What’s So Special About a Name?

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Episode Synopsis

Why does God tell us to treat His name differently from every other name imaginable? This is a review of the 3rd commandment and how God lovingly reveals Himself to us through it. Jani also shares why she encourages her discipleship groups to end their meetings with Numbers 6:24-27.

Audio Transcript

Jani Ortlund: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to our discipleship series. I want to thank each one of you for your patience with me as I’ve worked through how to teach discipleship over the internet. I never thought I’d be doing that. Y’all have been very patient with me and I’ve heard from some of you that this is working for you, and you’d like to try it again next year. So, the Lord bless you in that. Let me know if you have questions or if there’s any way that I can help you.

Our Topic for Today

Today, I’d like to teach on God’s name, and why I’m asking you to say it, or possibly even sing it over each other in your discipleship groups every week. My teaching today is taken from my book published by Crossway, called, His Loving Law, My Lasting Legacy: Living the 10 Commandments and Giving Them to Our Children. The teaching is based on the Third Commandment, and I have talked about this commandment before in some previous podcasts (EPISODE 42: How God Loves Us in the Third Commandment and EPISODE 43: Giving the Third Commandment to Our Children), but I always cover this topic in my discipleship groups. So I think it bears repeating here.

The third commandment is found in Exodus 20:7, and it says this,

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

Exodus 20:7

Now, as I’ve taught before, in each commandment, we find four elements:

  • Revelation: what God is like
  • Confrontation—what we are like
  • Guidance—how we should try to live now
  • Promise—how we will live every single day once we are in glory

1. Revelation: what God is like

Let’s start with the revelation God gives us of Himself in this commandment. To understand the third commandment, we must understand why God takes His name so seriously.

Today, a name is little more than a personal label. My husband, Ray, would be just as insightful and tender-hearted if he were a John, or Charlie, or Bubba. Actually, his family name is “Bud.” But in the Bible, a name often goes much deeper. Think of how particular God was at times to name certain people. He changed Abrams name to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah. He named Isaac. We find all of that in Genesis chapter 17. Jacob, he renamed as Israel in Genesis 32:28. And of course, Jesus. In Matthew 1:21, God gave Jesus His name.

The giving of a name was the prerogative of a superior, a parent, or a king, or a chief. Joseph’s name was changed by Pharaoh in Genesis 41:45. And Daniel’s name, by the chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s eunuchs, in Daniel 1:7. A name might match the character or the function of a person. Moses named his son, born to him in Midian, Gersham, because it sounds like the Hebrew for, “sojourner,” and it means resident alien. We’re taught that in Exodus 2:22. Sometimes, the selection of a name signified hope. Think of Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel. Leah felt Jacob’s scorn and she named her sons accordingly. We see that in Genesis 29:32-35.

And Rachel’s son, Joseph, means, “may he add,” and it sounds like the Hebrew for, “taken away.” Rachel felt that her reproach had been taken away, and she was already praying for another son, as she named her first son Joseph, “May he add.”

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 signifies the joining of two separate persons in the closest of unions. We see this in a husband giving his name to his wife; Isaiah 4:1 , or in Israel being called by Yahweh’s name, in Deuteronomy 28:9-10. And in the New Testament, in Matthew 28:19, we are told that we’re baptized into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit… baptized “into” their names.

God’s name reveals his character and reputation

God’s name also reveals his character and his reputation. In Leviticus 24:10-16, the son of an Israelite woman, and an Egyptian father, was sentenced to death, because he blasphemed the name. Why? This had to be more than a mere slip of the tongue. This was so grievous to God that it bore the ultimate punishment. Again, why? Well, it’s because God’s name is more than a label. His name is his self-revelation, what He wants us to know about Himself.

He has revealed His name as a refuge. Think of Proverbs 18:10,

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

Proverbs 18:10

Now today, we would not say that we run into a name for safety, as the Lord said, back then, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower.”

He has revealed his name as active. Listen to what he says in Isaiah 30:27:

“…the name of the Lord comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke”

Isaiah 30:27

His name can be despised. Isaiah 52:5. Now leaders, if you want to pause the podcast and look up any of these references, feel free to. I’m not going to read the exact verses. I’m just going to give you all the references. They also can be found in our transcript there on our website, but it would take too long or be too cumbersome if I read what every verse said. So, I’ll just quote the references here. His name can be “despised” (Isaiah 52:5) or “defiled and profaned” (Jeremiah 34:16, and Proverbs 30:9).

