Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Exodus 20:7. Back in 1986, a man by the name of Paul Dickson wrote a book titled Names: A Collector’s Compendium of Rare and Unusual, Bold and Beautiful, Odd and Whimsical Names. A decade later he updated that volume with a book titled What’s in a Name?: Reflections of an Irrepressible Name Collector. On the back cover of the original book, the late poet William Epsy wrote, “Had Shakespeare sniffed the likes of ‘Boofa Upthumbs’ or ‘Eloise Tittlekitty,’ would he still have contended that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?” Probably not.
Here are a couple of his entries (all, of which, by the way, have been independently verified). For instance, a guy named Joe Bunt. He became a baseball coach. Fits perfectly, doesn’t it.
Then, there’s the Druff family (D-R-U-F-F). They named their son Daniel, and he turned out to be a barber. So, it sounds kind of odd when you go to a barber named Dan Druff.
He even points out two men by the name of Mr. Goforth and Mr. Ketchum (spelled with a K), who became partners in the same police force. So, you can imagine how that would sound in the station. “Who do we send? Send Goforth and Ketchum.”
He highlights another couple of guys that became business partners, named Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Pray (P-R-A-Y). Do you want to guess what kind of industry they were in? They sold church furnishings and accessories.
Then there’s a guy named Crumble (C-R-U-M-B-L-E), William Crumble. He became a plaster contractor. How would you like to have your home worked on by a guy named Will Crumble?
And, of course, he has some of the other odd names like the Turners, who named their baby girl Paige – Paige Turner. Or the Arms family (A-R-M-S), who named their son Carl – Carl Arms. And who can forget the family with the last name Bacon? They named their son Christopher, middle initial B, so it’s Chris B. Bacon. Again, let me just say, I didn’t make this up.
Today, we’re continuing our study of the 10 Commandments and we find ourselves considering the proper use and misuse of the name of God. If the first commandment says worship the right God, and if the second commandment says worship the right God in the right way, then the third commandment says worship the right God the right way, even down to the use and the mention of His name. Even His very name is to be honored. Follow along with me as I read this single verse:
7 “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.”
Our Heavenly Father, part of our worship is to listen attentively as Your Word is being spoken, and so we give You our minds, our very hearts. And these bodies we present as living sacrifices to You, holy and acceptable. It’s our reasonable service. We pray that during the next several minutes as we’re gathered attentively here, that You would talk to us about issues in our lives through this third commandment. In Jesus’ name, amen.
We understand that names say something. Names mean something. Names are significant. Now, if that’s true on a horizontal level, then it’s definitely true when we move to the vertical level, to the transcendent level of the name of God. And what I’d like for us to do this morning is to put our thinking caps on and try and think this through. Because I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were to ask, “Which is the least significant?” (although we know there aren’t any least significant), but if we were to determine what’s the least significant of the 10 Commandments, I wonder whether we wouldn’t choose this one; whether we wouldn’t say, “Well, I don’t think that one is as important as idolatry or murder or adultery.”
Now, if that’s true to any degree, then it bears testimony to the fact that we don’t fully understand what’s being said in relationship to this third commandment. If, to use the name of God wrongly… If, to misuse His name incurs guilt, as verse 7 tells us, then it clearly must be important, and we need to understand why. So, let’s take a moment or two to try and understand the importance of the name of God.
And I want to do that under these three headings: Significance of God’s Name, Samples of God’s Name, and Sins Associated with God’s Name.
Significance of God’s Name
The name that God gives (of Himself) to us in the Scripture is something that’s extremely precious. The name of God, the unique name of God, the proper name of God, that’s given to us in the Bible is spelled with the English letters Y-H-W-H. In your Bible it’s found in verse 7 as LORD (all caps). So, whenever you see LORD (all caps), then you know that the original Hebrew scriptures were using the proper name for God. The reason for the capitalization is to distinguish it from another name for God that’s spelled L-o-r-d (regularly). When you see the “regular” spelling of Lord, then you know that the Hebrew scriptures were not using God’s personal and proper name. They were using the word Adonai, which is the word for the title “lord.”
When you see the proper name of God (LORD), it’s referring to the Hebrew consonants YHWH. That’s how you would spell God’s personal name, but that’s hard to pronounce because there aren’t any vowels in the original Hebrew. And God did that on purpose. God didn’t want His name pronounced. It was too precious.
