The third commandment (Exodus 20:7) 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.
I remember, not long after I was converted, realising that I had stopped “swearing” or misusing the Lord’s name as I spoke. I guess that’s what most people will think about when they hear this commandment: a tidying up of what comes out of our mouths. All well and good.
But of course we know that the name of the LORD carries much more significance. There is much that could be said here but I won’t clutter up this post. Instead, just look at that well known Psalm 23, “The LORD’s my shepherd…”. It is full of wonderful encouragements to every believer (though you have to think your way into the imagery): pasture, water, restoration, divine companionship, comfort, a table full of good things, anointing, goodness, mercy, eternal life. And all this even when you are facing enemies or life-threatening trials. Wonderful!
But why does God do all that? We might say, “God is loving God, so he just does it out of love.” Sure. But that isn’t the reason given. No — there is a more foundational reason in verse 3. It is for his name’s sake.
Why does God do anything? For his name’s sake. Read the Scripture and we discover that this is bound up with his glory and the praise of his glory and grace. It is all about him. Does that relegate God’s love to a lower division, spiritually speaking? No — just read the whole of Psalm 23 and see how he experiences the overflowing blessings and gifts of God into eternity, coming out of his fatherly love and goodness.
The psalmist is rejoicing in the goodness of God and relates it to God’s care for his name. While thankful for the gifts, the psalmist’s eyes are on the Giver.
We like gifts. But take your eyes off the Giver, then enemies and trials loom large and goodness of gifts are eclipsed. Put ourselves at the centre of the LORD’s activity and we cannot see straight.
How good to be commanded not to take the name of God in vain. It opens our eyes to God’s goodness.