“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
Much and more has been said about this verse.
Some think that God is saying that His Name is not to be used as a swear word, e.g when people use the name of Jesus Christ as an expletive. This is plausible, as use of a name as an expletive would dull the impact of that name and cause it to become a by-word; something we say without considering the individual behind the word. And, since God wants relationship with the people He has created, it makes sense that He wants us to think about Him when His Name is spoken.
Others think that God is saying that I am not to claim to be His without living that out. This is a great way of seeing the verse, as it stems from the idea of a person’s name that was prevalent in the ancient world. A person’s name was their reputation; the sum total of their public identity. To take someone’s name … in vain may very well mean that we drag their reputation through the dirt by claiming to act under their aegis while behaving in a manner not in keeping with their character. Since God, like everyone, wants to be accurately represented, this idea also makes sense.
A third possibility occurred to me this morning, that of a bride taking her husband’s name when they are married. God uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between Himself and Israel (Ezekiel 16) and the relationship between Christ and the church (Revelation 19:7, 21:9, 22:17), so it may not be all that far-fetched. In this instance, the idea would be that of joining myself to God with no intention of fidelity, like a man or a woman who marries knowing that they will be adulterous. And God is faithful to me, so it would make good sense that He would look for fidelity from me in the relationship.
None of these understandings is mutually exclusive to the others. I can understand God to be saying that His Name is not to be used as an expletive and also believe that He wants me not to drag His reputation through the muck. I can believe that He wants me to join myself to Him with the intent of being faithful and also believe both of the foregoing. None precludes the others. In fact, the three might inform one another quite well.
This morning, let me examine myself and see whether I use God’s Name as an expletive or a byword — I sometimes think the phrase “God knows …” is something of a byword and maybe I ought to stop using it — and whether I drag His down His reputation by my words and actions and life and whether I am committed to being faithful to Him.
Father, thank You for this reminder that Your Name is so much more than a word that identifies You, but is itself holy. Please teach me to rightly handle Your Name and to treat it with the holiness it deserves.