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How often have we heard people say, “Words don’t matter” or “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”? In Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” What Juliet means is that names are just arbitrary ways of identifying us. But names are far more important than Juliet believes; names often reflect a person’s character.
We’ve been in a series called The Big Ten. We’re studying the Ten Commandments to help us become more like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today we’re going to look at the third commandment. Exodus 20:7 says, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” The NKJV says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
When the Bible says not to “misuse” God’s name, it means not to take His name in an empty manner. In the Hebrew this command reads, “You shall not take the name of Yahweh in an empty way.” The word “take” means to “carry or lift up.” So, the emphasis of this commandment isn’t so much saying the name, but on lifting it up, or carrying it in the wrong way. We’ll talk more about carrying or bearing His name in an empty way as we move forward this week and next. In the NKJ it says not to take God’s name “in vain.” The word “vain” means to use the name in a way that’s worthless or deceitful; to use His name in a way that promotes falsehood. The phrase, “Yahweh will not hold anyone guiltless who lifts up his name in an empty way” means He’s not going to ignore it when we misuse His name.
Now let’s look a little deeper at the meaning and background of the name Yahweh. Remember when God told Moses to free His people from slavery? Moses wasn’t really excited about being the leader, and he asks God in Exodus 3:13-15, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God responds to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”
So, when Moses asks for God’s name, God says, “I am who I am.” In the Bible a person’s name often embodied his personality, so the name was the sum total of a person’s character, reputation, and authority. That’s why God often changed someone’s name when He called them to serve Him, like Saul’s name being changed to Paul. It was generally done to establish a new identity that God wished them to embody. God changed Abram’s name, which means “exalted father,” to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude.” God changed Abraham’s wife’s name from “Sarai,” meaning “my princess,” to “Sarah,” meaning “mother of nations.” The name Yahweh comes from the Hebrew verb “I am.” So, whenever a person called God by his name Yahweh, he was identifying God as the eternal one, the one who was, who is and who is to come. Regardless of what Shakespeare says, names matter, and the way you use God’s name REALLY matters.
Now I want to dig a little deeper by going back to the book of Genesis. In Genesis 1:1 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, “God.” When Genesis uses the word “God,” it’s not a name, it’s a title. So, Genesis uses God, but then later in the Bible God reveals Himself as Yahweh. Why? Because Yahweh is personal, it’s relational, it’s intimate.
A relationship without a name creates distance. Even telemarketers know that. When they call they quickly say, “Hi, my name is John…blah, blah, blah.” When I first met the guy at Om Oil he said his name was Phillip, because people couldn’t remember his real name. As we got to know each other I asked him his real name. He said, “It’s Dileep.” I memorized it and we’ve become closer friends. Knowing or remembering someone’s name creates closeness. I remember when I was in Nigeria. I met a kid in the village early in the week, then later that week we went back. When I saw him again, I said, “Hi Emanuel, good to see you again.” He was so moved I remembered his name that he stayed close to me the entire day. When a creepy guy asks a woman, “Hey baby, what’s your name?” he gets a dirty look or a “Dream on, Sparky!” or “It’s Pepper…spray, if you don’t step back.” When the right gentlemen asks the same woman for her name, she says, “Courtney; what’s yours?” and he tells her. When someone gives you their name it makes communication and future encounters possible. When God gives His name, He becomes accessible, He becomes relational. The children of Israel knew His name. The rest of the world only knew His title.
Then something even more amazing, more intimate, happened: God entered the world through Jesus Christ. He came even closer. The name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” The great “I Am” became our brother, our friend, our savior. When God gave us His name, it allowed us to know Him personally, intimately. Think about it—knowing the King as “Your Majesty” and knowing him by name are not the same.
In the movie Ever After, Danielle meets the prince, and after spending time with him he tells her to call him by his first name, Henry. But when their relationship is strained, she gets a different response when she uses his name rather than his title. (You can watch the video clip on YouTube – “Ever After (1998) Danielle Tells the Prince the Truth.”)
A title and a name are not the same. Robert Peeler owns the house next to our gray house. He was a lawyer, and I got to know him because we were neighbors for years. A few years ago, he became a judge, and because of our relationship he asked me to pray at his swearing-in ceremony. There’s a big difference between knowing a judge as “Your Honor” and knowing him as Robert. Especially if I ever need help :0) God has a lot of titles, but if all you knew were titles, you’d relate to Him from afar, the way a person living under a monarchy relates to a king. God wants to be more to us than the King of Kings, more to us than just the creator of the universe; he wants us to know him personally. So, God gave us His name and then gave us His life on a cross. It doesn’t get any more intimate, any more personal, any more loving than that!
But when God revealed His name and came close to us, He opened Himself up to people misusing and abusing that name. If you think about it, the Ten Commandments were given to God’s people, to men and women who knew Him by name. And after Christ came into the world His people not only knew Him but carried His name. In 1 Peter 4:16 it says, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you bear the name of Jesus—“Yahweh saves.” This is so important to our study. I’m not as concerned with those who don’t know God this morning as those who do.
When I know someone personally and I treat them with disrespect, it stings even more. If you told me you have an uncle twice removed who doesn’t think that I’m an authentic person, I’d be like…who cares, he doesn’t know me. But if you told me my uncle Bill, who I grew up with and respect, doesn’t think I’m authentic, it would really wound me. Why? Because names matter; close relationships matter.
So, now that we understand how important this is, what are some ways we are breaking the third commandment? Some are really going to surprise you, and I’ll tell you what they are…next week.