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What Does Taking God’s Name In Vain Really Mean?


The discussion on the Third Commandment, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain," delves into various ways individuals may inadvertently dishonor or misuse God's name. Contrary to popular belief, simply uttering profanity is not the sole violation of this commandment. In this episode, we explore five distinct ways individuals may transgress this commandment, shedding light on the gravity of misrepresenting God's name.

Initially, it's clarified that the prohibition against taking God's name in vain does not forbid its verbal or written use but rather its misuse and disrespect. The first way individuals transgress this commandment is by profaning, cursing, or blaspheming God's name, demonstrating disregard for His holiness and righteousness. Subtle euphemisms and expressions also fall under this category, showing irreverence toward the divine.

The second way involves swearing by God or invoking His name in oaths to bolster credibility, despite Christ's admonition against such practices. Thirdly, speaking falsely on God's behalf, claiming divine revelation or communication when none exists, is considered a serious violation. This includes attributing personal agendas to divine guidance, reflecting spiritual pride and deception.

Another common transgression occurs due to ignorance or misinformation regarding God's true name. While many may use terms like "Jehovah" or "Jesus," the original Hebrew names differ, emphasizing the importance of accuracy and respect in addressing the divine.

Finally, individuals may take God's name in vain by misrepresenting Him through their actions and conduct. As bearers of God's name, Christians are expected to uphold His honor and righteousness, reflecting His character in all aspects of life. Failure to do so not only dishonors God but also tarnishes His reputation among others.

Through various biblical examples and teachings, the severity of misusing God's name is underscored, emphasizing the responsibility of believers to honor and glorify God through their words and deeds. Ultimately, the episode urges viewers to live in a manner that brings honor to God's name, embodying the principles of righteousness and obedience.

Full Transcript

You might have heard people say these phrases in the heat of anger or in a moment of surprise...

For most people, profanity — using the name of God flippantly or as a curse word — is the only way we can break the Third Commandment against taking God’s name in vain. In this episode, I will share with you four more ways we can actually “take God’s name in vain.” And the fifth and last point may surprise you. Let’s discuss.

In our last episode in this series on the Ten Commandments, we discussed the Second Commandment forbidding the practice of idolatry. We learned that YHWH is the only Being worthy of our worship and our praise — and the reasons WHY we must avoid idolatry. In this episode, we will examine the Third Commandment about taking God’s name in vain. 

The only true God, YHWH, spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, thundering these words:

Exodus 20:7 — [He said] You shall not take the name of the LORD [YHWH] your God in vain, for [YHWH] will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

What does it really mean to take the name of God in vain?

Well, let’s remember something: Whatever it means, it must be supremely important.

Because breaking this particular commandment carries a very heavy penalty!

But First, A Word About What It Does Not Mean

Taking God’s name in vain does not mean you cannot use, verbalize, or even write His name. There are some orthodox Jews and other individuals who are very superstitious about writing or speaking His name. So much so that they substitute another name for His real name. For example, when they encounter the Tetragrammaton (meaning, the four-letter Hebrew name of God, YHWH), they substitute the word “Adonai” instead of saying Yahweh. Yet, YHWH occurs nearly 7,000 times in the whole Bible!

So taking God’s name in vain does not mean using, verbalizing or writing His name. It means misusing it — bearing or carrying it in an empty, worthless, meaningless, or disrespectful way.

The 5 Ways We Can Take God’s Name in Vain

There are five ways we can “take the name of God in vain.” The first four have to do with our words, and the fifth and last one has to do with our works.

1. Profaning, Cursing and Blaspheming God’s Name

 Yahweh — the only true God — is full of holiness, righteousness, and perfection. When we flippantly utter words or phrases like “OMG,” “Jesus Christ,” we are showing our disregard and disrespect for God and His name. It has been said that “Profanity is a feeble mind trying to express itself.” A profane mouth comes from a profane heart and a profane mind.

Another subtle way the Third Commandment is being broken is through the use of euphemisms like “Jeez” (when referring to Jesus) and “Gosh” or “Golly” when referencing God. A euphemism is a mild, seemingly harmless word or phrase used in place of a more direct or harsh term. But the problem with these euphemisms is that they are directly tied to referencing the God of the universe who wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger (Exodus 31:18). The spirit of the law is that we should not reference, lightly or carelessly, the Eternal in our daily lives.

Aside from profaning God’s name, some people also curse God with statements of contempt and disrespect like, “God sucks” or “I hate God.” In the Old Testament, blaspheming God carried the death penalty. That’s how serious the matter was. Notice this story in Leviticus 24:10-16:

Leviticus 24:10-16 — Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and this Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought each other in the camp. And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of [YHWH] and cursed; and so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) Then they put him in custody, that the mind of [YHWH] might be shown to them. And [YHWH] spoke to Moses, saying, “Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. “Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of [YHWH] shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of [YHWH], he shall be put to death.

So we have to be very careful that we don’t profane, curse, or blaspheme God’s holy name.

2. Swearing By God or Making an Oath Using His Name

Have you ever heard people say, “I swear to God!” They believe that by invoking God’s name, they are going to be more believable and have more credibility. However, Christ warned us against doing this. Christians shouldn’t swear at all. We should be people of integrity. Our word should be enough. People should be able to take our word at face value. They should be able to take our YES or NO to the bank without our needing to swear by God’s name. 

