But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.
2 Peter 3:18
THE THIRD COMMANDMENT
“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
Hebrew was originally a consonantal language. The reader supplied vowels. The Jews, in reverence for the Covenant Name of God, refused to supply the vowels for YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah).
They felt that to say the Name might violate the Third Commandment. Even today, our Jewish friends read YHWH (Jehovah) as Adonai (Lord) in order to keep the Third Commandment.
They speak of HaShem (the Name) rather than “Jehovah.” They write God as G-d. Is this what the Third Commandment means? Or is something else implied?
THIRD AND NINTH COMMANDMENTS
The Third and the Ninth Commandments are closely related. The Third Commandment is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
The Ninth Commandment is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16) Both commandments are concerned with SPEECH. The Third has reference to God. The Ninth has reference to man.
Many Christians see the Third Commandment as an objection to course or vulgar language. But in reality, it is a prohibition against perjury, heresy and lying.
The foundation for all legal procedure in both civil disputes and criminal law is clearly the Third Commandment.
The oath of office, the trustworthiness of witnesses, the stability of society in terms of a common regard for truth, the faithfulness of ministers to their ordination vows, of husbands and wives to their marriage vows ALL HINGE on the sacred oath (or vow) sworn before God.
The Presidential oath of office, and every other oath of office in the United States used to be regarded as INVOKING THE THIRD COMMANDMENT. By taking the oath, the man promised to abide by his word and obligations.
He called God to witness his promise. If he failed his oath of office, the public official invoked divine judgment and the curse of God upon himself.
Although God is patient and longsuffering, divine judgment must eventually come upon all those who violate their solemn oath of office (or any other sacred vow).
“SWEAR NOT AT ALL”
Some Christians believe that they should never take an oath, even in a court of law. They base this on the statement of our Lord Jesus, “Swear not at all....” (Matthew 5:34)
Are they correct? Or does our Lord imply something else? Let's compare Scripture with Scripture.
Abraham swore to Abimelech (Genesis 21:23-24) and required an oath from his servant (Genesis 24:8-9). Jacob swore with Laban (Genesis 31:53). Joseph swore to his father Israel (Genesis 47:31).
The Apostle Paul confirmed his testimony by calling God for a witness on several occasions (2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8). In other words, he swore by God.
Under the Law of Moses, oaths were required, in both civil disputes and criminal cases, before the judges (Exodus 22:9-11). “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” (Deuteronomy 6:13)
Jesus never contradicted the Law.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He did not set aside the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). Rather, He showed its full implications. If He wanted to correct the Law, He would have said, “IT IS WRITTEN ... but I say unto you.” But that is NOT what He said.
He repeatedly said, “Ye have heard that is was said of old time ... but I say unto you.” He was not correcting the Law. He was correcting the Rabbinical TRADITIONS -- the misinterpretation of the Law by the Pharisees.
To avoid violating the Third Commandment, the Pharisees would NOT swear by the name of God. Instead they would swear by heaven, or by earth, or by Jerusalem, or by their own head, or by the Temple or by the altar (Matthew 5:34 and 23:16-22).
They thought that they could break their oaths without fear of divine retribution. These oaths were often used in everyday situations, when there was no real need for an oath.
Our Lord Jesus was condemning this light use of oaths. Here is what He said, in context:
“But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:34-37)
“Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.” (Matthew 23:20-22)
Christ teaches that God's Name is comprehended in the heavens, the earth, the Temple and the altar. He does not restrict the Third Commandment to the name Jehovah, as if God's name were restricted to consonants or vowels.
The LORD'S name is taken in vain whenever man treats lightly the fact that God hears all that we say. He has the power of life and death -- the power to save and to destroy. Man should not take lightly God's sovereignty nor man's obligation to speak the truth at all times.
VANITY, PROFANITY AND BLASPHEMY
“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” -- “IN VAIN,” means lightly or profanely. Vanity and profanity go hand in hand. “PROFANE” comes from the Latin “PRO” meaning BEFORE and “FANUM” meaning TEMPLE.
“Profane” means before (or outside) the Temple. Profanity is all speech, action and living that is outside God's Law. Godly swearing seeks confirmation from God above. Ungodly swearing looks below for its power -- in sex and excrement.
An American Negro profanity that gained popularity about 50 years ago invokes mother incest. Another profane expression comes from the homosexual community and bluntly describes oral sex.
I remember both in wide use while in the Marines (1967-69). There is a religious progression in profanity. It goes from a defiance of God to an invocation of human excrement and sex. From there it moves to perverted forms of sex.
Profanity is a barometer. It is an index of social degeneration and revolution against God.
Blasphemy is more than taking the name of God lightly. It is defamatory, wicked and rebellious speech directed against God. It was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16).
Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost consisted in attributing the miracles of Christ (which were done by the Spirit of God) to Satan's power (Matthew 12:22-32). Another form of blasphemy is for a mere man to claim to be God.
The Third Commandment is also a prohibition against using the name of Jesus Christ in vain -- as a kind of “exclamation point” in angry or excited speech. Why do we not hear the name of Allah, Buddha or Krishna used this way?
Allah, Buddha and Krishna are not truly God. Why do men use the name of Jesus Christ lightly in their speech? Is it not a subconscious admission that He truly IS the Son of God -- that He controls all events in their lives?
And they HATE Him for this, especially when things seem to go badly for them.
But to use His Name lightly is to break the Third Commandment.
To deny His Deity and His Word is blasphemy. May those who commit this sin seek forgiveness in Christ, before it is too late.
To take the name of the LORD “in vain” is to deny the reality of God in SPEECH. It is also an empty profession of God when our thoughts and actions are (in reality) alienated from Him.
The Third Commandment forbids all perjury, profanity, blasphemy and lying. To take the name of the LORD “in truth” means to ground our thoughts and actions fully on God's Law-Word.
Have any of us fully kept the Third Commandment with a perfect heart, at all times? We need a Saviour. Jesus Messiah is the only one who can save us (Acts 4:12).
George Theiss is a combat veteran of Vietnam who now follows Lamb of God. He and his wife, Christy, have been married 42 years (in 2019). They have 8 grown children. You can contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2002 through 2019 by George Theiss