His name can also be:

  • “loved” (Psalm 5:11)
  • “praised and exalted” (Psalm 34:3)
  • “walked in” – I like that you can walk in the name of the Lord (Micah 4:5)
  • “esteemed” (Malachi 3:16)
  • “feared” (Malachi 4:2)
  • “waited for” (Psalm 52:9)
  • “given thanks to” (Psalm 54:6)
  • “blessed and praised” (Psalm 145:1-2)

We see all throughout Scripture, that God’s name signifies His revealed character and his esteemed reputation. Listen to these verses.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

Psalm 23:3

“For your name’s sake, pardon my guilt.”

Psalm 25:11

“Help us, oh God of our salvation, for the glory of your name, deliver us and atone for our sins for your namesake. Why should the nations say where is their God?”

Psalm 79:9-10

“Though our iniquities testify against us, act oh Lord. For your namesake, for our backsliding are many, we are called by your name, do not leave us.”

Jeremiah 14:7-9

Finally, Ezekiel 36:21-23. Listen to God speaking here.

“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, oh house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations, and I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, and the nations will know that I am the Lord.”

Ezekiel 36:21-23

God’s active presence is in His name

God’s active presence is in His name. When his name is upon a people, they are blessed. Think of Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-26, which is often used as a blessing at a baptism, or as a benediction at the close of a service. It says this,

“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[a] upon you and give you peace

Numbers 6:24-26

Have you ever noticed that next verse, verse 27, says,

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Numbers 6:27

To bless someone is to put God’s name upon them, where God’s name is, there’s blessing, because where His name is, He is being revealed. Exodus 20:24 says,

“In every place where I cause my name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.”

Exodus 20:24

You see, when you say, “The Lord bless you,” you are offering a prayer that the one blessed, may know the active presence of God in the fullness of His revealed character. Think of how many times God’s name has been put upon you in blessing, and benediction of favor and grace and protection and peace. I’ve decided myself to say goodbye to each of our grandchildren, with this prayer from Numbers 6, “The Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” I pray that God’s active presence may surround them in ways only He can, during our frequent separations from each other.

Packed with Doctrinal Content

Now there is further revelation in His name, because His names are packed with doctrinal content. They are affirmations of our faith. There are so many different ways God names Himself to us in His word; let me suggest a few. Think of what these names teach us about Himself:

  • He is called Elohim—the “Omnipotent Creator” in Isaiah 40:25,26,28.
  • He’s called El Shaddai—the “Sovereign Lord,” or “God Almighty” in Genesis 17:1.
  • He is called, “LORD” (with all capital letters)—”Yahweh, Jehovah.” It’s God’s personal name, which expresses the essence of God’s character. He is the self-existent, self-sufficient sovereign. That’s a mouthful to say, isn’t it? He’s self-existent, self-sufficient. And he’s our sovereign, who depends on no one or nothing (see Exodus 3:13-14, which says this: “Then Moses said to God, if I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they asked me, ‘What is his name? What shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And He said, ‘Say to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.'”
  • He is Jehovah Rapha—the “Lord who heals” (Psalm 103).
  • He is Jehovah-Nissi: the LORD my banner; our security in the presence of our enemies” (Exodus 17:15).
  • He is Jehovah Jireh—the ”one who will provide” (Genesis 22:14).
  • He is Jehovah Shalom, as Gideon said, “The LORD is peace” (Judges 6:24).

We could go on, but we’ll stop there. Do you see, His names teach us about Himself. They show us how he relates to us. Each name is an affirmation of our faith. When I esteem God’s peace, His providence, His healing, His sovereignty, His provision, I’m referencing God Almighty.

Quick Review

So far, we have seen the depth and the meaning of a name, and how God’s name reveals His character and his reputation. It’s what He wants us to know about himself. We’ve seen that His name can be acted upon by being despised, or defiled, or loved and exalted. And He is very present in His name. His name is packed with doctrinal content, and He’s telling us more about Himself every time He uses His name.

“Okay, That’s Great – But what’s the big deal?”

God loves us in this third commandment by telling us what would dishonor His name. He confronts us and He guides us. God warns us that we may not treat His name lightly.

How do we take His name in vain?

