“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” — Mark Twain
Praying The Lord’s Name In Vain
Ex. 20:7-“You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (NLT).
Just for the fun of it, I’ve been reading the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Covenant. I’ve been in Exodus the past few days, zooming right along and having a good time, right up until I got to Ex. 20:7, the third of the Ten Commandments. This one stopped me in my tracks. Like many of us, I’ve memorized this verse from the King James Version, which says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” This commandment extends the idea of the second commandment, for just as God forbids us to show disrespect to Him by making a god out of something that is not God, it is also a disgrace to use His Name for no legitimate or valid reason.
Until now, I’ve mostly thought of taking the Lord’s name is vain as cursing. When I was barely a teenager, I’d often get frustrated and say, “Jeee-sus Chrii-st,” as if it was His fault I wasn’t getting my way. My dad heard me say that once and he shot me a look that has stayed with me for 35 years, and I’ve (mostly) succeeded in not saying it again.
Other times, I’ve heard people vainly use His name to express surprise or disappointment, or even fill in the gaps in prayer. This last one I find especially irritating. When I’m speaking to someone, I don’t find it necessary to use their name seventeen times in a sentence, so why would I repeatedly use God’s name when I’m praying in public? For instance, how many times have you heard a prayer like this: “Dear God, we come to you Father God and ask you God that you Father God would hear our prayers, Father God, for God you are a God who heals, Father God, and God…” That type of prayer DRIVES ME NUTS! First, God already knows you’re talking to Him, so you don’t have to try to get His attention by droning His name on and on. Second, I see no legitimate or valid reason to repeat God’s name because one has nothing better to say.
However, my reading of Ex. 20:7 in the New Living Testament starting me thinking in a completely new direction, and its implications bothered me. I wonder how many times I have misused His name by praying for things that feeds my desires-many times at the expense of others-and capping it off with a quick, “In Jesus name, Amen.” To pray “In Jesus Name” is not some sort of spiritual abracadabra wherein God must comply because we have said the magic formula. The fact is, many of us simply pray our own desires to enhance our own name and stature, and attempt to use God’s power with an “In Jesus name” tag to accomplish our will and our wants.
To pray in the name of Jesus means so much more than merely uttering the syllables. His Name includes His nature, being and very person. It also means His morals, teaching and doctrine. It means I know His will before I pray it-I’m not guessing at what He would want. I don’t pray for a bigger house if I’m not taking care of the one I have. I don’t look for a different spouse if I’m not treating the one I have now with the respect God requires. I don’t ask for lots of money if my purpose is to spend it on myself. God created the earth because He wanted to share His abundant goodness with His creation. He didn’t create it so we may keep our portion to ourselves.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the first thing He taught them to say was “Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Above all else, our lives are to reflect the holiness of the character of God. This passage in Exodus has me thinking about the way I pray, why I seek God, and what I ask Him for. I’ve learned not to substitute His name for an expletive. Now I want my whole life, especially my prayer life, to reflect the sacredness of His Name.
First off, thanks for visiting my blog. Secondly, thanks for the insightful post on Exodus 20:7. I know I need to be mindful of how I am representing God’s name in my daily life. This includes my prayers, my devotions, my worship, and my evangelism. It is easy to become complacent and forget the magnitude of that responsibility. Thank you for reminding me. After reading this post I was reminded of the verse in Hebrews 12:28 where it states that we must “offer to acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Thanks again.
I like this take on Scripture — found you on Imonk. Read the explanation on “How I became a monk ” — didn’t quite get how that worked until now. We have a Little Portion retreat center here on the North Shore of Long Island — have to check it out.
“Taking the Lord’s Name in vain” for me is using the ideas of God and the Bible and whatever authority it has been assumed by many is conferred upon “the elect” to act and to speak on God’s “behalf” for our own purposes.
I went into the evangelical/Pentecostal movement in the 1970’s – ’80’s from a dysfunctional alcoholic/atheistic upbringing and a partying adolescence. It took a lot of 12-Step work and intense introspection to realize my search for the right “church” was just me trying to match a denominational “take” with my own diseased thinking. And some came pretty close.
To my mind it is all taking His name in vain to some extent. The other end of the spectrum is pure humility of thought, speech and action which for me will always remain a goal that I am moving towards.
Thanks for your insightful comments, and I’m glad you enjoyed my take on that Scripture. Most of the other posts on my blog are from a book I hope to have published soon, which talks about the lessons I learned while living with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity while maintaining my ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God. I’m sorry if I caused you any confusion with my blog. You are right in saying that humility of thought, speech and action is a goal — not only for you but for anyone who seeks to live and walk as Jesus did, in whatever form of worship they choose; Protestant, Pentecostal, Catholic, or Orthodox. To see some of my insights on that, read “We Couldn’t Exhaust Jesus” (https://jimthornber.com/2008/10/27/couldnt-exhaust-jesus/).
