What I want to do is I want to give you a picture of something that was commonplace. A Levite was a man between the ages of twenty and fifty. He had to be out of the line of Aaron, the priesthood. And that was the section of the Levites that did the important ministry or priestly work.
And one of the jobs of some of the Levites was to transcribe the text of the Torah. And I want you to picture, as you can imagine, a man somewhere between twenty and fifty. At fifty, automatic retirement.
And his job was to take the written text of the Torah and rewrite on another scroll exactly what was on the scroll that was given him.
And the accuracy had to be this level of integrity, is once he was done with his day’s work, an older Levite would come with a pen and count over so many letters, maybe twenty-five letters, count down seventeen letters, and he would put his pen on the letter.
And if the letter in this scroll did not match the letter of that scroll, they would tear it up and start over. The integrity and the margin for error was zero tolerance.
But something else also happened. As a Levite would be and if you can imagine in your mind’s eye the meticulous copying of the text. You know, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers.
And then he would get to, let’s pretend he’s actually doing Exodus chapter 20. And when he got to the word “Yahweh,” in fact, he would never pronounce it. It was too holy to pronounce.
The vowels were not written in. Just those four letters. Y-W-H-W. In our…And when he got to that he would stop.
And he would go into another room and he would remove his outer garment. He would ceremonially wash. He would put on a clean outer garment. He would come back in and then he would very carefully write those four letters. Y-W-H-W. In Hebrew.
And then he would take the utensil that he wrote the holy name, which is too holy to pronounce and he would destroy it. He would go into another room, take the robe off, the outer robe, when he wrote that name. Set it aside, ceremonially cleanse himself again, put on a new robe, and then come back and begin to rewrite the text again.
And you know what he did the next time he came to the word “Yahweh” or “Jehovah?” Exactly the same thing.
The name of God was holy. And what I want to talk about is how different that is. Their mindset and their reasoning then versus today.
Now, by contrast, let’s just imagine that you walked into a business office, an insurance agency, someone doing a few sales calls. Just any normal business office and it’s a Tuesday and things are kind of busy and it’s one of those open ended places where there’s a lot of desks and a lot people on the phone and it’s easy to overhear and there’s a real dynamic.
And a guy in the corner has made a call and he’s having a real problem because the production people aren’t getting things out. And he says something like, what do you mean, there’s a problem? They ordered that last week. For Jesus Christ’s sake! Get it out! What’s the problem here? My god, can’t anybody do anything right there?
Would that be pretty common in our day? Yeah, I think so.
Or, let’s take it from there and there’s four guys on a couch and they’re not doing a commercial and they’re not necessarily even drinking Bud Light but they’re watching a big ball game and it’s the final four.
And it’s in the final four and it’s in the last game and a guy breaks away and the score is tied. He goes up. He can leap out of this world. There’s a little tiny guard. And I actually saw this happen.
The guy spreads his legs, jumps over him, and slams it down. And every guy on the couch goes, Oh my god! What a dunk! What a slam! Can you believe that? For Jesus’ sake, the guy can fly!
Isn’t that normal?
See, the way the ancient Hebrews viewed the name of God and how it was used and the way the average American, the way the average person on this earth and, in fact, the way the average even born-again believer views God’s name and what it means is night and day.
And this third command is a bit radical. The two scenes I’ve painted are a study in contrasts. The one is extreme reverence. Going well beyond anything God commanded. There’s no commands about never ever speaking His name that I have in Scripture. And the other extreme irreverence. Demonstrating total disregard for the name of God.
And the questions I want to ask and answer as we look at those two extremes is, why are we to treat God’s name with such holiness? What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? What’s behind this command?
I mean, I didn’t grow up in the church. I mean, when I first read this and did the research is part of me said, you know, what’s the big deal? I mean, does it really, you call Him this or say that word or that word. I mean, is there really, is there really that much behind it?
What’s difference does it really make and, candidly, why is God so adamant about this? As we study this, you’re going to find that this isn’t one of those non-negotiables, there’s a little fudge, you know? You know?
God, mm-mmm. There’s no, this is black and white. I mean, we’re on the Ten Commandments and this is in the top three.
