The Third Commandment: Reverence For God

The third commandment—thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain (Exodus 20:3) — essentially teaches reverence for  God. Implied in the commandment is a relationship between the Lawgiver and the recipients. In the words “the name of the LORD thy God”, God identifies himself as the God of the Jews. And the Jews, God, their God. If we identify God as our God, Father, King and Deliverer, then we must, as the text says, not take his name in vain.

“To take the name of the LORD” therefore means to identify with God as our personal God and reverence his name. This is akin to a child taking up the name of the father. It is an identification of a familial relationship. In that same sense, when we take the name of the LORD we identify with God as Father. Thus any deed which brings disrepute to the name of God is his name taken in vain.

The purpot of this commandment is, that the majesty of the name of God is to be held sacred. In sum, therefore, it means that we must not profane it.¹

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught reverence for the name of the LORD in prayer: “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Reverencing the name of God also means not using it profanly; in coarse jokes and vulgarity. Those who call on the name of the Lord must be people whose words are seasoned with grace  and not profanity (Colossians 4:6).

Using the Lord’s name in a frivolous way would certainly include using “God” or “Jesus” as curse words. Granted, modern cursing is somewhat different from Old Testament cursing, which was more like deliberate blasphemy than a bad habit. But, still, it says something about our attitude toward God if we can speak his name so lightly and carelessly.²

We also take the name of the LORD in vain when we renegade from our vows and promises made in the name of the LORD (Lev 19:12; Ecc 5:1-6; Matt 5:33-37).

As believers, our lives must bear witness to the God we serve. There must be consistency in our profession and our conduct. If we live inconsistent lives with our profession, the name of the LORD has been taken in vain for the world will blaspheme our God because of our conduct (Romans 2:24). We must in our conduct uphold the name of the LORD (Matt 5:48;1Pet 1:14-16).

In the third commandment, we see a pronouncement of judgement for taking the name of the Lord in vain: ” for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Here is a clear pronouncement of how God takes a vain use of his name. The offender will not be guiltless. Whenever God gives a command, obedience is required and disobedience punished. We are therefore to take the command with all seriousness and live lives pleasing to our Father: “We’re talking about our Creator, our Savior, our Judge, and our King. The God of the universe–the one Who is That He Is—should not have his name tossed out flippantly as an expression of shock, outrage, or anger.”³


  1. John Calvin, Institutes Of The Christian Religion. trans  Henry Beveridge ( Peabody: Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 246
  2. Kevin De Young, The 10 commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why WE Should Obey Them (Wheaton,Illinois, Crossway, 2018) ebook
  3. De Young, The 10 commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, ebook.
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