God's Name in Vain

INTRODUCTION: The Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5. There is probably much more depth of meaning in the third commandment than the way that many Christians have given thought to it. A first reaction might be to believe that a non-Christian would be much more likely to "take God's name in vain," but those who would be called Christians have a great responsibility to guard themselves against associating the Lord's name with emptiness and commonality.

Taking God's name in vain can be construed as profaning, reproaching, or blaspheming the name of the LORD, but there are other scriptures dealing with those words, and they are translated from different Hebrew terms. There are other ways that vanity or worthlessness can be associated with God's name. As I examined "take," "name of the Lord," and "vain" throughout the Bible, I concluded that the basis and foundation of our faith is more important than words or outward appearance, if we are to keep this commandment through the power of the Holy Spirit. The commandments are for those who are the Lord's, to obey for his glory. Joshua expressed his love of the law of the Lord as he passed instruction to another generation. Joshua 22 "5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul."

The Lord Jesus summarized all the commandments with two encompassing statements; and therefore the third commandment requires a Christian's close attention from the heart, soul, and mind. Matthew 22 "37 "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

NOTE: Angle brackets <> are used to denote Strong's concordance numbers to identify original terms translated in various ways in the KJV text. .


A - Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11 [1769 KJV]

"Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."

COMMENTS: The wording as translated in the King James Version of the Bible is exactly the same in Exodus and Deuteronomy for the third of the Ten Commandments, and that is why I listed both references with only one verse delineated. The phrase "name in vain" in English does not appear in the KJV Bible before the Ten Commandments, and does not appear again until the Psalms.
Psalms 139 "20 For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take <05375> thy name in vain <07723>."
It should not surprise us that those referred to as enemies of the Lord in this verse would take his name in vain since they cannot honor the name of one they fail to recognize. There are also those who remain as enemies when they offer worship to the Lord in their own righteousness. And for those who know "the Lord thy God," we must be careful that our actions do not bring empty value to his name.

The commandment verse says "you shall not", and the Ten Commandments were given by the LORD, through Moses, to the people God had called out for his own glory. David started Psalm 139 with expressions of the unlimited knowledge the Lord has of every thought and action, before he wrote that 20th verse about the enemies of the Lord. Then he concluded the Psalm with "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." His heart's desire was to acknowledge that he was completely open before the Lord who examines every thought. He trusted not in himself, but in the Lord's soul-cleansing power that his worship would not be in vain since God would lead him in the way everlasting.


B - Who are they that take or bear the name of the Lord?

Deuteronomy 28 "10 And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee."

1 Samuel 17 "45 Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied."

Psalms 63 "4 Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up <05375> my hands in thy name."

Joel 2 "32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call."

Acts 2 "21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Acts 15 "14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name."

Romans 10 "12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

COMMENTS: The Hebrew word that is referenced as Strong's #05375 is translated as "take" and "taketh" in the third commandment, and is also translated in other verses of the KJV as - (bare, lift, etc...) up 219, bear 115, take 58, bare 34, carry 30, (take, carry)..away 22, borne 22, armourbearer 18, forgive 16, accept 12, exalt 8, regard 5, obtained 4, respect 3, misc 74; for a total of 654 entries. I relied on the process of comparing scripture with scripture for my overall assessment that our heart's response is the most important factor to assure that we do not "take the Lord's name in vain." We bear, or we have taken, his name when we are saved; and those who call upon the name of the Lord are saved. In the Old testament one of the common designations is those who "fear the Lord," and in the New Testament a common designation is Christian; but in each case, not all who were outwardly part of those groups were truly saved.


C - Speaking or acting in vain or from vanity

Job 11 "11 For he knoweth vain <07723> men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it?"

Psalms 26 "4 I have not sat with vain <07723> persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers."

Psalms 60 "11 Give us help from trouble: for vain <07723> is the help of man."

Psalms 127 "1 A Song of degrees for Solomon. Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain <07723> that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain <07723>."

Isaiah 1 "13 Bring no more vain <07723> oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting."

Jeremiah 46 "11 Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin, the daughter of Egypt: in vain <07723> shalt thou use many medicines; for thou shalt not be cured."

