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Exodus 20:7  (Amplified┬« Bible)
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<< Exodus 20:6   Exodus 20:8 >>


Exodus 20:7

The third commandment deals with God's name, His character, His office, His position as the great sovereign Ruler of the universe: "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; Deuteronomy 5:11). In biblical terms, personal names have a meaning, for they usually describe some aspect of the person's character. So it is with God's name. The Bible reveals Him under different names, each given with a purpose: to set forth some distinct virtue or characteristic of His nature.

In this commandment, the Hebrew word rendered "guiltless" may also be translated "clean." A person is clean or unclean according to how he uses the name of God, whether in truth or in vanity. A person who continually talks about God but denies Him in his daily life is unclean; he is guilty of breaking the law of God, a sinner. If we use God's name in a way that denies the true meaning and character of God, we break the third commandment. As we can easily see, God is greatly concerned about how we use His name.

Martin G. Collins
The Third Commandment



Exodus 20:7

This commandment requires serious reflection. Like the second, it includes a warning that God will not hold us guiltless. It seems that sometimes God deliberately understates things for subtle emphasis and to ultimately magnify the meaning.

To understand this commandment better, we need to explain four words:

Take, throughout the Old Testament, is translated into English from seventy-four different Hebrew words. This one means "to lift up," "bear," "carry," "use," and "appropriate."

Vain has the sense of "desolating"; "that which lacks reality, purpose, value, or truth." It may also be translated "lying," "false," "worthless," "profane," "foolish," "reproachful," "curse," "blaspheme," or "useless."

Guiltless means "free," "clear," "innocent," "clean," "blameless," "unpunished."

Name means "a mark or sign standing out"; "a word by which a person, place or thing is distinctively known." Its Hebrew root denotes "high," "elevated," "a monument." It indicates majesty or excellence. A name identifies, signifies, and specifies.

This commandment has nothing to do with the proper pronunciation of God's name, which no one knows anyway since it was lost in antiquity. It has nothing to do with superstition or magical uses of a name. Its application is far broader.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)



Exodus 20:7

The third commandment regulates the quality of our worship. It involves glorifying God in every aspect of life. Most people regard the third commandment very lightly. The Jews, however, have a saying: "When God gave the third commandment, the whole world trembled." They even warned witnesses at a trial with this statement. Why? The Jews believe that because it reads, "the LORD will not hold him guiltless," there is no forgiveness for transgressing it! If it is this important, perhaps we should pay closer attention to it!

God asks, "'To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? . . . To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?' says the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:18, 25). Obviously, the second commandment expressly forbids making any representation of Him. God is unique; nothing can compare with Him. We are without a point of contact or physical reference to make any comparison.

This ought to show us the absolute folly of making images: On its face, every image is a lie. But should we not try to understand, to learn, what God is like? God does not want us concerned with what He looks like because it emphasizes the wrong area. He supplies us with enough information to know that He generally looks like a man. To Him, that is enough!

But He does want us to know what He is. He wants us to know Him. The entire Bible reveals His mind, character, attributes, offices, power, will, promises, plan, and relationship with us. The third commandment concerns this kind of knowledge and how well we apply it in our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)



Exodus 20:7

The third commandment is certainly against common swearing, including using euphemisms so common in society. Many commonly use "gee," "gosh," "golly," "got all muddy," "cheese and rice," "Jiminy Cricket," and "doggone" to substitute for the more offensive words some carelessly spew forth. This commandment also covers the light or disrespectful use of any of God's attributes or character.

All the Divine Names and Titles in the Bible, by Herbert Lockyer, lists 364 names and titles just for Jesus Christ. Through His names and titles, God has chosen to reveal His attributes, office, authority, prerogatives, and will. Each name of God features some distinct virtue or characteristic of His nature. Thus, God has declared the glory of His nature by His names, which are not to be abused.

It is this commandment more than any other that shows how much God should be a part of our every word, deed and attitude. It shows that the test of our spiritual cleanliness is how we use the name of God, whether in truth or vanity. It indicates that a man is better off being sincerely wrong than to be a professing Christian and deny His name by the conduct of his life.

To help us know David, the Bible shows him as a shepherd, warrior, king, prophet, poet, musician and sinner, each a part of a rich nature. God is manifold times greater, yet He reveals Himself, His nature, just as the Bible reveals David. We see God in a multitude of circumstances, revealing what He is by the way He acts and reacts. He also names Himself what the circumstances reveal of Him, so whenever we see that name, it also brings to mind an aspect of His nature. Thus, He gives us a double-barreled revelation of Himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)



Exodus 20:7

This commandment, like the second, includes a warning within it. What does He mean by "not hold him guiltless"? Sometimes God deliberately understates a warning as a subtle form of emphasis, which ultimately magnifies its meaning. The penalty for taking God's name in vain is death!

