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.
1. What was one of the abominations practiced by the heathens who possessed Canaan before the Israelites arrived? Leviticus 18:1-3, 21b. Had these nations defiled themselves and the land because of this? Verses 24-27. Did God warn Israel not to repeat this sin? Verses 28-30.
Comment: God said these other nations had defiled themselves and the land because they had violated the third commandment, "taking the name of God in vain." We break this commandment, not only in speech, but also by using or bearing His name in an unworthy, profane way in our conduct.
2. How has Israel profaned God's name? Malachi 1:11-14. Should we pray for humility and for God to do His will in our lives to avoid profaning His name? Proverbs 30:7-9. How can we properly fear His name? Deuteronomy 28:58.
Comment: Israel profaned God's name by giving offerings in a lying and deceitful attitude, as Ananias and Sapphira did (Acts 5:1-11). They kept the best animals for themselves while offering blemished ones to God. We fear God's name, not only by keeping all of God's law—including the statutes and judgments—but also by giving God our best effort in doing His will.
3. Should we hallow God's name when we pray? Matthew 6:9.
Comment: To hallow God's name means to make it holy or set it apart for holy use, respecting it greatly. We hallow His name by obeying Him in all our conduct. Conversely, prayer without obedience is a form of blasphemy (Matthew 7:21, Mark 7:6-7), as is praise offered to God in the attitude of rebellion against His way. It is vain or vanity—useless and contemptible.
4. Should we exalt, praise and love God's name? Psalm 34:3; 54:6; 69:36; 92:1. Do the faithful put their trust in Him or just His name? Psalm 9:10.
Comment: The attributes that God's names express reveal His character and affect the way we worship Him. God names Himself what He is. The faithful do not trust in what God is called, for this would be mere superstition. Their faith is in what He is, His character and nature, which they have experienced by seeking to live His way.
5. What happens if we blaspheme or curse God's name? Leviticus 24:16. Is it appropriate to swear by His name? Matthew 5:34-35. Is it enough to mention God's name at our convenience? Isaiah 48:1-2. Will frequent repetition of God's name help us to enter His Kingdom? Matthew 6:7; 7:21.
Comment: God's name is so sacred and holy that Jesus commands us not to invoke it to back up our words or our oath. A simple affirmation by a God-fearing Christian is far more reliable than thousands of oaths by a liar. Those to whom this prophecy applies in Matthew 7:21 use God's names, but fail to obey His revelation of Himself contained in them.
6. Did Jesus come to reveal and declare the name of the Father? John 17:6, 26. What role does God's truth play regarding His name? Verses 11-19.
Comment: Notice that Jesus never mentions how to pronounce the Father's name. Salvation is not based on its pronunciation! Far more important is doing the will of God, an absolute necessity in truly fearing His name. The Father's name guards us from evil by the Word of God which is truth.
7. Is a good name important? Proverbs 22:1. What is our obligation regarding God's name? Isaiah 43:6-7, 10-12.
Comment: A good name can be a great asset. God often gives "for My name's sake" as the reason He acts (Isaiah 48:9-11). He is simply preserving His reputation. And since from baptism we bear His name (Matthew 28:19), we have a profound duty to uphold all that His name represents. We are witnesses that our God is God. If we fail to live up to that name's reputation, we break the third commandment and profane the name of God.
8. Will those who are faithful in obeying God receive the name of God themselves? Revelation 3:12.
Comment: When God resurrects us into His Kingdom, He will give us names to designate our existence, nature and responsibility in the Kingdom. We are assured of carrying God's own name if we overcome sin. What a tremendous reward to bear His name for all eternity!