Exodus 20:7 Sermon Notes


Pastor Rick Duncan

God’s name. What is it? We learned it earlier in our study of Exodus. 

We are in Exodus 20. This one named YHWH – the LORD, the I Am – has brought the people out from slavery, and brought them through the Red Sea on dry land, and destroyed their enemies, and fed them with Manna from heaven, and quenched their thirst with water from a rock. He has descended from the throne of heaven onto the mountain with fire and smoke and earthquakes telling the people, “I, the Great I Am – the LORD – am a holy God and you’re unclean. So, don’t get too close.”

Now, on this mountain God is giving the Jewish people laws to help them form a just society for their new community so they will flourish. And the 3rd Commandment is “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” 

What name? In this text, the emphasis is on the name that God has revealed Himself to have in Exodus3, LORD. But by extension, His name will include all the other names that we will increasingly discover as we make our way through the rest of the Old Testament and on into the New.

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.

Exodus 20:7

The command itself in English is just 13 words in the ESV. The next 14 words, give us additional motivation and incentive to actually obey this commandment.

As we process what this means for us today, let’s ask and seek to answer three questions:

  1. What?
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?

Question 1: What?

What is God saying? What is a proper understanding of this Commandment?

Let’s seek to understand the word “take”, to think about this name of God a bit more, and then to explore that prepositional phrase “in vain.“


This word has the sense of “to bear, to carry. You should know better than name of the Lord your God in vain. You should not carry the name of the Lord your God in vain. We who call ourselves Christians bear the name of God – Christ-ian. If, by the character of our lives, we bring shame on that name, then we have carried/borne the name of God in vain.


In Jewish thought, a name is not merely an arbitrary designation, a random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the being named. In English, we often refer to a person’s reputation as his “good name.” So, the name of God is more than just a name. It stands for all of who God is. Because a name represents the reputation of the thing named, a name should be treated with the same respect as the thing’s reputation. For this reason, God’s Names, in all of their forms, are treated with enormous respect and reverence 

When we see in the Old Testament the LORD in all CAPS, we are to think of the name God gave to Moses from the burning bush.

I am who I am – in Hebrew it’s haya ‘aser haya – forms of the verb “to be.” You could translate this Name in past, present, and future tenses. “I was who I was.” “I am who I am.” “I will be who I will be.”

When the LORD introduces Himself as the LORD, He is saying “I Am…

… Self-existent.”

The LORD is uncreated; He’s not dependent. He exists in and of Himself. He’s the Uncaused Cause. Of everything.

When the LORD introduces Himself as the LORD, He is saying “I Am…

… Self-sufficient.”

He’s saying “I never need recharging. I never need a back-up system. There is nothing for Me to plug into. Everything in the universe plugs into Me.”

When the LORD introduces Himself as the LORD, He is saying “I Am…

… Unchanging.”

The LORD cannot change for the better. He cannot change for the worse. He says, “I am the same yesterday, today and forever.” This means the LORD is trustworthy. He’s dependable, a firm Foundation, a Rock. Our relationship to Him is not subject to the fluctuations of His mood.

When the LORD introduces Himself as the LORD, He is saying “I Am…

… Eternal.”

Pastor A.W. Tozer wrote, “God has already lived all our tomorrows as He lived all our yesterdays… For Him, everything that will happen has already happened” (A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, pp. 39-40).

When the LORD introduces Himself as the LORD, He is saying “I Am…

… Sovereign.”

Whatever the LORD seeks to accomplish, He gets it done. He’s the LORD of lords. His power and majesty and ability are infinite.

No wonder His name is above every other name! 

He is Self-existent, Self-sufficient, Unchanging, Eternal and Sovereign.

This name represents all of who God is and you dare not take the name of the Most Powerful Person in all the universe in vain. He’s the One who created you and lets you breath His air and eat His food and enjoy His world. We give Him reverence and awe and worship and respect.

In vain:

The phrase describes emptiness. Don’t empty the LORD’s name of its meaning. Don’t use His name in futile, useless, or unprofitable ways.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. (New International Version)

You are not to use My name for your own idle purposes. (The Voice)

Do not use the name of the Lord your God in a false way. (New Life Version)

You are not to use lightly the name of Adonai your God. (Complete Jewish Bible)

You must not ·use the name of the Lord your God thoughtlessly. (Expanded Bible)

Do I misuse the LORD’s name? Do I use His name for my purposes, not His? Am I treating God like He’s vending machine? Am I using His name in false ways? Do I use His name lightly and thoughtlessly?

Question 2: So what?

So, what does this mean for me?

What does this Commandment require?

What does this Commandment forbid?

Just like last week, let’s read a few questions together from a catechism. This time from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. 3 Questions about this 3rd Commandment…

Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requires the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works.

Q. 55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment forbids all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes Himself known.

This commandment forbids thoughtless, heartless preaching, singing, praying!

Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.

Don’t think that this Old Testament commandment doesn’t apply today. Jesus taught it. Remember He taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name!” We are required to treat God’s name as holy!