It is helpful to define four words used in this command:

» Take: Several Hebrew words are translated into the English word "take," but this one means "lift up," "bear," "carry," "use," "appropriate."

» Name: The Hebrew root denotes something high or elevated, a monument implying majesty or excellence. It is an outstanding mark, sign, or reputation. Thus "name" is a word by which a person, place, or thing is distinctively known. A name identifies, signifies, and specifies.

» Vain: The underlying Hebrew word suggests emptiness, futility, and/or falsehood. It implies lacking in reality, value, or truth. Its single-word synonyms—depending upon the context—are "futile," "worthless," "profane," "foolish," "reproachful," "curse," "blaspheme," "purposeless," "useless," "inconsequential," "unsubstantial," and "vaporous."

» Guiltless: This word indicates "free," "clear," "innocent," "clean," "blameless," "unpunished."

This commandment has nothing to do with the proper pronunciation of God's name, which no one knows for certain how to say anyway. It also has nothing to do with superstition or magic. This commandment's application is much broader, deeper, and more dignified than that.

This commandment is certainly against common swearing, including the use of euphemisms so common in this Protestant society, examples of which are "gee," "gosh," "golly," "cheese and rice," "got all muddy," "jiminy cricket," and "doggone." However, it also includes the light or disrespectful use of any of God's attributes or character traits. More directly than any other, the third commandment teaches how much God is to be a part of our every word, deed, and attitude.

It pays dividends in insight and understanding to take notice of biblical names. In biblical thought, a name is not merely a label of identification but also an expression of the bearer's essential nature. It includes its bearer's reputation, character, and distinctiveness from others. For example, in all probability Adam named the beasts based on his observations of the distinctiveness of their natures. Similarly, to know the name of God is to know God as He has revealed Himself, that is, to know some of His nature.

This same thought is true of many biblical characters, providing insight into understanding them within the events recorded about them. To illustrate, Jacob supplants his brother Esau twice. A supplanter is one who by skill, deceit, or force takes the place of another. When this happens the second time, Esau says, "Is he not rightly named Jacob?" (Genesis 27:36). Regarding the birthright and blessing, Jacob takes Esau's place using his supplanting nature.

Another clear example occurs when Abigail pleads with David for Nabal's life: "As his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him!" (I Samuel 25:25). Nabal means "a dolt, a vile person." Thus, the Bible shows that a name tends to exercise constraint on a person to conform to its nature.

In Hebrew thought, then, a name is inextricably bound with the named thing's existence. Nothing exists unless it has a name, and its essence is concentrated in its name. Hence, creation is not complete until Adam names all the creatures. To cut off a person's name is to end the bearer's existence, or to change a person's name is to indicate a shift in his character and standing before God.

To speak or act in another's name is to act as that person's agent and to participate in his authority. To be called by another's name implies that person's ownership, and one bearing that name falls under the authority and protection of the one whose name is called upon.

The third commandment sets the standard of the spiritual cleanliness in a person using the name of God because it is so weighty. It must be used or borne in truth, without hypocrisy or vanity but in purity of conduct. A person is better off being sincerely wrong than being a professing Christian and denying God's name by the conduct of his life.

Consider that to help us to know David, the Bible shows him as shepherd, warrior, king, prophet, poet, husband, father, musician, sinner, and penitent—each part of a rich and varied nature. Yet, God is manifold times greater than David! The Bible reveals Him, His nature, in a similar way, by adding names to aid us in identifying His many glorious characteristics. God names Himself what He is, just as He names people what they are. Thus, Jacob is at first a supplanter, yet when he changes, God names him more appropriately for his new life. Israel is "one who prevails with God."

Herbert Lockyer's book, All the Divine Names and Titles, lists 364 names and titles for Jesus Christ alone. Through His names and titles, God has chosen to reveal a great deal about His attributes, offices, authority, prerogatives, and will. Each name designates some distinct virtue or characteristic of God's nature. Thus, God has made known the glory of His nature through His names. They are not to be abused.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment



Exodus 20:7

The third commandment emphasizes the holy quality of His character and offices as identified by His names. His names reveal what He is. It is the Christian's responsibility to adorn and uphold the reputation and glory of all that those names imply. When we were regenerated, His Family name—God—became our Family name! We were baptized by the Spirit of God into that name. The third commandment therefore covers the quality of our witness in bearing that name.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment




Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Exodus 20:7:

Exodus 20:7
Leviticus :
Leviticus 26:25
Leviticus :
Deuteronomy :
Matthew 28:19
1 Corinthians :
Revelation 3:16-18

 

<< Exodus 20:6   Exodus 20:8 >>



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