Jani: Hello everyone. We’re glad you’re listening in. This is Jani along with her co-host Heidi Howerton. We’re glad to be with you today. We’ve been going through a series on the 10 Commandments and today we’re going to talk about the third commandment which says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Whoa. So we are going to be talking about the Lord’s name today and how to use it properly, but before we do, I just want you to get to know my co-host a little bit better. Heidi Howerton is one of my dear, dear friends. She assists us at Renewal Ministries and is willing to co-host this podcast with me each week. Thank you, Heidi.
Heidi: It’s my pleasure and joy.
Jani: Well as I said, we’re going to be talking about how to treat the Lord’s name today and why to treat it with such reverence. But before we do, I thought it might be interesting for Heidi and me to talk a little bit about our family names. Heidi, I don’t know if our listeners know that you have three little children.
Heidi: Yes, right now at this moment in time, my daughter is seven. Her name is Hannah. And then I have James who’s five and then I have Gideon who’s four.
Jani: Well, since we’re talking about names today, could you tell our listeners, are there any special reasons why you chose those names for your kids?
Heidi: Oh, I would love to. I’ve always loved biblical names, like just to know that there’s a story behind the name and a biblical character and somebody to look up to, so we were always drawn to those. When I married Mike, I became Heidi Howerton and I fell in love with the alliteration and the two H’s. And so I fell in love with the name Hannah. And if you look up the meaning of Hannah, it’s actually “grace.” So then we also gave her the middle name of Grace. So when I think of Hannah Grace, I think “grace upon grace” and that verse in John 1:16, “For from his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.” So that’s her name.
So then James is actually James Michael Howerton Jr., which he loves saying! He’s named after his dad because I always loved the name James and I couldn’t think of a more godly, amazing man than my husband. And so it was an honor to share my husband’s name with our son. Then Gideon gave us some trouble because now we had our Hannah and we had the name James, which we loved and so we were praying about it. I like more contemporary names and Mike likes more traditional names and so we were having a hard time coming to an agreement. Then we found the name Gideon and we both loved it and there are certain characteristics as you read Gideon’s story in the Bible and his relationship with God. He had a sweet relationship with God, especially at the beginning of his life. And so if you look at the ways that he really honored God and served him there, I love that figure in the Bible. But now I want to hear a little bit about your name because I know as I always fill out forms for you, you’re not really Jani Ortlund. You’re really Jan Ortlund! So where did Jani come from?
Jani: Oh, that’s true, Heidi. Jani is such a goofy name. Whenever I introduce myself to someone, they always say, “What was that, Jani…Joni…Jeannie?” When I was born, I was named Jan, but my mom used to call me Jani when I was a little tiny girl and I never used it as my name. It was her pet name for me. But when I got into high school and was a cheerleader then my cheerleading friends started calling me Jani.
Heidi: I didn’t know you were a cheerleader. I was a cheerleader, too.
Jani: Heidi, we had to come record this morning to learn these facts about each other! Yeah, I was. We’ll talk about our cheerleading in another episode maybe. But when I went to Wheaton, one of my friends there said, “You know, I like the nickname Jani.” And so she started spelling it, “J-A-N-I” and she’d write me notes. And when I met Ray, he knew me in class as Jan because that was my legal name. But he’d hear some of my girlfriends call me Jani and he picked up on it. So eventually he said, “Honey, we’re going to have to decide how we’re going to introduce you.” And I decided to introduce myself with the name Ray calls me, which is Jani. It’s such a goofy name.
Heidi: It’s not goofy at all. I think it’s sweet and lovely and endearing. It fits you perfectly.
Jani: Well thank you, Heidi. I’ll pay you later for saying those nice things. Well, we’re talking about names today and particularly God’s name, how God loves us by giving us this third commandment about not taking the name of the Lord our God in vain. To understand this commandment, we need to understand why God takes his name so seriously. You know, as we were talking Heidi, you had given great thought to your children’s names. Ray and I did, maybe not quite as much as you and Mike did, but really today, a name is little more than a label. However in the Bible, a name often went much deeper. Think of how particular God was at certain times to name specific people. He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, he named Isaac and he renamed Jacob as Israel. And then of course we all know the story when the angel came to Joseph in the New Testament and told him what he was to name the baby boy Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. The giving of a name was the prerogative of a superior, a parent, a king or a chief. Today, parents give us our names, but we wouldn’t have our boss change our name. Joseph’s name was changed by Pharaoh and Daniel’s name was changed by the chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s enochs. Sometimes the Bible tells us the selection of a name signified the situation into which the baby was born. Think of Jacob’s wives, that sad story of Leah. She felt Jacob’s scorn and named her sons accordingly. You can read about that in Genesis 29. Joseph means “may he add” and sounds like the Hebrew word for “taken away”. You see, Rachel felt that her reproach had been taken away and she was already hoping for another son. One other function of naming someone must be understood to grasp the meaning of this commandment. Whenever the name bearer places his own name upon another, this is very significant. It signifies the joining of two separate persons in the closest of unions. We see this in Bible times and it’s carried on into modern times about how a husband will give his name to his wife. Most wives these days continue taking on their husband’s name. We also see it in Israel where Israel is being called by Yahweh’s name.
