At first, the third commandment may seem straight forward. It is often overlooked. However, it is powerful, and as we practice it, it will flow over to all areas of our lives.
It centers around God’s name.
The third commandment states:
‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.’ (Exodus 20:3).
In the original Hebrew, the word for name is ‘shem.’ Shem also has another meaning. It also means ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ So, one can surmise that in Hebrew your name explains your ‘breath’ or character.
“Hebrew names are words given to describe a character. The breath of a man is character, what makes one what he is” (Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, 258).
Immediately after the Aaronic blessing, God’s instructions to the priests are to put the name of God upon the people.
“So, they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (NIV).
This verse doesn’t make much sense unless we substitute the word ‘character’ for ‘name.’
“So, they will put my character on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
In other words, the people will be blessed when they have the character of God upon them. This makes perfect sense.
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Again, it is much better understood if we see this verse with ‘character’ substituted for ‘name.’
“And I will do whatever you ask in my character, so that the Father may be glorified.”
To this Ellicott’s Commentary agrees, “This means, as My representatives [Jesus’ representatives] on earth, as persons doing My work, living in My spirit, seeking as I have sought to do the will of the Father” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers).
We are one with Jesus when we have His character.
This is confirmed to us in 1 John 2:5-6: “but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
If we are to be ‘in Him’ or ‘one’ with Him, we must “walk” or live with the same character as Jesus, which is the same character as the Father.
God’s character is, therefore, much more important than His actual ‘name.’ Before we take it upon us, we must, however, know and understand the character of God.
The ‘name’ or Character of God
Let’s look at the character of God. God is so infinite and encompassing in His love and nature, that we will probably always be adding to His characteristics. Our list is, therefore, not fully complete, but it gives a start.
Righteous and Holy
A God who listens
He is Hope
He hates sin
He is compassionate, merciful and forgiving
1. God is truthful
Everything God is saying in His Word is the absolute truth. We must accept it. It is part of the believing and the trust that we have in Him. When we think this, we are richly rewarded.
Numbers 23:19 says: ‘God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?’
It is the very character of God to be truthful. Therefore we must make it our character to be truthful.
His word is the truth as is confirmed in Psalms 119:160: ‘The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.’
God’s Word is everlasting and unchanging.
James 1:17 states it beautifully: ‘Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.’
This, or course, does not mean that we must be unchanging.
In fact, to follow God and His truth, we must change to become more like Him.
This ‘unchanging’ means that all of God’s eternal truths are still valid and will remain authentic and real. They can never change.
For a pastor to say that the Tanakh (Old Testament) is not as relevant today is blasphemy. His truths will remain everlasting and unchanging and will be proven right over the words of men.
We can find great comfort in His Word about this:
Psalm 119:89: ‘Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.’
Isaiah 40:8: ‘The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.’
Psalm 33:11: ‘The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.’
God is unchanging because truth is unchanging.
What was correct on the day of creation is still the truth today. Everything that is written in the Bible will be fulfilled exactly as He said. We can believe that.
2. God is Just
There is injustice all around us. It is, therefore, difficult to understand that God is just.
But it is actually us, His people, that is not doing Him justice. We don’t read His Word, and we don’t do what it says. One day, the day of judgment will come, and nobody will be able to escape it.
The washing machine
Say, you buy a new washing machine. You chuck away the instructions and use the device just as you think it should be used. You are doing your own thing. Then, the machine breaks.
Whose fault is this? You can’t go back to the manufacturer, because the first thing they would ask you is: Did you follow the instructions? Your answer will be ‘no.’
You cannot hold the manufacturer accountable for your deeds.
God has perfect judgment.
In Romans 2:5-6 it says: ‘But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds….’
Perfect judgment will happen because God is just as we can see in Psalms 25:8: ‘God is fair and just; He corrects the misdirected, sends them in the right direction.’ (MSG).
He is the Manufacturer, who gave you the instructions. He will always refer you back to the guidelines, His word.
Everyone will be judged the same way. The instructions will stay the same through the millennia. Judah, in the book of Jeremiah and you, on your day of judgment, will be judged the same. It is because God is just. What He does for one, He will do for the other.
God looks for the just so He can forgive them as we see in Jeremiah 5:1:
‘Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.’
It is our obligation to God if we are His. We must be just too. We read in Micah 6:8:
‘He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’
Injustice in this World
We must remember that the injustice that is in the world is a result of unjust men, not because God is unfair. His instructions to us are understandable, we are to be just. The world is in the hands of men, and therefore, the will of men exist for both the good and the bad. However, the injustice of this world will remain in this world.
In the age-to-come, justice will reign because Jesus will take back His place as ruler of the world. The will of men will no longer be allowed to rule to harm others. Each person will face God and will pay for his deeds.
