“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
For many, even in the church, take this to mean not to swear using God’s name in any form. But it goes beyond that. The term vain means producing no result or worthless. The term in vain means using without the proper respect, abuse, misuse, perverted or changing the inherent purpose or function of something. Understanding the meanings of both the word and phrase bring this passage, and the Commandment into a new light.
It is understood that any form of the Lord’s name is not to be used in cursing. The simplicity of this command can even be understood to not say things like ‘oh my God’, ‘dear Lord’, or ‘sweet Jesus’. These common expressions are usually said in disgust, amazement, or surprise. While they may seem harmless, they violate this command.
But it can also be seen in other areas of speech. Things like swearing by God in a statement or trial swearing in is allowable, as long as the intent is in praise, worship, or other things allowable. You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name (Deut 6:13). But the king will rejoice in God; Everyone who swears by Him will glory, For the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped (Psa 63:11). Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it (Matt 23:20).
There are also warnings that many do not see as a relation to the commandment. But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation (James 5:12).Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (Matt 5:33-37).And You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am theLord (Lev 19:12).
Billy Graham answered the question like this, “Perhaps most people don’t think about it when they curse or use God’s name—but that’s the problem! God is far too important to treat casually or as if He doesn’t matter.” John Wesley commented this in his exhortations on scripture, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain — Supposing that, having taken Jehovah for their God, they would make mention of his name, this command gives a caution not to mention it in vain, and it is still as needful as ever. We take God’s name in vain, First, By hypocrisy, making profession of God’s name, but not living up to that profession. Secondly, By covenant breaking. If we make promises to God, and perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain. Thirdly, By rash swearing, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, but to no purpose, or to no good purpose. Fourthly, By false-swearing, which some think is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment. Fifthly, By using the name of God lightly and carelessly. The profanation of the form of devotion is forbidden, as well as the profanation of the forms of swearing; as also, the profanation of any of those things whereby God makes himself known.
For the Lord will not hold him guiltless — Magistrates that punish other offences, may not think themselves concerned to take notice of this; but God, who is jealous for his honour, will not connive at it. The sinner may perhaps hold himself guiltless, and think there is no harm in it; to obviate which suggestion, the threatening is thus expressed, God will not hold him guiltless – But more is implied, that God will himself be the avenger of those that take his name in vain; and they will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.
Charles Finney said this, “The true spirit of this commandment: It requires a feeling of the utmost holy awe, reverence, love, and respect for God. The happiness of the universe depends on their virtue. Their virtue consists in obedience to God; and their obedience to God depends upon the light in which they regard Him. Therefore, the highest good of the universe demands that God should respect His name, and never suffer it to be trifled with”.
Let us remember the words of Matthew’s Gospel, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt 12:36-37).For those not yet saved by the blood of Christ, now is the time for redemption. All it takes is a simple sinner’s prayer. Such as the one from the parable of the Pharisee and the sinner “Lord, forgive me a sinner”. For those that walk in God’s light and Christ’s grace, we all slip from time to time. We are not yet perfected. Even we need to hit the altar and ask for forgiveness.