In fact, in the earliest chapters of the Old Testament, we discover that there was only one occasion in the whole Jewish year when someone was allowed to utter God’s name – and that was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On that day, the high priest went into the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 23) and there, on that day, he took the name of God “Yahweh” upon his lips. But the fact of the matter was, and still is, that the name of God was supremely precious.
God’s encounters with Moses have as much to teach us about the precious nature of His name as any others do. Let me take you back to two scenes in the life of Moses. You’re probably familiar with both of them. The first is in Exodus 33-34 and then we’ll come back to Exodus 3.
In Exodus 33:13, God meets with Moses and Moses makes this request: “If You are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You.” In verse 18, Moses says, “Now show me Your glory.” And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, [Yahweh], in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ [God] said, ‘you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live’” (Exodus 33:18-20). And we’re told that there was a place in the rock, a spot in the mountain, where Moses could stand and God would pass by and Moses would be protected.
And when you flip over to Exodus 34:5ff: “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with [Moses] and proclaimed His name, [Yahweh]. And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘[Yahweh, Yahweh,] the compassionate and gracious God.’” In other words, God says His name twice, and then He explains what He’s saying in saying His name. “The compassionate and gracious God.” What is God like? “Slow to anger.” He’s “abounding in love and faithfulness.” He “maintain[s] love to thousands.” He “forgiv[es] wickedness, rebellion and sin,” yet He is a just God and therefore “does not leave the guilty unpunished. And Moses quickly bowed his head towards the earth and worshipped” (Exodus 34:5-8).
So, we need to understand that the name of God is precious, and by His name God portrays His greatness. God reveals all that He is and all that He does.
Now, if you turn back to Exodus 3. This is the story of Moses and the burning bush, where God reveals Himself to Moses. Moses finds out that he’s going on a significant mission; he’s going to go to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go.” Exodus 3:13 says, “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is His name?” Then what shall I tell them?’”
Now, doesn’t that strike you as a little bit funny? He says, “If I go to them and say, ‘The God (Elohim) of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say, ‘Tell me His name.’” In other words, there’s a dimension to God that’s revealed in the name which He’s now about to give to Moses that is so immense in its grandeur and in its power that even the name Elohim, which is how Genesis 1 begins – “In the beginning [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) that that word, nor even all of those words put together, can begin to express the immensity of who God is.
“Well,” says God, “If they ask you that question, just use the verb to be. Say to them, ‘I Am who I Am.’” That’s what God says to Moses: “And you’re to say to them, ‘I Am has sent me to you.” What in the world does that mean, “I Am has sent me to you”? Here’s what it means. By using the verb form “to be” God is revealing that He’s self-existent, that He’s self-sufficient, that He’s sovereign, that He depends on no one and He depends on nothing. Now, who else in all of creation can take that as their name? Who else do you know who is self-existent, self-fulfilled, in need of no one, in need of nothing, and altogether sovereign? The answer is you don’t know anyone, and neither do I, for there is no one else.
And that, you see – jumping from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus – that’s why Jesus got Himself in so much trouble with the Jews: because He kept saying, “Before Abraham was … I Am” (John 8:58)! And they said, “That’s God’s name!” And He said, “That’s right. I’m self-existent. I’m self-sufficient. I’m sovereign. I need no one, and I need nothing.” Which is a reminder to us (in passing) that the God to whom we worship, the God of Scripture, the God of the Bible isn’t some cosmic discovery, nor is He a God of our own creation, but He’s the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He’s perfect and powerful and praiseworthy. And all of that is revealed in His name.
When Jeremiah grasped this, he said, “There[’s] none like … thee, O LORD; Thou art great, and Thy Name is great in might” (Jeremiah 10:6). Psalm 20:7, says, “Some trust in chariots, … some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” What was Jesus’ great triumphant prayer in John 17:6, “I have manifested Your Name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world.” Now, clearly, folks, this means something more than simply terminology. This means something more than simply saying, “God is God.” I mean, that’s repetition. No, God is expressing something of His character, and of His power, and of His control, and of His influence in all of the world.
And until we grasp this, we can’t understand why the third commandment would be so significant. See, if God is just down here somewhere, or if God is a cosmic creation, or if God is a figment of my imagination, or if God is whatever I want Him to be, then why in the world shouldn’t I misuse His name? But… If God is “I Am,” then I’ve got a problem, and so do you.
Samples of God’s Name
Now, let me give you one or two names of God. You may like to write these down. I think you’ll find this helpful. And certainly, if you get ahold of this, you’ll understand why God is so concerned about His Name. Let me give them to you. And this is not exhaustive or comprehensive; it’s selective.