The command is, you shall not misuse, or the word for misuse is, literally, “take up” in vain the name of the Lord your God.
That word “misuse” literally means to carry or to bear or to lift up. It’s used elsewhere in Scripture as someone would lift up a song or lift up a poem. It means to verbalize one’s allegiance. It’s the taking of a name, the verbalizing of a name. It’s lifting or carrying something on your lips.
And then the word here for “vain” means with no purpose, void, empty, or with evil intent. So, understanding the what is really not very difficult. Don’t bring to your lips, take upon your lips, the name of God in such a way where it has no purpose, no intent, never do it with any evil intent.
But it always has to have meaning. You have to be thinking about who that you’re talking about and we’ll learn why in just a minute.
That’s the command. The consequences are, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished or hold him guiltless, who misuses or takes His name in vain. And as we look at this, then, let’s dig in a little bit and see if we can’t figure out what’s in a name?
I mean, why is this command so heavy?
Name is synonymous with one’s character, reputation, and authority. You know, we don’t tend to think of it that way but in Scriptural times, ancient times, names were very, very important.
Abram, when God did a great work, changed his name to what? Abraham. Sarai, you know, God was doing something in her life, her name changed to Sarah. We had Saul who was the murderer and his name was changed to Paul.
You have multiple times in Scripture when God was going to talk about what was going to occur in a person’s life and Peter, right, used to be Simon. And upon this Rock. Names are very, very important because names are synonymous with one’s character, reputation, and authority.
Names are synonymous with a person’s character, a person’s reputation, and authority. In essence, God’s name reveals His essence. Who He really is. When the name Yahweh, in fact, often what they would do instead of using Yahweh, they would take another name for God, Adonai, so they wouldn’t have to give His covenant name.
But when the word Yahweh came to the lips, there’s content. His character. It’s His covenant name. When Jehovah or the word Yahweh, this is a God who always keeps His promises. When He’s making a promise to His people, it’s always, I the LORD, in your Bibles, capital L-O-R-D, say this.
And so, it’s very important. He’s not only a covenant keeping promise keeper, but it’s His redemptive name. When He says, the Lord delivered you out of Egypt. The Lord delivered you from the Philistines. The Lord delivered you.
The content of his name, Yahweh, has to do with, not only His covenant name, but His redemptive name. He’s the lover of His people. He’s their Savior.
And the third, it’s His personal name. When He met, remember Moses? Burning bush? I AM THAT I AM.
It’s His personal name. It’s just not an idea about what He’s done but it is personal identity. I am the ever existing, eternal One.
And so, when the name Yahweh or Jehovah or, in our day, Lord or God is used, God’s character, reputation, and authority, the very essence of who He is.
And so to evoke the name of God is to call upon to your remembrance, His personhood, His deeds, His promises, and His very presence.
So, how important is His name? When Jesus was asked by His disciples, you know, we notice that John, you know, he prays with his disciples and the Pharisees, boy, they, you know, they’ve got a pretty rigorous way that they pray.
And we notice You are very habitual about getting up early in the morning and getting away and there’s an intimacy that You have with God that we’ve never seen before. Will You teach us to pray?
And Jesus, in Matthew 6, taught them to pray. And the first thing He said what? There’s a different kind of relationship. When He taught them, our Father, who is in heaven. The concept of “Father” was radical.
The Hebrews of the day had a very strong sense of God’s transcendence and of His awesomeness. But not the idea that He could be imminent. That He could be close. And He used the word “Abba.” It was the word that small toddler children call upon their mom or dad to climb up into their lap.
But then notice right after He said, our Father who art in heaven. What’s the very first thing He taught them? Hallowed be Thy name.
Holy is Your name.
And so, He’s saying here that His covenant name, in essence, is we’re to take God, right in the word, seriously. We’re to take God very, very seriously.
And that applies, not only, to God but to Jesus. Jesus’ identity and His name was discussed. Remember? What shall He be called? His name will be called Emmanuel. God is with us.
The word “Jesus” means what? Savior or salvation. Jesus made it clear. Remember in John chapter 8, before Abraham was, remember? I AM. And He made clear. He’s the Ego emi. He was taking, He said, I want you to know that your view of the eternal God, the I AM THAT I AM, when you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.
