Commandment #3 – The Lord’s Name

Note to leaders: while the content below helps you build a knowledge of this topic for the study, it will be helpful to work out what bits you go through with your group and which bits you might put aside to use only if it comes up and time permits.

The opening question addresses how we commonly treat this command but the study will point us even deeper.

Opening Question

What is your reaction to hearing the name of Jesus used poorly or the phrase, OMG? Why do you react this way?

Exodus 20:7

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

In the beginning (5 mins)

How is the theme of God’s name developed prior to the Ten Commandments?

Genesis 2:19-20; 3:20 (Adam was instructed by the LORD to name every animal. What he named them, that is what they were called. Man had authority to assign names to things. This seems trivial but demonstrates the purpose of names – they are not just words but are intrinsically linked to the person or animal that it was assigned to, and they have a meaningful role. The one who names something gives it meaning.)

Genesis 4:26 This use of the LORD’s name was not in vein but in prayer. In fact, the first prayers referred to in the bible. Mankind was divided between those who call on the name of the LORD for help and those who do not. They are, in the context, waiting for the seed of Eve to come and save them from the curse of sin (Gen 3:15).

What people are named and what that means is a key point in most of the accounts in Genesis (eg, Gen 27:36)

Exodus 3:11-15; 6:2-3; 15:2-3; The name is not simply a label but a revelation of His authority and power. It’s not just a word but a relationship. Man has not named God but God has declared his name to us.

“A study of the word *‘NAME’ in the OT reveals how much it means in Hebrew. The name is no mere label, but is significant of the real personality of him to whom it belongs. It may derive from the circumstances of his birth (Gn. 5:29), or reflect his character (Gn. 27:36), and when a person puts his ‘name’ upon a thing or another person the latter comes under his influence and protection.”

(New Bible Dictionary, “Names of God”, IVP)

Some more background: Technically speaking, there is only one name for God given in the Old Testament which is Yehwah – also referred to as Jehovah and translated as LORD in the bible. The word, god, in the bible can be used to refer to the LORD or to mythical god’s – context gives meaning. And the word, lord or Lord, refers to a person of power.

The command to Israel (5 mins)

Compare the NIV translation of Exodus 20:7 with another translation like the ESV. What is God teaching Israel?

take/misuse: make wrongful use of.

vain: describes unreality.

“The command prohibits use of the name for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose” (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 196). This would include perjury, pagan incantations, or idle talk. The name is to be treated with reverence and respect because it is the name of the holy God.

(Notes from the NET translation)

The command goes further than this, however, as we see the way Israel misused God’s name and how clearly Jesus represents it.

Israel’s history (10 mins)

Deuteronomy 18:19 gives a positive use of the name of the LORD. Ezekiel 36, however, is very condemning. Read Ezekiel 36:16-32 and talk about what it means to misuse the name of God. 

  • Deuteronomy 18:19 – if a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, he is representing God and must be listened to. A prophet takes the LORD’s name carefully.
  • Ezekiel 36:16-32 – Israel was giving Yahweh and bad name. They misrepresented him. But God will re-establish his great name by pouring out his grace once again on Israel. This is a pointer to the gospel.

The Gospel (10 mins)

What difference has Jesus made to our understanding of this command?

  • John 5:43; 10:25 show us that Jesus came, like a prophet, in the name of God, whom he referred to as Father!
  • Matthew 6:9-13 The Lord’s prayer includes our plea for God’s name to be hallowed. As a prayer, it is a request for this to be fulfilled here on earth. Christ’s disciples will carry his name (see John 15:21)
  • John 14:13-14; 16:22-28 Jesus instructs his disciples to pray in his name!
  • Conclusion: Jesus comes in the name of his Father and teaches that when he leaves, his followers will pray in his name and be treated good or bad because of his name.

Christian Living (15 mins)

The name of the LORD was entrusted to Israel and yet they misused it in their disobedience. Yet God continued to bless Israel and the world through sending Jesus, his son and our Lord. The command to misuse the LORD’s name goes beyond swearing and involves representing God and his goodness to the world. We return to a familiar passage which we may think of when praying the first request in the Lord’s prayer…

  • Philippians 2:9-11 (also Ephesians 1:19b-23
  • 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (see here how we represent the name of Christ on earth as we call people to repent and believe.

So far, the commandments have built upon each other to teach us about gospel and mission: 1) we know that there is only one God and we must not compromise that truth for ourselves or anyone else in the world (Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour); 2) We must worship God only and do so in Spirit and in truth (Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through him; 3) He entrusts his name and reputation to us as we represent God in the world (exalting Jesus’ name above all others). 

How do you represent the name of Jesus? If you say you are a Christian, does the world see it?