A Name to be Reverenced

February 26, 2017 / No. 3869

Dear Radio Friends,
We began a series of messages several weeks ago on the Ten Commandments of the law of God as we find them in Exodus 20. We have looked at the first and the second commandments, and today, in Exodus 20:7, we will look at the third commandment. It reads this way: “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.”
As we have already seen, behind each of the commandments there is a principle or a truth regarding God. In the first commandment, God teaches us that He is the only God, and so He demands exclusive worship. In the second commandment, God teaches us that He is a Spirit, and so He must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. In this third commandment, we learn that God’s name is holy and so must be reverenced by us. That it is holy means that it is set apart, that it is consecrated for holy use. This is because God Himself is holy. As the jealous God (the second commandment: “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God”), God is jealous that His name be used with holiness and reverence.
In the beginning God created man to know Him and to cherish His name in his heart, to love God, to treat God’s name and God’s revelation with reverence. But man does not do this. There is no commandment more relevant than this one. We see this not only by looking at the cursing and swearing that goes on in the world today, but also what happens in the church with God’s revelation. So God has given us a commandment regarding His name. Along with that, Jesus also teaches us to pray and to make this our prayer: “Hallowed be Thy name.”
The name of God refers to His person or character. It was very common in the Old Testament to give names with meaning. So Moses received the name he did because he was “drawn out of the water.” Elijah means “My God is Jehovah,” and it describes the entire ministry of Elijah and the battle with Baal over who was God. Elisha: “My God is Savior”; Joshua: “Jehovah saves.” Then you have names of Eve, “the mother of all the living,” and of Sarah, who was a princess in Israel.
God’s names all have meaning, but they mean so much more than our names. Our names are really simply tags. Perhaps they come to mean something after we identify them over a period of time with a person, but God’s names describe God’s own character perfectly. Yet, they cannot do this completely because God is infinite. So, God receives many name in Scripture. We can think of a few: Lord, God, Jehovah, El-Shadai, the God of Hosts, and many more. Besides the names of God in Scripture, we also find the attributes of God, or the descriptions of the being of God, which are also a revelation of the name of God. For example, in Exodus 34:5, 6 we read this, that when Moses desired to see God, “the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,” characteristics of God—that He is gracious and longsuffering and merciful and so on, we call His attributes. These, too, are part of the name of God.
Further, since Jesus Christ is God and shares the names of God Himself, His names are also the name of God. For example, Isaiah 9:6—“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” God’s own names are given to Jesus Christ. So Jesus says, in John 17:6 and 26, that He had come to reveal the name of God. “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world.”
When we think of “Jesus” as the name of God, and the names of Jesus as the names of God, we see that all of God’s revelation of Himself is really His name. God’s self-revelation is His name. In John 1:18 we read that “No man hath seen God at ay time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” So, Jesus Christ, who is the name of God, and who bears the names of God, reveals to us and declares to us who God Himself is. So, earlier, in John 1:14, John writes of Jesus Christ “(and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” God’s name is His revelation in His Son Jesus Christ.
This helps us to see that all of God’s self-revelation is His name. Even God’s general revelation in the creation is associated with the name of God. Psalm 8 puts it this way: “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” All the creatures that God has created, this entire universe, all of God’s works in time, God’s providential ruling over all things, these all call us to see the name of God, the God who has revealed Himself. So God’s name is something with which every human interacts on a daily basis.
The name of God is wonderful, it is wonderful in itself. We see that that name is wonderful when we think of the way it was revealed, for example, to Moses, or in that prophecy we just referred to in Isaiah 9. Even in creation: “How excellent is thy name in all the earth!” The name of God itself—His names, His attributes, all His revelation shows us something of the wonder of God’s name.
But, as God’s people in the world, we find God’s name to be especially wonderful because we know that name. It is not only a name of majesty and a revelation of the terror of God, but it is a name we come to know personally and know in love. This is remarkable because we could not know the name of God. Job says: “Canst thou by searching find out God?” In I Corinthians the apostle Paul says that man, by his wisdom, knew not God, and by all his searching, he could not find out God. The natural man, he says, receives not the things of God. The wonder of God’s name is that He has told it to us, that He has revealed it to us. Think about this with your own name. You do not just share your own name and your identity with anyone. We live in a day and age when we want to protect our identity from being stolen. This is true even in interpersonal connections. You do not just walk up to and introduce yourself to just anyone. But you want to have a relationship of trust before you reveal that name to someone. You get closer, and then you tell them your personal name.