Lamentations 2 "14 Thy prophets have seen vain <07723> and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false <07723> burdens and causes of banishment."

Ezekiel 13 "7 Have ye not seen a vain <07723> vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken?"

Zechariah 10 "2 For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false <07723> dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because [there was] no shepherd."

COMMENTS: The KJV translates the Hebrew word that is referenced as Strong's #07723 as: vain 22, vanity 22, false 5, lying 2, falsely 1, lies 1; for a total of 53 entries in the Old Testament. The word conveys emptiness, falsehood, deception, promise that does not produce, something of non-effect, that which is contrary to outward appearance, etc. Anything that is done in vain, or that could be characterized as being vain, would have those qualities. The uses of this Hebrew word in the above scriptures sets a tone for a straight-forward meaning for the word. The result stated in the third commandment is a very serious result indeed if the God of all creation will not declare us as innocent.


D - God will not accept the vain praise or worship of man

Job 35 "13 Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it."

Psalms 66 "18-20 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me."

Ezekiel 33 "31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness."

Malachi 2 "2 If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart."

Mark 7 "5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

Matthew 7 "21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

Luke 21 "8 And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them."

2 Timothy 3 "5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."

COMMENTS: Religious practice in the name of God can easily be a vain effort, and the Lord God is consistent in both testaments of the Bible about this issue. God has no difficulty in seeing the genuine attitude of man's heart. The True and Living God requires truth in worship -- emanating from a living faith. The meaning of the word vain is very consistent in both the Old and the New Testament, and brought a strong response from God whenever he confronted those who turned their backs on being his people.
Romans 9:22-26 "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God."


E - Unpunished, guiltless, and innocent

Numbers 14 "18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means <05352> clearing <05352> the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation."

Psalms 19:12-13 "Who can understand his errors? cleanse <05352> thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent <05352> from the great transgression."

Nahum 1 "3 The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all <05352> acquit <05352> the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet."

John 3 "36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."

John 5 "24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."

John 6 "40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day."

Romans 8 "1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

COMMENTS: The Hebrew word referenced as Strong's #05352 is translated in the KJV as: unpunished 11, guiltless 5, innocent 5, clear 4, cleanse 3, free 2, by no means 2, acquit 2, altogether 2, cut off 2, at all 1, blameless 1, desolate 1, quit 1, utterly 1, wholly 1; for a total of 44 entries. When we are secure in Christ, we are innocent (or guiltless) because we are made new in the righteousness of Christ. The sin we commit in thought, voice, and action can be forgiven because of God's great mercy and love. As David said in Psalm 19, we need to be cleared of sin we fail to resist; and even of those sins we do not recognize in ourselves, to be innocent of the great transgression. God's mercy cannot conflict with his righteousness. He will not clear the guilty who remain in their sin, but he will allow the sacrifice of the perfect lamb of God with unlimited righteousness, to atone for those who accept the gift of everlasting life by faith. The wrath of God for sin remains with those who reject Christ, but there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Taking the Lord's name for salvation will indeed not clear us of the guilt of our sin if we have taken his name in vain by not receiving the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 12:31-32 "Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."


--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, in my youth I thought I was a Christian because I heard only of your love, and I had no real understanding of my sin or the consequences. I also thought I lived in a Christian nation, and God's blessings were for people who were basically good. As I matured, I began to listen to other beliefs of man, and I tried to use my own reasoning to determine truth about mankind and God. I drifted further from truth and deeper into vanity until your Spirit brought me to the Word, and I reached the point of surrender of my will and ways to yours. I learned the truth that you hate sin, and you alone can clear me of my sin. All people who reject your absolute dominion over your creation revile you with their own vanity and self-reliance. The written word and the Living Word have confirmed my faith in the True and Living God.

Now, therefore I believe that my faith is not in vain, and I have complete confidence that you will declare my innocence because the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God has taken away all my sin. I praise you my precious Lord and Savior for the gift of eternal life, not through works of righteousness which I have done, but according to your mercy. I ask that you direct me away from vanity so I will honor and lift up your name through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Published 15 May 2006