The first one is Elohim. This simply means “Creator.” I referred to it just a moment ago, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth.” Can I ask you this morning, do you honor God as your creator? Do you believe that God created ex nihilo, that He took nothing and made something? Do you believe that God is self-existent? That He spoke and the world came into being? That He set the stars in space? That He put the planets where He wants them? That He, in Christ, holds everything together? Do you have a core, deep conviction in your heart concerning Elohim? If not, then when you take His name upon your lips, you misuse His name, because His name is “Creator.”
Number two: El Elyon. It simply means “God the Most-High.” You find it in Genesis 14:18 in the priesthood of Melchizedek: He was priest of “[El Elyon] God Most High.” The name emphasizes the sovereignty and the rule and the power of God. Ask yourself, as I must, “Do I believe in the sovereign, powerful rule of God? Do I worship and understand El Elyon? And if I do, then why do I complain so much about my circumstances, and why do I doubt His ability to intervene on my behalf?” It’s because I misuse His name.
Number three: He’s Yahweh-Jireh (or Jehovah-Jireh). It simply means “the God who provides.” Do you know the God who provides? Abraham and Isaac learned this name in Genesis 22, when God called Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him to the Lord. You know the story. Abraham and Isaac go to Mount Moriah, and even though God had said, “Take your boy and sacrifice him,” Abraham said to the servants, “The boy and I will be back.” Why? Because he knew what Isaac was going to find out. And when Isaac said, “Hey, we’ve got the wood, and we’ve got the fire going, but we ain’t got nothing to put up here,” Abraham says, “Yahweh, He is Yahweh-Jireh.” And turning, they look and see a ram caught in the thicket. And on that day, Isaac discovered that God was Yahweh, the provider God.
And in a very realistic sense, that beast on that altar bore the place of Isaac and figured what was to happen centuries later when on a Roman cross outside the walls of Jerusalem there would be yet another Who would be bearing the place of another who deserved it. And there, as Philip Bliss writes, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned He stood, Sealed my pardon with His blood: Hallelujah! What a Savior.” Yahweh-Jireh
Oh, could I take this name upon my lips as a curse, as a joke, as a flippancy? Could I sit in the theater and listen to them abuse the name of my Savior? Can I listen to the nonsense without stopping my ears and running for sanity? You better believe we can. We’ve become so desensitized by the godlessness of our culture that we have a sneaking suspicion, as I say to you, that this commandment is an old-fashioned rule from somewhere long ago and that it bears no relevance to us at all.
Children, come in our homes and curse God. T hey come in and say “Jesus,” and they’re not worshipping Him. We pick them up in our cars, and they jam their finger in the door and profane the name of Christ. They don’t know any better. They don’t know that He’s El Elyon. They don’t know that He’s the Provider. They don’t know that He’s Yahweh. And they never will, living next door to the likes of some of us… for they hear the same stuff from our lips when we drive our golf ball into the woods or we stub or toe on the bed post.
The problem is our God is too small. We’ve brought Him down to our level. We’ve made Him manageable. We’ve made Him such that we can manipulate Him. We don’t exist for His glory, rather He exists for ours. We come to worship in order that we might get Him to do what we want. We don’t come to worship in order that we might magnify and praise His name, so that we might discover His plan for our lives.
Number four: Yahweh Nissi – “He’s my banner.” What does that mean? It was the banner of the marching armies, the protection of the army around Him. And you’re walking into some things tomorrow, and so am I. And we say to ourselves, “I don’t know if I can cope with another day in that office. I don’t know if I can bear another cancer treatment. I’m not sure I can do another load of laundry. I don’t think I can make these breakfasts anymore for these kids or get these lunches and drive like a jolly taxi driver for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I can do it!” Well, let me tell you something: Yahweh Nissi, the Lord is your banner. He’s your protection in the storm. Get underneath the banner and walk forward!
Number five: He is Yahweh-Mekaddesh; the Lord of holiness.
Number six: He is Yahweh Shalom; the God of peace.
Number seven: He is Yahweh-Tsidkenu, “the Lord my righteousness.” What does that mean? We, who are unrighteous, who are dead in our trespasses and in our sins, who follow the ways of the world and the wickedness of Satan unwittingly without even knowing it, who are underneath the condemnation of God, we may now stand complete and unchallenged by God’s holiness. How? By keeping the Ten Commandments? By showing up at church? By helping ladies with their groceries? By cutting the lawn for the little old man next door? No. By acknowledging that there’s no possibility whatsoever of standing before God’s holiness except to face judgment, unless there is one who may take our place – namely, Yahweh-Tsidkenu, “the Lord our righteousness.”