3. God is Righteous and Holy.
In Hebrew, the word for ‘righteous’ is ‘tsadiyq.’ It means ‘one who is straight and does not depart from the way of God.’
“A righteous person is not one who lives a religiously pious life, which is the common interpretation of this word. He is rather one who follows the correct path, the path (way) of God” (www.ancienthebrewresearchcenter.com).
We can see this demonstrated in Psalms 18:21: ‘For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.’
It is His people who keep the ways of the Lord, His righteous people to whom He listens as we can see in Psalms 34:15: ‘The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry.’
Of course, if God is righteous, He must follow His own ways. We must be of the same mindset. God is King, and we must also follow His directions. This is what brings us together with Him in a union.
Let us meditate on these verses in 1 John 3:7-8:
‘Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.
The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God…’
He is referring to is the practice of sin. As people, we do sin. We constantly trust our own ways to bring us what we think is in our best interest. When we decide to fully trust God we trust that it His ways, not our ways, that are to be done in our best interest. We must seek out where our ways are inconsistent with His ways and turn away from them continuously.
The Hebrew word is ‘qadosh.’ It means ‘to be set apart for a special purpose.’ (www.ancienthebrewresearchcenter.com).
A holy person or ‘set apart’ for God is, therefore, set apart from the world. Such a person is to be used for God’s purposes.
We must think of ourselves as ‘set apart’ from the world to be God’s servants and His representatives.
4. God as a Servant
He has the whole world in His hands
It is a strange thought. But God is constantly serving us. Hebrews 1:3 says:
‘And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power…’
Scientists cannot explain how all the massive amounts of particles stay together and not merely fly apart. The term “cosmic glue” sometimes being used to describe this UN-explainable phenomenon. The actual explanation is found right here in His Word.
Every day is a gift from God, for He sustains us, the earth, and everything in it through ‘the word of His power.’
The right attitude
How amazing is it that He has taken the time to give us the proper ways to live?
We can read how our attitude, if we can understand His intent, for His word should be. In Deuteronomy 4:7-8, it says:
‘For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?’
He served us with His ways because He loves us and wants the best for us. We should be very grateful to be His servants. We should be excited to serve Him. We should be excited to serve those around us because it serves Him.
We can see we are to be servants even as He serves us in Mark 10:43-45: ‘…whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’
In our next life, Jesus Himself will serve us. We read in Luke 12:37:
‘Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.’
We should be honored to serve Him and others because God Himself serves us daily and will continue to serve us spectacularly in the age-to-come.
5. God loves us
God loves us and wants us to be His for all eternity.
We discussed in an earlier blog that the Hebrew word for love “ahah” means “to give.”
If we compare 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to Galatians 5:22-24 we can see through the similarities that the fruits of His Spirit are His character and they reflect His love for us:
‘Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’
As we can see in Galatians 5:22-24: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’
He gives us the fruit of His Spirit because He loves us. He expects us ‘to give’ the fruit of His Spirit to those around us because we are to love those around us the same way that He loves us.
1 John 4:7: ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.’
We are to exhibit self-control to follow God’s instructions. We must do our part. This can only happen through practice, strategy, and conscience submission to Him.
Our thoughts are the culprit. All fleshy desires rise from here. Mark 7:20-23 states:
‘And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.’
We are defiled first in our thoughts. It is, therefore, in our thoughts, where we must first exhibit self-control.
We can control our thoughts by staying in the word of God, talking about Him and His word with others, listening to Godly music, having people to whom we can speak to for accountability, and by concentrating our thoughts on things that we need and on the needs of those around us and not on our fleshly wants and desires.
Another thing that we must be able to control is our tongue. Speaking without foul language is one way to exercise control over ourselves, and not talking negatively about others is another way.
We can see the impact that the tongue can have in a person’s life in James 3:6: ‘And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.’
Let us re-consider Galatians 5:24: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
To properly love someone, we must kill “the passions and desires of the flesh” and concentrate on serving those around us to properly “give” love.
6. God listens
God absolutely listens to His people. He listens to those who listen to Him.
One of the most touching moments in the Bible is when Moses is seen communicating with God as His friend. They spent time together, they talked with each other, and like all genuine friends, they listened to each other.
It says so in the Bible! Exodus 33:11: ‘Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.’
God wanted to destroy the Israelites after they worshiped the golden calf. Moses spoke to God on behalf of the people, and God listened.
Exodus 32:11-14: “Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth?
Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
God listens, but only if we are listening to Him for if we are listening to Him we are His.
In this blog, we’ve looked at the Third Commandment. We’ve learned that it is all about God’s character. We’ve looked at and discussed six characteristics of God. There are lots more! In our next blog, we will delve into the remaining three.
Our God is complex and wonderful. I invite you to study His characteristics in-depth. While you’re doing it, He will reveal Himself to you. You will indeed start to understand what it means not to ‘use His name in vain,’ but to honor it.