not much explanation is offered, nor or their rewards or consequences.  It is simple and to the point.  You shall not ake the Lord’s name in vain, anyone who does so will not be found innocent.

Ok, easy, don’t use the Lord’s name in profanity.  Done, moving on.  Yeah, that is part of it.  The Jewish people took God’s name so seriously that they were afraid to say it. So, placing God’s name in a curse would just be so foreign to them that they wouldn’t be able to understand how someone who was a follower of God could ever do that.  It would just boggle the mind.  So refraining from using God’s name in a trivial, profane, or casual way is just an assumed norm for the people.

To use the name of the Lord wrongly, for the people, had a different and deeper meaning than we may think about.  One of the truths of scripture is that your name is more than what you are called.  This word “name” within this passage is actually understood as reputation or glory.  It is also the word used for the divine name of God (Yahweh or YWHY).  Jews considered YWHY such a holy name that they would often use other words (Jehovah, Adonai, Elohim) to denote God.  They took the name of God so holy that if a single word was written in error by a scribe, that entire page would be destroyed.  The people took God’s “name” very seriously.

But this text speaks to something more than just respect for God’s name – this is about God’s reputation, God’s glory.  This is a caution to the people to use God’s name in a way that does not honor His name.  The people should be protective of God’s name. And this means something to them because remember how God is often referred to – He is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.  They bear God’s name on themselves and some very real ways God bears their name upon Himself.  In their lives, they are to be protective of His name.  It isn’t just that their words should not dishonor God, but their lives should bring honor to Him.

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