Remember in the garden, when they came? And they had swords and clubs and torches and He said, who are you looking for? And He uses that same phrase. And when He says that phrase, do you remember what happened?
The power of the name, the people fell down to the floor. I am He. I am the I AM. And so, there’s real power in the name of God and it’s to be taken very seriously.
And here’s the axiom. Our use of God’s name in word, in thought, or deed will reflect our view of God and our relationship to Him. How you think about God’s name, how you use God’s name in word, or thought, or deed will reflect the view and the relationship you have with Him.
And what happens is, when we don’t have a high view of God, it becomes visible and apparent in how we talk.
I was, have had this experience multiple times with my kids. And then I, kind of, quit because it just got too painful. But I remember one apparent time where, you know, I was real tired and came through a big time and so I really wanted to treat our family.
So, I heard from all my friends or at least from a number of people that this was a good movie. Okay? We’re going to go see this good movie.
And so, you know, it was the days where we couldn’t, you know, put two quarters against each other. So to buy movie tickets and popcorn and the whole deal and we all lined up and sat down.
And it started out, it was kind of a family friendly movie and seemed to have a good plot and seemed like kind of a nice time. But I don’t know what it was but early on in this movie, someone started with the “GD” expression. GD this, GD that, GD this, GD that.
And, you know, it was kids and family oriented. It was like, this feels like a family movie. The music is like a family movie. It has, kind of, the Disney feel. But, boy, early on, there’s this, blank, blank this. Blank, blank this.
And I sat there. And I thought, well, am I going to weather through this and how much of this am I going to take? And I just had this thought come to me. And I thought, who is the most precious person in my life? I mean, who’s the person whose respect that I would guard, whose reputation I would guard?
And I thought, you know, it’s my wife or one of my kids. And I thought, would I sit in this movie theatre if they were saying, “Theresa damn this, Theresa damn this, Theresa! I call on Theresa to damn and send people to hell” and just…
And then using her word, not even just like a slur or a fill in. Man, I would get up in front of that theatre and say, “Hey, I’ll tell you what. The next guy who says my wife’s name like that. You know, I may lose this battle but I’m going to try and take you out.”
I mean, wouldn’t you, men? If someone said that about one of your kids or about your mom or about…
And I thought to myself, I’m not doing this. And so, my kids, this had happened before and I gave them the, okay, we all filed out. Burned about seven bucks a person. And I’m going, mmmmm!
And, of course, it was a teachable moment. And you know what it helped me see? It helped me see that our view of God’s name and our sense of what it means and how important it is, says a lot about where we’re at with Him.
And I think what’s happened in our culture, candidly, is we’ve gotten very casual. And the name of God doesn’t mean much to the world and unfortunately, the name of God, in many ways, doesn’t mean too much to the church.
And I think we’re not going, you know, words matter. Words really matter. There’s no way, ideas are expressed through words. So words have content. And when the content of a word is devalued and over time gets degraded so that it doesn’t mean anything, then the concept in your mind and the idea in your mind is, you will have a low view of God if we get to the point where we talk about Him tritely and casually or, are you ready? If you use His name in vain.
And so what I want to talk about is in what ways do we use God’s name in vain? And by the way, you’re going to learn that profanity, of course, is one. But probably the most serious in the cultural context, this third command was not given, primarily, with regard to profanity, although it’s definitely included.
The primary application of this is in the taking of oaths. And you’ll notice in your notes, it says, in the taking of oaths that we do not keep, write the word “perjury.” It’s a legal term. Perjury.
And the historical context, you can jot down under that, Deuteronomy 6:13 and Deuteronomy 10:20. And both those say, “Fear the Lord your God and take an oath in My name.”
Again, you’ve got to remember, they’ve come out of this pagan culture, no one told the truth, there was no sense of right, wrong, this is good, this is bad. And so, you know, as God is teaching these people how to live before Him, one of the things He wants them to learn is to tell the truth.
And so, if you’re in a business deal and you say you’re going to do that and he’s going to do that. Well, then what you say, “In the name of the Lord…” because, I mean, it is so holy, you would never break your vow.