So, the revelation of the name of God to us His people is an evidence of God’s friendship, God’s covenant, God’s love towards His people. We see this especially in Exodus 3, where God reveals His personal name to Moses as the name that Moses should bring to Israel. This is revealed in connection with God remembering His covenant promises to deliver Israel from the land of Egypt. In Exodus 3 God calls Moses to go and lead Israel out of the land of Egypt. Moses is reluctant. One of the questions that Moses asks God in his reluctance is: “What will I tell the people when I come to them and they say unto me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say unto them?” Then we read in Exodus 3:14 that God said to Moses: “I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” This is the personal name of God. It refers to God’s self-existence. It refers to the fact that God has always existed, that He is the eternal God, that He is not dependent on anyone else. It refers to the fact that God is immutable, the unchanging God. It refers to the fact that God is faithful in His immutability to His promises that He makes towards His people. So God tells Moses when He is about to deliver Israel from Egypt: “This is my name. I am the faithful, unchanging, immutable, eternal, covenant-keeping God.” He reveals that name to His people in the bondage of Egypt. That is marvelous. It is a revelation of the character of God in connection with the salvation of His people.
When we come to the New Testament, we see this name, I AM (which, in the Hebrews also takes the form, Jehovah, which we, in our English translations often have as the word LORD in capital letters), in the name of the Savior. In Matthew 1:18 ff. Joseph is told in a dream that he should call the son that is born “Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” When the angel describes the meaning of the name Jesus, he focuses on the second part of that name: Je-sus. That refers to Him as the Savior. But the first part of that name, Je, is the name Jehovah, or the name I AM. So the name of the Savior is: Jehovah Saves. This is the name of God, the personal name of God, and He gives it to His Son, Jesus Christ. So we see in Jesus Christ the revelation of the name of God, and particularly of God as a saving God to His people.
Another way that we see that the name of God is wonderful is by looking at the Scriptures as the name of God. The psalmist says that God has magnified His Word, that is, the Scriptures, above all His name. That is, the Scriptures are the central revelation of the name of God. After God Himself and Jesus Christ His Son, this is the revelation of God. Here is the name of God. We find it in the Scriptures. In the Scriptures God condescends, God reveals Himself to us in His wonderful name.
The third commandment forbids taking the name of God in vain. To take the name of God in vain is to use it as though it means nothing, to use it without thought, to drain it of all its meaning. Because God’s name is His revelation, there are many different ways in which we can take God’s name in vain. The most obvious way is to cut down God’s name. God’s name is high. To curse God’s name, to use God’s name flippantly, to deliberately blaspheme in the name of God is to take His name in vain. You remember Job’s wife, who said to him, “Curse God and die.” That is, speak against God, speak as though there is no God, and then die in defiance against God. Certainly we see this misuse of God’s name in the world and the society in which we live.
Another way that God’s name is used in vain, though, is to use it carelessly, to use expletives, exclamations that include the name of God or a softened form of the name of God. So, somebody, instead of saying, “O my God,” will say, “O my gosh,” or instead of saying “Jesus,” will say, “Geez.” They are calling on the name of God in a rather flippant way.
We might also be guilty of using God’s name in vain even in vain repetitions of the name of God in our prayers without thinking, without thinking of the name of God that we bring to our lips. So, we constantly say, “Lord,” or “my Father,” when it would be better for us to think specifically of a revelation of God’s name that suits the petition that we make. If we ask God to do something, we would pray to the Almighty One. If we ask God to show us His love and care, we would pray to our Father. If we want God to deliver us from the power of some sin, we might pray to our Savior and use God’s name more appropriately in our prayers that way.
Still another way that we might use the name of God in vain is to allow others to treat the name of God with disrespect. Just think of how quickly we would rise in defense of the name and the flag of our country. Or, just think of if you heard somebody using your own name or speaking ill of your wife or one of your children—how quickly you would rise up in defense of that person and that person’s name and reputation. But how often do we speak out for the defense of God’s name when we hear it misused?
Perhaps the worst way that one could misuse the name of God is to misrepresent the name of God by false teaching, by heresy—to say that God is something that He is not. God has revealed Himself in Scripture, and false teaching misrepresents the God of the Scriptures. This tells us how important it is to know God as He has revealed Himself in truth in His Word.