And Jesus also taught that it’s possible for even religious people to worship “in vain.” He challenged the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day.

This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew 15:8-9

They took God’s name in vain!

So, it’s important for us religious people to ask ourselves some tough questions or else we could be guilty of honoring the LORD with our lips while our hearts are far from Him. We don’t want to worship in vain, do we?

Am I using God‘s name profanely?

To profane something is to take something that’s heavy and make light of it. 

We don’t say “GD you” or “GD it.” We don’t use the name of “Jesus Christ” in disgust or frustration. We shouldn’t say “O my God” or even “OMG” because it’s not really using His name rightly. And I would go so far to say that words like “golly,” “gosh,” and “gee whiz” are not a good idea. Why? Look up the history, the etymology, of those words. “Golly” and “gosh” are shortened, slang euphemisms for God. “Jeez” is short for Jesus!

We can all stop saying these things. Stop the profanity! Stop using God’s name profanely. This is the easiest application of all. It’s like asking LeBron James to make a layup in basketball.

Am I using God‘s name deceitfully? 

There’s a good bit of literature on this commandment that speaks against using the name of the Lord and making an oath. In fact, Jesus says, “Don’t swear by heaven, but let your ‘yes’ be your ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be your ‘no.’

So, when we take an oath and we “swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me, God” and then we purjer ourselves and we tell less than the truth, then we take God‘s name in vain because we said, “So help me, God!” When we say, “I give you this ring in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we promised before God, and all of God‘s witnesses to stay married “until death do us part” and we leave, we’ve broken the third commandment.

Do I use God‘s name thoughtlessly?

I was just on the phone with our son Alan this week, and he was telling me that a publisher has expressed interest in publishing a fiction book he’s written. I quickly, reflexively said, “Praise God!” And I felt convicted in that moment. Did I really truly mean that? I thought, “I just used God‘s name thoughtlessly.“

We just sang some songs about God. Maybe we weren’t really thinking about what we were singing. We were just going through the motions weren’t truly engaging. If so, we just used God’s name in vain in a worship service! 

I sometimes say or write “God bless you” when ending a call or sending an email or writing a note. That’s OK if I really mean it. But, if it’s just automatic and not a thoughtful, prayerful response than I just used God’s name in vain. 

Do I use God‘s name selfishly?

Pastor Josh from our Brunswick Campus and I were on the phone last week talking about this issue. He said…

“Taking the Lord’s name in vain is relating to the LORD for personal glory, rather than for His glory.” Josh Stone

Josh and I have a few things for you to consider.

We’re taking the LORD’s name in vain when…

… we ask God to grow our children so that we would look better as parents instead of desiring for God to show His glory through our kids.

We’re taking the LORD’s name in vain when…

… we pray for a promotion not so that we can use our platform to glorify God, but so we can have more money and status.

We’re taking the LORD’s name in vain when…

… we attend church not to worship, but because we have a big business deal coming up and we want God to close the deal for us.

We’re taking the LORD’s name in vain when…

… we ask the LORD to kill a sin in our lives, because we are afraid that other people will find out rather than wanting to be holy before God.

We’re taking the LORD’s name in vain when…

… we volunteer to serve in a ministry not because we love the LORD and His people, but because we want to appear humble and wise and generous.

We’re taking the LORD’s name in vain when…

… we pray that we would have more baptisms not because we want more people to glorify God but because we want our church to look successful.

We’re taking the LORD’s name in vain when…

… we pray for our spouses not because we want them to experience more of God’s love, but because we don’t want to deal with their problems.

Have I used God’s name profanely, deceitfully, thoughtlessly, selfishly? If we’re honest, we have to say, “Yes, I have! I’m sorry. Truly. But I have! Many times. Now what? Is there any hope for me?”

Question 3: Now what?

Since I am a Commandment-breaker, now what do I do?

We are all in violation of this third commandment, at least to some degree. We are all commandment-breakers not commandment-keepers.

And the 3rd Commandment ends with “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” I’m in trouble. You, too!

But consider…

In Exodus 32 the people of God commit idolatry. While Moses is on the smoking, fiery mountain receiving the 10 Commandments from the LORD, the people make a god, a golden calf, and worshipped it. They broke the first 3 Commandments. They took God’s name in vain. How will God act toward these egregious, in-your-face law-breakers? He acts in accordance with His name! Here’s what God says about Himself. Exodus 34:6-7

The LORD, the LORD, [All caps, all caps – YHWH, YHWH!!!] a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…

Exodus 34:6-7a

While the people are worshipping an idol, the LORD uses His name to remind Moses that He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. All of that is wrapped up in His name!

YHWH is sometimes shortened in the Bible to Yah. Hallelu… jah is “Praise YHWH!” And the Hebrew name for Jesus is Ye-shua, YHWH saves. The angel announced at His birth, “You shall name Him Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.”