It’s all about the Holy Spirit. If you make a religion using his name and no one receives his spirit, it is all in vain. If you read further down in those verses about the Lord’s Prayer, you will see that we need to ask God for the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Prayer was designed to forgive others, something that needs to be done along with the forgiveness of all our sins. Then he will answer our prayer and give us his Holy Spirit.
You will never take God’s name in vain after that.
Lately I’ve been focused on the Crucifixion and how this must depict the Father as well as the Son — “I and the Father are One.”
It is implied that there was a moment (“My God, My God …”) that the two were separated. For me this moment has become the source of His mercy — the Son abandoned, alone about to die; the Father in abject grief to the point of death. This is a theological conundrum, I know — the two have to always be One — but maybe not for this Eternal Instant.
“You will never take God’s name in vain after that.” Contemplating that Eternal Instant of Divine Loss and Grief has been doing that for me.
The Jews certainly do not take the name in vain. They do not even say it. Adonai means “Lord” and is the name most used in their books. The sole tetragramaton YHWH is never pronounced. “HaShem” is the other commonly used reference to the almighty and it simply means “the name”. Compared to that, us Christians are big time violators of the 3rd comandment. Incidentally, YHWH are the only Hebrew letters that can be pronounced without lip movement. If you listen you will hear that it is the sound of your breath inhaling and exhaling through open lips. It is the first sound Adam heard as the Lord breathed life into him and he became a conscious being. Maybe this is the origin of the name later given to Moses.
I like to end my prayers with “but your will be done” and try hard not to be selfish in what I ask for. Actually, it is much more productive to invite God to provide the abundant blessings He wills for me and for those I pray.
And, Surfnetter, consider the possibility of panentheism, that all is in God. Then Jesus could never be separated from the Father since even clothed in a human body and nature He was still in God and in contact throughout. You might say Jesus was always in Himself. His human form is simply a manifestation of the eternally human aspect of God. This has to be because we are created in the image and likeness of God which suggests God was already human in aspect. Maybe that is why we are referred to as children of God and are so loved by God that we are worth suffering and dying for, and perhaps to get our attention. Yet most of us really believe God, our Father, wants us to suffer. That is human illogic, so I am grateful God’s ways are not our ways nor His thoughts our thoughts. Shalom!
Some always find it upsetting to consider that the Father and the Son truly lost each other for that Eternal Moment. But how else do you explain that the way we grieve our losses is what makes us “human” as compared to the animals, who were not made in God’s image.
And without true loss there can be no knowledge of grief. The depth of God’s Mercy does not come from His Majestic Justice — it comes from His recovery from the grief of the loss of His Only Begotten Son.
John 3:16 is not a formula; it is not a magical legal citation that the Spirit waves in front of the Just Judge as our evil accuser pleads his case for our condemnation. He loved us so much that He gave up –sacrificed — lost — His own Son.
We were so lost that our salvation was impossible.
And God loved us so much that He did the impossible to save us for Himself.
What does it mean to take His name in vain?
To call oneself a Christian, and then proceed to act with a character that Christ himself would not recognize.
As a woman, I understand taking a new name at marriage. I take on my husband’s last name, it becomes my new family name.
When we accept Christ as our personal savior we become the Bride of Christ and take on the name “Christian”. If we continue to walk in carnality, we sully our new name. Hence, we have taken His name in vain.
How many have been turned away from a relationship with Christ because of the actions and attitudes of “Christians”?
I pray that the Lord will show me each time I do this (for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God) and that I will remain humble enough to ask forgiveness not only of my Maker and my Husband, but of those whom have witnessed my unChrist-like behavior.
Food for thought.
Exo 20:7 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.
does this mean that the blood of Jesus does not cover this sin? I thought the blood of Jesus covered all sins.
Yes, His blood covers all our sins. Everyone of us is guilty in some manner, including taking His name in vain, but all our sins are removed when we ask Jesus to forgive us. Isn’t that wonderful?
Woooow!! HE IS AWESOME!!!! =)
This Scripture has really been bothering me these past couple of days and I decided to google some commentaries and came across your blog. I wondered if all that it really meant was that we shouldn’t even mention the Name. And I wondered when it would be appropriate to mention it. And it got me thinking, do Christians have more right to “use” the Name more than non-Christians? Have we “earned” the “right” to use the Name because we have been made right with God (again I don’t know if its right for me to say it here). I need to share this with my friends and cell group. But thank God for GRACE! Much thanks!