What does the third commandment really mean?
A quick read through of the Decalogue in the book of Exodus helps us understand in a nutshell what YHVH wants us to do concerning Him and our neighbors. Most are very cut and dried, but there are one or two that might be a little murky. The third commandment states that we are not to take the name of the Lord in vain. It further states that if anyone does take His name in vain, that the Lord will “not hold him guiltless”. What does that mean, exactly?
When we break it down it tells us why this is both an important command and what it means, but perhaps because of its inherent simplicity, one can easily overlook the meaning. It hides in plain sight. Still, it has been the victim of bad theology for millennia and deserves to be taken for its literal meaning. The Jews see it as a major infraction if they speak the Holy Name of HaShem, so they removed it from their scriptures- but that is not the meaning of the commandment itself. That is simply man’s inaccurate proposal of it. So, let’s dig a little deeper to find this out.
I need you to say the following words with me: Taking the name of the Lord in vain DOES NOT mean that you aren’t allowed to say “Oh my God.” Nor does it mean that anyone who has will be condemned by YHVH. For one, “God” is only a title. It’s not even a name. The letters “YHVH” are known as the Tetragrammaton, and they are actually unpronounceable- and when you use vowels that were later added (original Hebrew was all consonants) you get Yahweh, but we can’t really be 100% certain. So suffice it to say that if we use the phrase “OMG” that’s not breaking any command.
The Bible says that it is “not what goes into a man that makes him unclean; it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.” in Matthew, and while this doesn’t give us license to eat things forbidden by Torah or utter curses all over the place, it does sort of make you think about what Yeshua meant by that. Intent. Remember that with the Creator it is always about your heart. Consider: if I said “Oh my God.” on the morning of September 11, 2001 then I would certainly be in good company. We all said it- the whole world. Right before we all prayed. There was a collective “Oh my God.” that day- and it was because in our dark hours of uncertainty and insurmountable pain we looked toward the skies and spoke to a God we all knew (or hoped) was there. We spoke to Him on a personal level. We were hurt and shocked, can you really blame us? Does it sound right to say that YHVH would condemn us all for crying out to Him with our deepest needs? The God I know would never do that. The God I know searches our hearts to locate the intent rather than the phrase itself. The phrase “Oh my God.” or any version thereof is most often released at a time of shock or surprise. It seems to be almost an affirmation to us; like saying ‘Oh God, why are you letting this happen’ or ‘Dear Lord, what have I done’. It is not blasphemous and, it is not a sin.
So what does the third commandment mean? Vanity. Pride. Telling a lie. Understand that taking the Lord’s name in vain means using His name wrongly, not shouting out “Oh Jesus!” It has deeper implications entirely. It is exercising vanity or greed or hatred in the “Name of YHVH”. It’s killing in the name of “God”. It’s what most of the church is currently involved in because they are “Lukewarm Christians” who fill up service week after week and then go home, forgetting the sermon and neglecting to put it into practice. It’s why Yeshua said that He would spew them out of His mouth- because they are not worth their faith. They have taken His name in vain.
Think of the marriage covenant. When I got married, I took my husband’s surname. I am now a Mantooth. That’s pretty common in marriage, right? We take our husband’s last names because traditionally, at the point of union, it becomes the man’s responsibility to care for and protect the woman who is no longer being protected by her father. It’s a passing of the torch of sorts. And in reality, it has nothing to do with leaving the woman with few options but it has everything to do with the fact that God sees us a valuable. Worthy of protection. Worthy of care. We are His people. His disciples. It is the same with Yeshua. We are pursued by Him and we, upon baptism, agree to marry Him and become His bride. He gives us a new name- His name- and we are now called Christians or Disciples of His. It is now Adonai’s responsibility to protect and provide for us.
Unfortunately, that’s as far as most believers go. They stop at the wedding ceremony and refuse to go any further with their bridegroom. But we have a responsibility as well. Just as an unfaithful wife, we fail to honor the name we have been given. Read the Old Testament and you will see this scenario played out over and over with the Israelites perpetually turning toward YHVH in faith, loving Him, being faithful to Him–and then turning aside to other gods, being unfaithful, and hurting YHVH’s heart. We cannot expect to reap the blessings of a beautiful marriage unless we are faithful. Neither can we expect the steadfastness and adoration of our first love if we abuse the name we wear.
When you have been courted by faith to believe in the name of Yeshua Messiah and have been baptized into the family of YHVH, you have been given His Holy Name. You are His. You are now a person who is “married” to your beliefs by faith in the One who will protect you and provide for you. That means that you now have the direct responsibility of living out that name every day so you can honor the One who gave it to you. You cannot simply call yourself a follower and refuse to walk with Yeshua any more than you can call yourself a wife and yet refuse to stand beside your husband in everything.
When the Lord says he “will not hold those guiltless…who take His name in vain”, what he means is that when you become a follower you are fully expected to strive with Yeshua. Struggle in Yeshua. Pray to the Father through Yeshua. Be like Yeshua. (I know that the last one is a little impossible but, we are still supposed to do everything we can.) Don’t you know that your Elohim is a jealous Elohim? Who by His love GAVE you the DIVINE PROTECTION of the Holy Spirit so that you would be equipped to stave off sin and death? For this, He holds His people that much more accountable. Why? Because He knows that we have promised that we would walk with Him, and our belief is what may help others who are lost discover faith and come with us into His kingdom. Our own mustard seed faith is pivotal in the faith of others. Think about that for a minute and use wisdom.
Brothers and sisters, think about the name you are defined by. Before you engage in the practice of calling yourself a follower or a Christian- look around. Does your life reflect the life of Yeshua? Are you actively bringing people into YHVH’s family? Are you speaking in truth and love? Are you submitting to Him daily and considering others better than yourselves? Or do you just have a set of tzit-tzit and think that you’ve got it all figured out? If I were you I’d look again.
Exodus 20- 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain.”