Heidi: Jani, it makes me think of the verses in Deuteronomy 28:9-10, “The Lord will establish you as a people Holy to himself, as he has warned you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you.”
Jani: You see, God placed his own name upon his people and all the nations would see that they were called by God’s name. In the New Testament, in Matthew 28:19 it says we are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. These unions of a husband to a wife or a nation to her God or a believer to the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, these unions signify a new ownership, a deeper loyalty, a rich fellowship. There’s something about a name. Now maybe, dear listener, you remember that story in Leviticus 24 where the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian father was sentenced to death because he blasphemed the name. Oh my goodness. This had to be more than a mere slip of the tongue. This was so grievous to God that it bore the ultimate punishment, death. God’s name is more than a label. Where his name is implicated, he is personally involved and will take action. His name is his own self revelation. His name signifies what he wants us to know about himself. For instance, he has revealed his name as a refuge. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10).
Heidi: Jani I love how you taught us that really we only run into the Lord’s name. You know, I would never say, “Oh, I’m running into the name of our president.” We don’t run into or use names like that, but I love how we can run into the Lord’s name. We’re in the Lord’s name.
Jani: Yes. It’s a different way of thinking about a name, isn’t it, Heidi? “The name of the Lord is a strong tower and the righteous run into it.” I know the symbol is we’re running into the strong tower of his name.The Bible tells us that his name can be despised or profaned. His name can also be loved or praised or walked in or feared or called upon. I would challenge you, dear listener, as you are reading through the Bible, look at all the references to God’s name. We see throughout scripture that God’s name signifies his character and his reputation. Think of Psalm 23:3, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” It’s for his own namesake that he leads me this way.
Heidi: I think of Psalm 79:9-10 as well. “Help us, Oh God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” Why should the nation say, ‘Where is their God?'” I just love that Jani, that we’re asking the Lord to forgive us, not because we’re worthy of it, but for his name’s sake.
Jani: It’s beautiful. What about Ezekiel 36:21-23 when God says this, “But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came…’It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I’m about to act, but for the sake of my Holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name…and the nations will know that I am the Lord.” Wow. When his name is upon a people, they’re blessed. Think of Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-26. We often use this as a blessing of baptisms or as a benediction. You might know this by heart: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” We can almost say those verses from heart, but I wonder if you’ve ever noticed the surrounding verses? The verse right before verse 22 says this, “The Lord spoke to Moses, thus you shall bless the people….” And then he gives the blessing and he ends it this way in verse 27, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them.” To bless someone is to put God’s name upon them. I mean, I was getting my hair colored, I haven’t heard from any of our listeners about their vote on whether I should go gray or not, but there I was sitting getting my hair colored and thinking about the podcast and someone kept sneezing. She sneezed three times. Every time she sneezed, someone shouted out to her, “God bless you!” And then the next time, another one, “God bless you!” I mean, we see it casually, don’t we? Every time we hear someone sneeze, but really when you are saying the Lord bless you, you are putting God’s name upon them. You’re offering a prayer that the one you are putting his name upon may know the active presence of God in the fullness of his revealed character, “May God bless you.” Think of how many times God’s name has been put upon you, dear listener, in blessing and benediction, a favor and grace and protection and peace. I actually like to say goodbye to each of my grandchildren with this prayer from Number’s 6. May God’s active presence surround them in ways that only he can during my separation from them. “The Lord bless you and keep you …”, I’ll whisper in their ears. God loves us in this commandment by revealing himself to us through his name. His names are packed with doctrinal content. They’re affirmations of our faith. Think of what his name’s teach us about himself. There are so many of his names throughout scripture. There are whole Bible studies written on those. Have you ever done a study of his name’s Heidi?
Heidi: I haven’t, but I’ve always been really interested in them. Have you?
