“Your Word Is Truth”
Not Using God’s Name in a Worthless Way
THE third of the Ten Commandments deals with God’s name: “You must not take up the name of Jehovah your God in a worthless way, for Jehovah will not leave the one unpunished who takes up his name in a worthless way.”—Ex. 20:7.
God’s name “Jehovah” actually is a verb form and literally means “He causes to become.” Throughout his Word God calls attention to the importance of his name. Thus Jehovah told Moses: “I used to appear to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty, but as respects my name Jehovah I did not make myself known to them.” The name occurs 6,961 times in the Hebrew Scriptures alone, it being found in them more than twice as often as all other designations of the true God, such as “God,” “Lord,” and “Most High,” put together.—Ex. 6:3.
Just what was the import, the meaning, of the Third Commandment? Against what was it directed? Some modern Jewish scholars claim that it was directed solely against perjury and so render this commandment: “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.” These scholars hold that mere abuse of God’s name could not be so serious an offense as to forbid it in the Third Commandment.
Is this argument sound? No, it is not. For one thing, this would make the Third Commandment say about the same as the Ninth, which was directed against perjury: “You must not testify falsely as a witness against your fellow man.”—Ex. 20:16.
That Jehovah God did indeed take seriously the very abuse of his name is apparent from the record at Leviticus 24:10-16. It tells of a man who used “the Name” in a profane way. He was put in custody until word was received from Jehovah regarding this offense. And how did Jehovah view it? He ruled that “the abuser of Jehovah’s name should be put to death without fail.” Clearly Jehovah did not view the abuse of his name lightly. It merited the death sentence, capital punishment.
As for what was included in the Third Commandment, it might be said that there were at least four things against which this commandment was directed. That is, there were four ways in which it could be violated. All four of these are of importance to Christians because the underlying principle of this commandment also applies to them. For example, Jesus Christ, in his Model Prayer, put first the petition: “Let your name be sanctified.” To sanctify it is the very opposite of treating it in a worthless way. The apostle Peter wrote that God called out Christians to be “a people for his name.”—Matt. 6:9; Acts 15:14.
To begin with, the Third Commandment was directed against uttering God’s name in a disrespectful way. It prohibited using God’s name in cursing or in profanity. To use it in the way some people use “God” or “Jesus” whenever exclaiming about anything would likewise be using Jehovah’s name in a worthless or profane manner.
Secondly, it would be using Jehovah’s name in a worthless way if one swore to a lie by God’s name, even as noted by some Jewish scholars. This, however, would not be the chief, primary or only way in which the Third Commandment could be violated, as they hold.
Then again, Jehovah’s name could be taken up in a vain or worthless or profane manner by bearing it unworthily. For example, Israel became Jehovah’s name people by reason of his delivering them, giving them his laws and statutes and entering into a covenant relationship with them. As Moses told his people: “All the peoples of the earth will have to see that Jehovah’s name has been called upon you, and they will indeed be afraid of you.”—Deut. 28:10.
Yes, they became his name people, his witnesses. In fact, God himself stated, as recorded at Isaiah 43:10: “‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even my servant whom I have chosen.’” By their taking God’s name upon them and then not living up to their obligations as his people they would be taking the name of Jehovah in a worthless way. As he told them by his prophet Ezekiel: “Not for your sakes am I doing it, O house of Israel, but for my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have come in.” (Ezek. 36:22) So by their idolatrous course, when professing to be worshipers of Jehovah God, they certainly did profane God’s name. They used it in a worthless way, bringing reproach upon it.
There was yet another way in which the Third Commandment could be violated. And what was that? By concealing, ignoring or neglecting the name of God. So much is God’s name ignored in our day that ever so many Jews and professed Christians, though familiar with the Ten Commandments, have no idea that God has a unique and distinctive name and what that name is. The vast majority of those who are familiar with that name learned of it through the activities of Jehovah’s witnesses rather than from their own religious leaders. Yet, let it be noted, it is a name that sets Him apart from all other gods as the one true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. This is a fact, incidentally, that ever so many Bible translators have chosen to ignore.
Jehovah God warned that he would not leave unpunished those who took up his name in a vain, worthless or profane way. The nation of Israel did indeed take up Jehovah’s name in a worthless way and that in all four senses mentioned above. For this they were punished in 607 B.C.E. by their going into exile under the world empire of Babylon. Because they again proved unworthy of Jehovah’s name, and used it in a worthless way, Jehovah let them be punished even more severely in 70 C.E., after he had cast them off forever as his name people. Thus God’s warning was proved true.
Today, too, any who profess to be Christian witnesses of Jehovah and who prove false to their claim by such things as preaching apostasy or pursuing an immoral course of conduct, are not left unpunished. They are disfellowshiped, that is, excommunicated from the Christian congregation as unworthy of bearing the name Jehovah’s witnesses. All such have ‘received the undeserved kindness of God and missed its purpose.’—2 Cor. 6:1; Jude 8-16.
And further, all who ignore Jehovah’s name, or who in any other way treat it with disrespect, will perish in the coming “great tribulation.” Only those who accept that name and treat it with due respect and honor will be spared. Truly, “the name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection.”—Prov. 18:10.