Matthew 5:33-37 — [Christ said] “...You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

3. Speaking Falsely on God’s Behalf

Have you ever heard people say, “God spoke to me last night…” “God led me to do this...” “I have a word from the Lord for you...” People say things like that — using God’s name and attaching it to their own agenda — when God clearly did not talk to them. This is also taking His name in vain. People say these things perhaps to give the impression that they have this special relationship with God which others presumably don't have. It’s a form of spiritual pride. Perhaps they wish to elevate themselves above others. We have to be very careful about using God's name and saying: “God spoke to me, God told me, God led me to do this, or God led me to do that,” when God clearly did not. For all we know, it wasn’t God who said it, but Satan or another evil spirit. If it is not in the Bible, we should never assume it was God who spoke directly to us.

In fact, there is a death penalty for any prophet who presumes to speak a word in God’s name:

Ezekiel 13:6-7 — They have envisioned futility and false divination, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD!’ But the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope that the word may be confirmed. Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, ‘The LORD says,’ but I have not spoken.”

Deuteronomy 18:20 — But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak … that prophet shall die.

4. Getting God’s Name Wrong Because of Ignorance

The Hebrew word “in vain” is “saw” [Strong’s H7723], which means worthlessness, falseness, lying, false, worthless, lies, deceit, meaningless. It also means to change, falsify, or make common. Thus, changing, falsifying, or making His name meaningless or common in an ordinary language makes one guilty of breaking the Third Commandment. 

Now because of Satan’s widespread deception, most people do not know God’s real name.

Proverbs 30:4 — Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?

Some people think and believe God’s real name is Jehovah. And millions if not billions of people suppose the Savior’s true name is Jesus. Both names are sadly incorrect.

The fact is, there is no letter J in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. The letter J is one of the youngest letters in the English alphabet, added only in 1524, about 500 years ago. In Christ’s time, there was nobody named Jesus. His real name is Yahshua, meaning “YHWH is salvation.” That was the name dictated by God the Father through the angel Gabriel to Joseph before He was born. God's real name is YHWH or Yahweh. The Latinized term and pronunciation Jehovah was simply a human invention by Petrus Galatinus (Peter Galatin), confessor of Pope Leo X in 1520.

The bottom line is, we have to strive to be accurate. It would be disrespectful to refer to God or to His Son using the wrong name. Of course, we can’t really blame most people today because they don’t know any better. And God is merciful and is willing to overlook such ignorance. But once we have been enlightened, we will be held accountable for that knowledge.

5. Misrepresenting God By Our Life and Conduct

The original sense of Exodus 20:7 has to do with “bearing” or “carrying” — instead of “taking” — the name of God in vain.

Exodus 20:7 — You shall not bear (or carry) the name of [YHWH] your God in vain, for [YHWH] will not hold him guiltless who bears (carries) His name in vain.

If you’re a Christian, you’re actually bearing (or carrying) God’s name, much like a child bears the name of his or her father. Anything that child does reflects on the family name. In the same manner, we could either bear God’s name in a way that brings honor or disrespect. In the latter case, we would be bearing God’s name “in vain.” We would actually be misrepresenting Him.

To bear or carry His name “in vain” means to make it empty, useless, and meaningless. God’s very being and identity cannot be separated from His name. It’s who He is. He is holy, righteous, and perfect. If we live in such a way as to bring shame, disrepute, and dishonor to God’s name, we are not obeying the Third Commandment. We have to bear or carry His name with honor. We have to make sure we glorify God in everything we do. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

1 Corinthians 10:31 — Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

As Christians, we represent Yahweh El Elyon (the Father) and His Son, Yahshua the Messiah (more popularly known as Jesus Christ). We are to let our light — our positive example — shine forth so that people may see our good works and glorify the name of our Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 — Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

According to Christ, we don’t have the right to call Him “Master” if we don’t intend to obey Him. 

Luke 6:46 — “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?

King David broke the Third Commandment when He killed Uriah the Hittite and took Bathsheba:

2 Samuel 12:14 — [Notice what God told Him] However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of [YHWH] to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”

God’s reputation is on the line. Whenever we don’t live what we believe, God’s name is blasphemed. Whenever we sin, we dishonor God. But whenever we obey Him, He is glorified.

Romans 2:17-24 — Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you…”

Our obedience or our disobedience will either bring honor or dishonor to our heavenly Father. When a Christian serves His own earthly master well, God’s name is exalted and glorified:

1 Timothy 6:1 — Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.

Titus 2:9-10 — Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.

Similarly, when a Christian woman practices godly virtue, she bears God’s name with honor:

Titus 2:4-5 — [The older women should] admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.

But when a Christian woman does not practice godly virtue, she bears God’s name in vain:

1 Timothy 5:14 — Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

In conclusion, Christ knows who the true Christians are. God is telling us — if you claim to be a Christian, you better live like one! Or you’ll be taking (bearing or carrying) God’s name in vain.

2 Timothy 2:19 — Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

May we all strive to bring honor and glory to our heavenly Father and to His beloved Son by our holy words and godly actions. Until next time, this is Daniel Macaraeg of BiblicalTruths TV, reminding you to always be growing, to always be giving, and to always be grateful.


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