The 10 Commandments Series : # 3 Do Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain

by Christian Townson

This is part of a 10 Commandment series.
You can find the previous 2 below:
Commandment 1
Commandment 2

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

OMG. When you read that, what do you think? I do not believe most of you thought it was “oh my gosh” or “oh my grapes.” This shorthand most likely brings the phrase “oh my god” to mind. We text it. We flippantly throw it into our conversations. We hear kids say every single version of it on the playground. Even if we do not say this phrase, we bend and break to give exclamations like it such as “oh my lord,” “Jesus Christ,” “holy crap,” “jeez” (as in Jesus), and “golly bum.” Some people may feel that these phrases are harmless, but we must not tiptoe the line of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

What Does It Mean?
This is the third commandment in the Decalogue. After pointing to God as the only true God and sole subject of Israel’s worship,God commands Israel to not create or worship idols of any sort, Then He moves to not taking his name in vain. What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? The word for “vain” means “worthless, false, nothingness.” God is telling us to not say His name in a worthless or empty way. We must not use it in an unworthy manner. We are not to profane it. His personal name, “YHWH,” should be held in high esteem. The use of His name prohibits any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose. As the creation relating to its Creator, we must treat His name with reverence, respect, and honor. It is not simply like any other name. It is the name of the Holy One of Israel. The God who often declares “I am the LORD (YHWH) and there is no other” (Isaiah 46:9).

The Bible gives us examples of what it means to take His name in vain. Some of them are listed below:

1. Blasphemy: To blaspheme the name of the Lord is a treacherous act; one that in the Old Testament was punishable by death. Leviticus 24:14 says, “whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.” The punishment for blaspheming God’s name was not a slap on a wrist. It was death, the same punishment for those who take the lives of others (Gen. 9:6).

2. Empty/False Oaths: God says in Leviticus 19:12, “you shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of the LORD your God”. You have heard people in anger say, “I swear to God.” Are they attempting to please God? No. They are speaking His name in a trifling and irreverent manner.

3. Empty/False Prophecies: When someone says, “Thus says the LORD,” and God did not say it, He is not pleased with it. There are many who claim to have a “prophecy from the LORD,” declaring certain politicians winning elections or specific outcomes within the life of a person. When it does not come to pass because it was not a true prophecy of the Lord. They “prophesy lies in the name of the LORD” (Jer. 23:25).

4. Empty/False Offerings: Some people sacrificed their children to the false god Molech. God says that profanes His name (Lev. 18:21). This led to the stoning of the man who did this terrible act. Distorting the image of God by (1) sacrificing a child made in His image and (2) worshiping a false God profaned His name.

5. Unlawfully Touching Holy Things: “Speak to Aaron and his sons so that they abstain from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they do not profane my holy name: I am the Lord” (Lev. 22:2).

Why Does God Command That His Name Not Be Taken In Vain?
God commands that His name not be taken in vain. When He met Moses at the burning bush, God called Himself “I am.” He is sovereign. He is self-existent. He always has been and always will be. His name “YHWH” connects to the Hebrew verb that means “to be.” God is because God is. This is how He defined Himself to us. Later, God told Moses He would make His goodness pass before him and “proclaim my name ‘The LORD’ (Exod. 33:19). His glory is His name. Throughout the Psalms, we see the repetition of making His name known. This is more than the world knowing the physical letters of “YHWH.” It is so they know God Himself. The Lord’s name is “majestic” (Psalm 8:1). We are to “bless His name” (Psalm 96:2). Jesus teaches us to “hallow His name” (Matt. 6:9).

His name is glorious and precious. God gives the grace to know it. Too many people in the world do not know the name Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus, Immanuel, the Holy Spirit, the Lord of Hosts, or Father. Yet, many of those who do know of it throw it around like it is a comedian’s joke. Would you walk into a throne room with your head held high, jovially talking to the king like he was your homeboy? No! You would go before him in humility, addressing him with respect because of his position and authority.

How Do We Respond?

We Must Understand the Consequences for Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain
In the second half of Exodus 20:7, God gives the consequences for taking His name in vain. “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” People today may think that there is no harm in saying a few words strung together, but God says that He “will not hold him guiltless” who takes His name in vain. This is a commandment of the Lord. Those who take His name in vain will be declared guilty. In fact, the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. It also warns us in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” We are all guilty of sin, and we will not be held guiltless. On the day when we recount our every thoughtless word and evil deed we committed, we will mourn our flippancy of God’s name (Matt. 12:36). This is why Jesus came to atone for our sins. In Christ, we can be declared free. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We must understand that taking God’s name in vain is a grievous sin, and repent.

We Must Understand the Command Does Not Mean
A wise person begins with the fear of the Lord(Psalm 111:10). This third commandment led to some curious traditions among the Jewish people. Some refused to speak or write out the name “God” in the fear that the paper might be destroyed and His name would be written in vain. Some believed this applies only to “YHWH” written in Hebrew, so they would replace this name with “Adonai.” It is not a sin to write out the name “God”, but we should consider some of the respect and healthy fear from the Jewish people when we think about, speak, and write God’s name.

We Must Understand How to Control Our Tongues.
This commandment, along with a few of the other ones, emphasize our need to learn how to control our tongues. King Solomon proclaims, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Prob. 21:23). James speaks much about the tongue. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Our tongues set the world on fire with unrighteousness. Whatever is in our hearts comes out through the tongue (Matt. 15:18). Like a lion tamer with a caged lion, we must know how to keep it in check or else it will destroy us and/or others. How many of you have said something that negatively affected your life? We would be much better off if we spoke less and listened more. Jesus exemplified this when the Pharisees and scribes tried to trip him up. He did not give an eloquent speech, attempting to prove his knowledge and wisdom.. Instead, Jesus stopped, pondered the situation, and carefully communicated his response. We would do well to do the same.

We Must Repent of This Sin
As we are all surely guilty of committing this sin in some form at some time, how do we escape God’s wrath that He promises to those who fail to keep this law? We must repent. WE must turn to Christ and confess our sin. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We must recognize the grievousness of this sin, turn from it, turn to Christ, and treat God’s name with the respect and fear it deserves.

Christian serves as the Director of Mobilization/Missions
as he leads the For the Nations ministry for The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is married to his wife Danyel. 



  • Old Testament,  The 10 Commandments