Jani: I haven’t either. Maybe we should do that sometime. Oh, a podcast! That’d be something fun to talk about on our podcast, but getting back down now to today’s topic, which is the third commandment, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain”, think of what his names teach us about himself. He tells us he is El Shaddai: The Sovereign Lord, or God Almighty: The All Sufficient One. In Psalm 103 he reveals himself as Jehovah-Rapha: The Lord Who Heals, or in Exodus 17 he’s Jehovah-Nissi: The Lord My Banner, which means our security in the presence of our enemies. In Genesis 22 he’s Jehovah-Jireh: The One Who Provides or in Judges 6, he’s Jehovah-Shalom as Gideon said, The Lord Is Peace. His names show us how he relates to his people and this commandment shows us how he wants us to relate to him. He wants us to treasure and value his name. In the third commandment, God tells us that we may not treat his name lightly. The word in this commandment translated “vain” connotes something thin and pale, something worthless and empty. Really, it means nothingness. Well, we have to ask ourselves, “How do we take God’s name in vain? How do we misuse it? How do we break this commandment?” We do it when we treat God’s name as if it were worthless, as if it had no weight. He cares how we treat his name because we’re in a love relationship together. As our cultural communication takes on more and more vulgarity, we see God’s name mentioned frequently and in casual, meaningless chatter. The third commandment tells us this is wrong. It shows contempt for God and cheapens his name, saying things like, “Oh my God”, or “Good Lord!”, or even “Lord have mercy” when we might win some huge prize or stub our toe or even get cut off in carpool line. Those phrases are taking God’s name in vain. We must not do it because the way we verbally reference another person has a profound effect on how we regard and treat that person. Would we ever use a friend’s or a husband’s name as flippantly as some use God’s Holy name? Our words display what’s going on deep down inside of us. But there are other more subtle ways to take his name in vain than shouting it out when we get hurt or saying “Lord have mercy” when the bill comes in, often we take his name in vain even with good intentions. Sometimes we’ll come to another friend and say, “The Lord has prompted me to tell you…” or maybe “You know, I believe it is God’s will that you…” or “I swear with God as my witness!” Isn’t my word alone enough? Religious jargon violates the third commandment. Let’s take care. We also can take God’s name in vain when we worship him with our lips, but not with our hearts. Oh, this happens to me sometimes in church, Heidi. I rush in there and I’m thinking about what Ray’s part is in the service and we start singing. I join him with the songs, but my mind is wondering if I turned on the oven for the company that’s coming for Sunday dinner and I’m worshiping him with my lips, but my heart is far from him. I’m using his name, but I’m using it in vain. I’m using it lightly. Dead externalized worship violates the third commandment.
Heidi: Jani, what do you do in those moments at church when your heart feels that way?
Jani: I stop and I silently apologize to the Lord and I ask for his help. I just say, “Oh Lord, there I go again. I’m so sorry. Help me.” I want my heart to be in tuned with what my words are saying. He has never once not answered that prayer. Heidi, I’m so grateful. We just confess it and repent.
Heidi: That’s helpful. That’s good to know what we can do. I think so many of our listeners, as well as I, can relate to that. Well, I suppose that’s why it’s in the Bible because it’s a human problem, a common problem, but it does violate the third commandment. Now, the third commandment targets so much more than my words and how I speak about God. Heidi, I might, I doubt it, but someone, let’s use someone else as an example, not Jani! Someone might be able to go through their whole life and never let a bad word slip out of their mouth and yet still break this commandment. How? Well by professing God’s name but not living by it. You see, whenever my life does not bear out what my words say, I’m breaking this commandment. Titus 1:16 puts it this way, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” We deny God’s self revelation. We take his name in vain when we bear his name upon us, but we don’t live in the fullness of who he really is. We’re treating his name as nothingness when we call ourselves Christians, but he’s unreal. He’s nothing to us. Whenever I settle into a dull, empty Christian experience with no struggle, no pressing onward as if Jesus were boring but I call myself a Christian. That’s when I’m taking up his name in vain. I’m taking up his name as nothingness. God is absolute eternal, unchangeable, ultimate, delightful, all satisfying reality. To identify myself with him, to call myself a Christian, but not to live as if all that his name means really matters is taking his name in vain. A bored, self-centered Christian following a glorious God is breaking this third commandment by taking his name in vain and where does that leave every one of us but humbled to our knees. And so Heidi, I just want to close our podcast today in prayer because just thinking about the third commandment again and having to think about what we want to share with our listeners has been very convicting to me. So Heidi, will you help me pray for our listeners and we’ll close our podcast today in praying for our listeners and for each other. You go ahead and begin.
Heidi: Heavenly Father, we come before your glorious name and we just apologize, Lord, for all the times that we’ve taken your name in vain. Lord, help us as Psalm 103 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me, bless his Holy name.”
Jani: Yes, teach us what it means to bless your name. Lord, we want your name to be revered, to have weight in our lives, in our speech, and in our actions. We want, as Isaiah, your name and remembrance to be the desire of our soul. Place your name more deeply into our hearts.
Heidi: As Deuteronomy 28:58 says, Lord, help us to “…fear this glorious and awesome name.” I pray that today and the rest of this year and the rest of our lives that we would fear your glorious and awesome name Lord. When it comes upon our lips, may we pause and give you the reverence that is due.
Jani: Oh yes, Lord, help me there. I thank you for the Bible, Lord, where you teach us about your name. I wouldn’t naturally think this way unless you taught me to, so thank you. I love how the Bible teaches us about your name and the name of Jesus Christ.
Jani: You tell us in John 20 that the words in the Bible are written to us so that we could believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that in that belief we would have life in his name. Oh, the name of Jesus is so sweet to us. We thank you…
Heidi: …and Lord, we just close this prayer with Psalm 34:4, may we as a community magnify the Lord together. “Oh, magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.” Lord, make us people that exalt your name. Together may your name be glorified and magnified among us. We ask all these things as we look to you to restore our weary souls and teach us more about how to honor and Revere your name in Jesus name. Amen.