Number eight: He is El Shaddai (God Almighty). Don’t you love that song, written by Michael Card and made popular by Amy Grant in the 1980’s? “El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El-Elyon na Adonai.” You say, “What in the world are we singing?” We’re just magnifying the greatness of God. Now, it’s not about the significance of G-o-d. It’s about the fact that God, in declaring and disclosing Himself, shows the wonder of who He is.
Sins Associated with God’s Name
Let me come to the part you’re most expecting: How, then, in the world do we break this third commandment? This is what you thought was important, and it is. But the fact is, the reason I’ve emphasized all of this is because until we understand the importance of God’s name, then breaking the commandment has very little significance at all. But once we understand the magnitude of what we’re doing when we abuse and misuse the name of God, then it becomes a telling truth.
Three words summarize it: we break the third commandment by blasphemy, perjury, and hypocrisy. Or, if you like, we break the third commandment by swearing, lying, and kidding.
Every time that we incorporate the name of God into things that we’re saying in order somehow to try and strengthen our words – for example, I hear people say, “And that’s the God’s-honest truth” – that’s blasphemy. There’s only one truth, and that’s God’s truth. We don’t need God’s name added to truth. Our words are to be “yes” and “no,” not “yes” and “no” and “maybe.” So, we don’t need to bring down the name of divinity in order to reinforce what we’re saying, unless, of course, what we’re saying is so shaky because of our character that we feel somehow, we need to strengthen it by an abuse of the name of God.
We blaspheme God by treating His name irreverently. We blaspheme God by mentioning His name and in the same time casting doubt on His character. We blaspheme God when we use His name in anger and in arrogance and in defiance of who He is. We misuse the name of God and take it in vain when we’re lying or uttering falsehoods and using God’s name to back it up; when we say we’ll do things, and then, using God’s name, affirm that, and then back off and don’t do it.
Did you stand at the front of a church and answer “I do” to the pastor’s question? Did you stand at the front of the church and say, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep myself only unto her,” or “only unto him,” “so long as we both shall live?” Did you? And are you doing it? “Well, pastor, you don’t know my circumstances.” You’re right. I don’t, but He does. Did you vow to God that you would serve Him with all of your life, that you were prepared to go anywhere, do anything for Him, at any time, and you made that commitment, and you’ve stepped back from it? You misused the name of God.
And we misuse the name of God when we take it and joke with it or are hypocritical with it in any way. There’s a strange and progressing and disturbing frequency of expressions amongst evangelical Christians (including me), such as “Good Lord!” “Lord, have mercy,” even “God!” or “Oh my God!”
Loved ones, just when you and I are ready to sneak past the third commandment, it jumped up and bit us. Every service that you and I attend where I worship God with my lips and not from my heart, I break the third commandment. Every song that I sing using the name of God, when I sing lies, when I sing superficially, when I do not engage the reality of my being, I misuse the name of God.
The fact is that it’s only when we take God’s name in praise, and in study, and in love, and in carefulness, and in obedience, and in prayer, and in confidence, and in evangelism, and in thankfulness that we begin to get on the flipside of the commandment, expressed in the opening phrase of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.”
Most of us have reached that point of forgetting or misplacing people’s names. And some of you are sitting out there this morning, and you’re thinking: “God, I don’t know Your Name. I never met You.”
“And you will call His name Jesus,” said the angel, “for He will save the people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). It’s only when we encounter Christ as Savior that we meet God. It’s only, then, in meeting God that we can begin to understand why His name is to be hallowed. And therefore, this morning, that is both our point of conclusion and, for some, needs to be the point of beginning.
Our God and our Father, the psalmist tells us that “You have exalted above all things Your Name and Your Word” (Psalm 138:2). Forgive us for our flippancy, and for our lies, and for our superficiality, when uttering Your most holy name. As we look into this law and see our faces in the mirror, we know we can’t cleanse ourselves by trying to do better. And we thank You that You have provided for us, in Christ, a Savior. Lord, we want to be able to join the great hymn writer, John Newton, and say, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, in a believer’s ear! It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, and dries away his fear.” O God, grant us grace to hear You, to respond to You, and to live out what we’ve learned. For we ask these things, commending one another lovingly to Your care, in Jesus’ name. Amen.