Part 1: Exodus;20.7; The Third Commandment: Learning to honour God’s Special, Personal name Trinitarianly

This Week we are going to look at the following verse:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 (from; NASB; Olive Tree software)

This was taken from wikipeadia by Mohammed Moussa. (The link is in the Bibliography)

Our Christian traditional lives are lived in an untraditional world and sometimes we find that members of the Church are persecuted for their beliefs.  This commandment is important because God’s honour is violated on a daily basis.  Some people blaspheme God’s name unknowingly (lack of knowledge) others do it knowingly. Even believers who should know better from whatever Church do it and they know they shouldn’t.  This is the first part in a two-part series.  In the second part we will look at the teachings of Herman Bavinck.  The second part will come out either next Week or the Week after as I am also going through the Sermon on the Mount.

7 לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמֹ֖ו לַשָּֽׁוְא׃ פ Exodus 20:7

Taken from Bible hub: see Bibliography


There are lots of things happening in this verse and although I am not a complete expert, I can say there are two verbs here working in tandem to show the seriousness of the LORD’s saying.   When I am commenting here, we need to realize that I am emphasising how English, and Hebrew are ‘not the same’. First, we have the qal.  It is in the active voice but imperfect.  In English the imperfect usually means as an action that isn’t completed or finished.  The qal in the Hebrew usually means incomplete action that can be in the past or the future or not even have a time stamp on it at all!

 In English “Imperfect” comes from the Latin imperfectus “unfinished”, because the imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action. The equivalent Ancient Greek term was paratatikós “prolonged”. From wiki;

In Hebrew the imperfect can also mean something that happens in the future.  Here though the qal has a secondary use because of the (‘not’).  When it is used in a negative command ‘it is emphatic’. 

With the piel ‘will (not) leave him unpunished’ (is in an intensive form).


Emphatic = expressing something forcibly and clearly.  (from Google; Oxford languages)

Intensive = ‘unpunished’ This particular person who commits the crime has a price to pay no matter what.

The command with the qal and the piel verbs working together this way means that God is saying something very strong and everybody needs to listen.


We have repeating words:

  • Not; The not tells us that this is a negative command.
  • Vain; we will look at this a little deeper
  • The LORD (Tetragrammaton); The general word for God ‘Elohim’ is not used here but God’s personal name. 

The meaning of vain in this context

The following has been taken (scanned) from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament for ‘vain’ in Exodus 20 verse 7:

“…This noun appears fifty-two times in the ot most often in Ps (fifteen times) followed by Ezk (eight times), Job (six times), Jer (five times, only in the adverbial phrase /ashshaw’ *‘in vain, vainly, to no avail,’ and always preceding the verb: 2:30; 4:30; 6:29; 18:15 (perhaps); 46:11).  The most familiar use of shaw’ is in the third commandment, ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”’ (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11).  Literally the sentence reads, ‘*You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God lashshaw’,” the same construction as noted above in the Jer passages. Before examining the decalogue reference it will be instructive to observe how the word is used elsewhere.

That the primary meaning of shaw’ is *‘emptiness, vanity’’ no one can challenge. It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally. Hence, it is a word for idols (in the same way that hebel ‘‘vanity”’ is also a designation for (worthless) idols, for example). Psalm 24:4 may then be rendered, *‘He who has not lifted up his mind to an ‘idol’.”’ Dahood (Psalms, I, AB, p. 151) lists the following passages: Ps 26:4; 31:6 [H 7]; 119:37; Isa 1:13; Jer

18:15; Job 31:5 with this implication, although some are dubious, the last one and Isa 1:13 especially. Not only are idols *‘deceptions’’ but so too the words of a false prophet which whitewash and sugar coat a gloomy situation (Lam 2:14, Ezk 13:6-9, 23). The evidence points to the fact that taking the Lord’s name (i.e. his reputation) ‘‘in vain”’ will surely cover profanity, as that term is understood today, or swearing falsely in the Lord’s name. But it will also include using the Lord’s name lightly, unthinkingly, or by rote. Perhaps this is captured by the Lxx’s translation of /ashshadw’ as epi mataio “‘thoughtlessly.””

Bibliography: Childs, B., The Book of

Exodus, Westminster, 1974, pp. 388, 409-12.

THAT, II, pp. 882-83.


(From: Theolological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody Press; page 908; Victor P Hamilton)

The personal name of God

The Tetragramaton made up of y,h,w,h is a most Holy name in the Old Testament therefore I like to use ‘the Lord’. In Jewish usage they say Ha-Shem (which means ‘The-Name’).  When we read Genesis in the first creation story, we find Elohim used a lot but then later on God’s personal name is used.  So perhaps some of the liberal theologies that talked about E or P hadn’t taken into consideration the personal, religious depth of these Holy Scriptures of the Tanach / Old Testament (form and redaction criticism).  Here before us in these verses on the 10 commandments we have a covenant between the personal, living Lord God and Israel. 

A covenant and a contract are not the same thing.  A contract can be between two businessmen who strike a deal, and it is not personal at all.  For example, in the eyes of the Lord God, marriage is a covenant, and a promise is made before the Highest authority, our Creator.  This is not a business deal it is personal and it is done in sacrificial love.  In a business deal one is after profit in a covenant you are giving out of love for the other and death is the limit.


“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7

When it says that we should not take God’s name in vain.  As we read earlier:

‘It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally’.

As believers within a Trinitarian framework, we should not take God’s name in vain.  God is described by many names in the Old Testament and New Testament.  I read somewhere (possibly Rabbi Sacks but I cannot remember where) that we live in a tradition in an untraditional age.  He was talking about Judaism, but this actually applies to Christianity and all the mainline religions.  This is a very powerful and true statement because society at the moment is taking secularism to its logical conclusion.  Although society pays lip service to the religions there is an onslaught of normalizing anti-religious values.  The human being for a long time in secular society has not been seen as having been created in the image of God but that humanity came to be through chance (evolution).  

Professionals from religious backgrounds are also being attacked through the changes in law.  One example is that if one takes seriously the Biblical teachings of a husband and wife (male and female).  If a teacher in class was to say he believes this, he/she could lose his job. There is a normalizing movement in the background going on and it is alienating the religious freedoms that were promised.  These promises came about originally in Europe because of religious persecution.

How can religious communities fight back against this normalizing.  For Christians we take the Bible seriously and we listen to the 10 commandments.  In this commandment we ought to be very careful how we use God’s name.  We believe in a personal God, and He has a personal name, let’s not abuse this name because this covenant we are in, is about love not power. 

Even though our faith is being trodden on; on a daily basis we are called to love our neighbour.  Our neighbour could be our enemy, but we ought to love regardless.  We need to remember as Paul said in Ephesians that we were also once alienated from God but by God’s gift of faith we were brought into the Church.  We do not stand in judgement over people with different lifestyles to our own but nevertheless we have a right to our opinions and ways of life too.

Next time we will look at Bavincks teachings on the third commandment.  This was a precursor because I felt it was important to look under the cars bonnet (figuratively speaking).


New American Standard Bible (Olive Tree Software)

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody Press; part 1; page 908; Victor P Hamilton

Hebrew Old Testament; Exodus 20:7  (Olive Tree Software)


image of Sinai taken from:

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