And by the time centuries roll on, by the time years and years would happen, people would then not use the name of the Lord in an oath. They would say, I swear by Jerusalem. Or I swear by this or I swear by that. They were looking for legal loopholes.
They took the very command of God and tried to use it as a way so that when they didn’t tell the truth, they’d say, well, you know, I didn’t swear by the name of the Lord.
So much so that by Matthew chapter 5 about verse 46, remember when Jesus was talking about, “You have heard it said,” you know, swear by heaven or swear by earth… “but I say to you, let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
Basically Jesus said, let’s forget all this oath stuff. The whole point of taking an oath in the name of God was to bring about integrity. And you’ve actually taken the command to build integrity into the life of Israel and used it for a legal loophole so you don’t tell the truth.
So He said, you know what I want you to do? Just tell the truth all the time. Forget oaths.
But when you would say to a person, “I, in the name of God, commit to marry that woman or that man. I, in the name of God, will pay so much for that field. I, in the name of God, have a treaty with this group of people that we’re at war with.” It is unbreakable.
On the basis of the name and the integrity of the Creator and the Deliverer and the Redeemer of all the people of Israel. I will never break this oath.
So the issue was, being a person of your word. And when you would take the name of the Lord and then not keep your promise, you were misusing or taking the name of God in vain.
Notice Leviticus 19:12. Do not make a promise in My name if you do not intend to keep it. That brings disgrace on My name. I am, and then you, here’s His name, the LORD, or Yahweh, your God.
This one, how many times have you been to a wedding? I’ve done a lot of them as a pastor twenty plus years. And isn’t there a place in the wedding where we say to this couple, “Before God and these witnesses, do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband? I do,” “I do.” “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife? I do,” “I do.” “In sickness and in health, in sorrow and…” right? “As long as you both shall live.”
Before God. Oath. And these witnesses. You understand what a couple, now do I understand there are biblical grounds for divorce and there’s infidelity and people run off? Yes. Do I understand that some people are married to unbelievers and 1 Corinthians 7: an unbeliever can abandon a believer and people may find themselves divorced.
Well, now that we have ten percent of all the divorces in the evangelical community covered, what about the other ninety percent? I’m not fulfilled. This is really hard. I’m not very happy right now.
When we, as Christians, break our vow or our oaths to God, we are taking the name of the Lord in vain. And would you mind going back if you don’t have it open and look at the very first page where it says we’re not to take the name of the Lord in vain.
And did you notice the consequences there? For the Lord will not leave him unpunished or hold him guiltless who misuses or takes His name in vain. Any of you businessmen, businesswomen here, ever had a business deal with another Christian?
You know? They had a little fish on their card or when you got the card there’s a little fish on the back of the card? And, have you had the first round of things where they’re a Christian and you’re a Christian and since you’re both Christians then we probably don’t even need to sign anything. Because your word is gold. You both love God. You’re people of integrity.
I would just be interested. How many people have had one of those experiences with one of those so-called Christians. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. And you got ripped off. I did.
You know what they did? They took the name of the Lord in vain. They broke their promise. It was on the basis of your relationship that, in my case, I’ve had times where I didn’t sign a contract.
My lands, this guy loves God. I love God. If I can’t trust his word, what can I trust. And what I learned is, I couldn’t trust his word. You break an oath.
You might jot down Psalm 15:4. Psalm 15:4 is talking about the kind of man, the kind of woman that God promises to bless. And Psalm 15 opens with a question and it ends with a promise.
And it opens with the question, it says, “O God. O Lord. Who may abide in Thy holy tent? Who may dwell with You?” In other words, who can have intimate, wonderful relationship with You?
And then he goes through a list of things. He walks in integrity and speaks truth in his heart. You know, doesn’t take a bribe. And by verse 4, one of the evidences of a man or a woman that can have intimacy with God, that can dwell in His holy tent, he swears to his own hurt and does not change.
See, the fact of the matter is, there’s times you make a promise based on a certain set of circumstances and then the circumstances change, right? And you know what a man of God or a woman of God does? You swear to your own hurt. I said I would do this. I said I would come.
And then, circumstances change and then a man of integrity comes. Or you do what you say.