Still another way and probably the most common way that God’s name is used in vain is by unbelief. To say something different about Jesus Christ than is true of Him in the Scriptures is to take the name of God in vain. John talks about this in I John 4:2, 3 when he says, “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of antichrist.” So to say something different about Jesus Christ than is true of Him, to refuse to believe on Jesus Christ, is to take the name of Jesus Christ in vain. It is the spirit of Antichrist. Now the spirit of Antichrist is a spirit of blasphemy, because the Antichrist comes and speaks blasphemy against the name of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the most common way that believers take the name of God in vain and treat it lightly is by hypocritical living. When God saves us, He puts His name on us, He calls us by His name. We bear the name of God. Yet, when we go out and live in the world by speaking and doing and even by thinking things and desiring things that are against the name and the revelation of God, then we who bear God’s name, say something different about the name of God than is true. Then God’s name is often used as a cloak for our sins and a justification for our sinful living. We are Christians.
It is important for us to think about these things. God’s name is holy. The commandment itself brings home to us the seriousness of this commandment: the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain. In the Old Testament, the punishment for openly blaspheming the name of God was that one was stoned to death. Leviticus 5 says that even one who heard another take the name of God in vain with blasphemy and did nothing about it, did not report it, that one would bear his own sin. This means that the sin of blasphemy or the sin of taking God’s name in vain is a sin worthy of discipline in the church, worthy of one being excommunicated from the church of God. It is taking the holy things of God and making them common, treating them as nothing. Perhaps we think of other sins as the worst sins that could be committed—scandals, or sins that are committed against us. But, how jealous are we for the name of God? God is jealous of His name because it represents who He is, so we also should be jealous of His name.
Yet, we must use the name of God. Some, understanding the seriousness of this commandment, would not use God’s name. The Jews, for many years, would not use the personal name of God: Jehovah. So they referred to Him as Adoni, even when the name Yawah is used in the Scriptures. Today, something that is similar to this is those who refuse to use the name of God to swear in an important civil ceremony—to take an oath of marriage or a vow to tell the truth before a justice. But we must use the name of God. We may and we must. Psalm 99:3 says this: “Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy.” God’s name is holy. God’s name is great. God’s name is terrible, and the response is this, that we use it in praise. We praise God in His name. We do not refuse to use the name of God but we use it appropriately.
So, how do we appropriately use God’s name, take God’s name? We do it in these four ways.
First, by knowing His name, by searching out from Scripture the revelation of the truth of God’s name; that we learn theology; that we learn truth; that we are careful as we study the Scriptures; that we put a premium on knowing God from the Scriptures. Jesus says “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ, thy Son.” This has to do not with just the knowledge of God from Scripture, though. It has to do with the knowledge of God in every area of creation, because, as we said, all of God’s self-revelation, all revelation, is associated with the name of God. So, this means that, as we search out the rest of creation—all other subject areas—we do that in light of God’s special revelation in the Scriptures. We take care that, as we learn science, as we learn math, as we use medicine, it is regulated by God’s revelation in the Scriptures.
And, this means, too, that education and learning are important in themselves, so long as we come to them from God’s Word. We should never think of learning as just learning for learning’s sake, but as learning because this is God’s world in which we live.
Second, to use God’s name appropriately means to believe Him, to believe on Him and to believe on Jesus Christ His Son and to trust Him. Psalm 9:10 puts it this way: “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee.” The primary way for us to reverence the name of God is to believe in His revelation of Himself, in the Scriptures and in His Son Jesus Christ. We do not say, “Well, we can’t know God,” but we look at His revelation and we confess His name.
That is another important way that we use God’s name. We confess His name. We confess His name as it is revealed in Scripture. We confess it with care. In Psalm 39:1 the psalmist talks about the care that he wants to use as he confesses God’s name. He says, “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” He means this, that he does not want to misspeak, he does not want to speak incorrectly regarding God as he confesses God’s name, speaks of God’s name to others. He wants to be very careful.
Still one more way in which we use God’s name is by worship. With that, too, we must be very careful, as we saw in the previous commandment, that our worship be in truth. It must be according to God’s Word. So, in Ecclesiastes 5, Solomon says, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God. For God is in heaven and thou on earth: therefore let thy words be few.”
So, with this commandment, we see that God has spoken to us. He has revealed His name. He has given us to know His name personally and He has given us the ability to know His name in our salvation by His Spirit and in His Son Jesus Christ. And He says, “My name is holy, so use my name with reverence.” How seriously do you take this commandment? How seriously should we not take this commandment?
May God give us a desire to honor and reverence His name as we see it as holy.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the revelation of Thy name in Jesus Christ Thy Son, and that we can know it, that we can know Him, and that Thou hast given us the ability to be able to see and understand the things that natural man could otherwise not receive. Help us, Lord, to reverence Thy name in all of our life, in our knowledge, in our confession, and in our worship. We pray it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.