And when we consider that Jesus called Himself “I Am” (the YHWH who spoke from the burning bush) and when we consider that Jesus also said, “I am the Bread of Life, I am the Light of the World, I am the Door, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life, I am the Way-the Truth-the Life, and I am the True Vine we are meant to see that Jesus is the incarnation of God. He came to make YHWH known! He came to save 3rd Commandment law-breakers.

And that’s good news for us.

The good news of the Gospel is that the right way that Jesus used the name of God is part of the righteousness that has been imputed (or transferred) to us once we put our faith and trust in Him. His right beliefs about God have been applied to my spiritual account. His ability to perfectly keep the 3rd Commandment is seen by the Father as mine.

Several weeks ago, Pastor Joe talked about “imputed righteousness.” In that message, he didn’t have the time to explain what that means and he encouraged me to pull back the curtain a little more for you today. Imputed Righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus, God the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God imputed (or transferred) our sins to the One, Jesus, who knew no sin. And God imputed (or transferred) His righteousness to us even though we have no righteousness of our own. 

When God counts us righteous on the basis of our faith, it’s not because He looks at us and sees how good we are. No! We have been clothed by the imputation (or the transfer) of the righteousness of Christ to us.

God transfers Jesus’ righteousness to those who believe. Not only did He die to pay the penalty for our sins, but He lived a perfect life of obedience and fulfilled the law – including this 3rd Commandment – for those who put their trust in Him. This is “imputed righteousness.”  

And so, we do not trust in our keeping of the Third commandment. We trust in Christ’s keeping of the Third commandment!

If you are in Christ, God looks at you and sees all the commandment-keeping of Jesus. When God sees your faith in Christ, He sees your union with Christ. And when He sees union with Christ, He sees the righteousness of Christ as your righteousness. 

Now, once we’ve been made positionally right in the sight of God, we can begin to seek for our actual righteousness to be as closely aligned as possible to our positional righteousness. 

So, we will seek to use His name rightly better and better and better day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, all our lives long.

This is why we must run to Jesus for salvation! We call on His name because His name represents all of who He is and what He’s done! “There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). “But to all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name He gave the right to be children of God (John 1:12).

For 38 years, I’ve been encouraging people to pray the prayer of salvation. “Dear Lord, I know that I’m a sinner. I believe You died on the cross for me. I believe You rose again. I make You my Savior, my Forgiver. I want to follow You and my Lord, my Leader. Change me and make me the person You want me to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I hope you’ll pray a prayer like this. But I hope even more that you mean it. One of saddest, most tragic ways to break this 3rd Commandment – taking the LORD’s name in vain – is by praying this prayer and not meaning it.

“O, I said that prayer when I was ten at Sports Camp, I’m good to go.” “I said that prayer with pastor Rick one Sunday, I’m good to go.” But if your life has not been truly changed by Jesus because your heart wasn’t really engaged when you prayed that prayer, you broke this third commandment.

Is Christ is your righteousness? Look away from yourself. Rest in Him. Lean on Him. Even though you are a commandment-breaker, if you are in Christ, God looks at you and sees all the commandment-keeping of Jesus.

One day, we will be free from our fallenness. And history is headed to that day with no one will ever use the LORD’s name in vain again. How do we know that?

God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11


Think about the names of the LORD throughout the Scriptures. “I praise You because You are…”

Think about when you’ve used the LORD’s name profanely, deceitfully, thoughtlessly, or selfishly. Silently, “LORD, I’m sorry for…”

Think about how and when and where you want to honor the name of the LORD. “LORD, help me to treat Your name as holy when…”


We desire to exalt You, the LORD our God, and to worship at Your footstool (Psalm 99:5), to praise Your great and awesome name (Psalm 99:3), for it is holy, for You, O LORD our God, are holy (Psalm 99:9). Therefore, we glory in Your holy name and our hearts shall rejoice (Psalm 33:21), because we have trusted in Your holy name (Psalm 33:21), to which we will always give thanks (Psalm 106:47). 

Father, glorify Your own name. Indeed You have glorified it; glorify it yet again (John 17:1). O let Your name be magnified forever (I Chronicles 17:24). And let Your name be sanctified. Be glorified as a holy God (Leviticus 10:3). Do great things with Your glorious and everlasting arm, to make for Yourself a glorious and everlasting name (Isaiah 63:12-14). 

O vindicate the holiness of Your great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and let them know that You are the LORD (Ezekiel 36:23). Show Your greatness and Your holiness and make Yourself known in the eyes of many nations, that You are the LORD (Ezekiel 38:23). O let all the nations You have made come and worship before You, O Lord, and glorify Your name. For You are great and do wondrous things. You alone are God (Psalm 86:9-10).

O that we may truly be Your children, the work of Your hands, so that we may sanctify Your name and stand in awe of the God of Israel (Isaiah 29:23); and that we may live to the praise of Your glory (Ephesians 1:12). Lord, enable us to glorify Your holy name forever, by giving thanks to You with our whole heart (Psalm 86:12), and by bearing much fruit, for by this are You, our heavenly Father glorified (John 15:8). Amen