Honor God—Or Dishonor Yourself
The life and legacy of Moses
Dr. Jim Denison
The Third Commandment states, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7). As with the other commandments, “you” is plural, so that this commandment applies to every one of us, with no exceptions.
“Shall not” shows that this is a commandment, not just a suggestion or principle for life. It is as important to God as the commandments not to murder or commit adultery. This is crucial to God.
“Misuse” means to take his name “in vain.” The word means “groundlessly, emptily, without basis,” and includes frivolous, insincere, or unjustified use of the name of God. Its original context was legal in nature. When a person testified before the elders or council, he was to speak “in the name of God.” This was something like our oath “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” The commandment was not to promise truth “in God’s name,” then lie or deceive.
Who to honor
“The name of the Lord your God” is the central phrase of this Third Commandment. Jewish people associated the “name” of a person with his or her basic identity. For this reason, biblical characters were often assigned names to describe them. (“Esau” means red, because he was red-headed; “Isaac” means laughter, because Sarah laughed when God said she would have a son.)
And so the “name of God” deals of his basic character and identity. To speak of the “name of God” was to deal with his very nature, being, and person. For this reason, the names of God in the original biblical languages were sacred to the Jewish people. Each of them said something important about God.
YHWH meant “the One who was, is, and ever shall be.” This name showed that God is eternally the Lord.
“God” here is “Elohim,” literally “the God of gods.” This says that he alone is God, above all other deities worshipped around the world. In a day of polytheism and henotheism (each country had their own god), he alone is the God of the universe.
“El-Elyon” (Genesis 14:22, Deuteronomy 32:8-9) means “God most high,” showing that God rules the world today.
“El Shaddai” (Exodus 6:3) means “God Almighty,” and shows that he has all the power of the universe, and we have none.
“Pahad” means “the One to be feared” (Genesis 31:42; 1 Samuel 11:7). We are to approach him with awe and reverence.
“Adonai” (Isaiah 6:1) means “Lord of all,” the one who reigns.
“Jehovah-Jireh” (Genesis 21:22; 22:14) means “the Lord who provides” for our every need.
“Jehovah-Tsidkenu” (Jeremiah 23:6) means “the Lord is our righteousness,” so that we can be holy and righteous only as he makes us so.
“Jehovah-Shalom” means “the Lord is peace” (Judges 6:24), pointing to the fact that only God can give us peace.
These are just some of God’s names in the Scriptures. As you can see, the “name of God” describes his character, identity, person. In other words, the name of God means God himself. Consider some examples:
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1).
“May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you” (Psalm 20:1).
“Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him” (Psalm 68:4).
“He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name” (Psalm 111:9).
“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).
“A scroll of remembrance was written in [God’s] presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name” (Malachi 3:16).
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).
“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).
“Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew. 18:20).
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
“‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again'” (John 12:28).
“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
“The Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name'” (Acts 9:15-16).
“God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1).
“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords'” (Revelation 19:16).
Here’s the point: to misuse God’s name is to misuse God, to abuse him, to slander his character and reputation. This issue was so important that the third commandment is the only one of the ten with an immediate threat of punishment. It stands to reason, then, that we would want to know how to keep this commandment—what it means to dishonor God’s name, and to honor it.