The word translated, “vain,” in our commandment here in Exodus 20:7, connotes something very thin and pale, and worthless and empty. That word, “vain,” means, “nothing.” How do we take God’s name in vain? How do we misuse it? Well, we do that when we’re treating God’s name as if it were worth nothing to us. He cares how we treat His name, because we’re in a love relationship with Him. Lovers treat each other’s names with tenderness and awe.

1. With Our Words

So how do we take His name in vain? Well, I think, as our cultural communication takes on more and more vulgarity, we see God’s name mentioned frequently, in just casual, meaningless, chatter. But the third commandment tells us this is wrong. It shows contempt for God, and it cheapens His name, saying, “Oh my God,” or “Good Lord,” or even I think, “Lord have mercy.” When we win a huge prize, or stub our toe, or get cut off on the freeway, I believe that’s taking God’s name in vain. We must not do it, ever, period.

But there are other more subtle ways to take His name in vain. We make light of His name, when we add it to lend force to our language. Often this springs from really good intentions. You might say, “Well, the Lord led me to tell you this,” or, “I believe it’s God’s will that you,” or, “I swear with God as my witness.” Let me ask you, isn’t your word alone enough? Without taking God’s name in vain on top of it? You see, religious jargon violates the third commandment. I’m convicted even as I teach this, I wonder if when I hear someone sneeze, and I say, “God bless you,” am I taking His name in vain, then? I’m still trying to figure that one out. Maybe some of you listeners can let me know what you think.

2. With Our Actions

Not only do we take His name in vain with our words, but the third commandment targets so much more than how we speak about God. I could go through life, you could too, and never let a bad word slip out of your mouth. And yet we could still break this commandment. How? By professing His name, but not living by it. Whenever my life does not bear out what my words say, I’m breaking this commandment. Titus 1:15 says,

“They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works.”

Titus 1:15

We take His name in vain when we bear his name, but do not live in the fullness of who He is. We are treating His name as nothingness when we call ourselves Christians, but he’s unreal, He’s nothing to us. Whenever we settle into a dull, empty, Christian experience with no struggle, no pressing on, as if Jesus were boring. But then we call ourselves Christians. We’re taking up the name of Christ as nothingness in vain. God has revealed Himself to us as, “I AM WHO I AM.” He is absolute, eternal, unchangeable, ultimate, delightful, all-satisfying reality. To identify myself with Him, to call myself a Christian, but to live as if all that His name really means doesn’t matter to me… that is taking His name in vain. You see, a bored, self-centered Christian, following a glorious God, is taking His name in vain. And where does that leave every one of us, but humbled to our knees? Oh, we need His help here.

More Guidance

God gives us more guidance. How do we live, not taking His name in vain, before watching eyes and listening ears, especially the little ones in our midst. The positive side of the third commandment is found in the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Your name.” You see, when we hallow God’s name, we:

  • treat it as holy, as separate, and above every other name in the universe.
  • We hold it in reverence and awe.
  • We recognize it as sacred.

When you call yourself a Christian, you have the name of the God of the universe upon you. And it is a costly name. God sacrificed His own Son to adopt you into His family and to give you His name. Does your life bear a family resemblance to your firstborn brother? Let’s be women who hallow His name in our lives. Like we’re really His.

I wonder, can anyone tell I’m a Christian, before I ever even open my mouth? In the midst of a cultural ideal that marginalizes and trivializes God’s name, trying to make him look small, let’s learn how to honor God for His greatness. The third commandment encourages us to live as though God were everything He reveals Himself to be; to treat God as everything that, in fact, He is. If you want more of the living God than you have ever had before, the third commandment is assuring you. And it’s assuring me that that’s what God wants, too. God is saying to us all, “All that I am, I want to put on you, as you bear my holy name.”

We can come to God, we can tell Him, “I believe your name is holy. I believe it’s sacred, now, please help me to live that way, to live like it is. Teach me how to honor your name more fully, in my words, and in my deeds. Let it live a life of holy reverence because I bear your name. I call myself a Christian. Help me, Lord.”

We sometimes struggle to honor God’s name the way we should, to not take it in vain, either with our words or actions. But someday, we will take God’s name on ourselves perfectly. We will worship God as real, and weighty, and glorious, and valuable, and near. Never again will God be blasphemed, ignored, or forgotten, or belittled. Think of these verses.

“All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.”

Psalm 86:9

Or Philippians 2:10-11:

“…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:10-11

Zechariah 14:9:

“And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.”

Zechariah 14:9

Oh, I can hardly wait for that day.


Now, that concludes my teaching for todays lesson, but I want you to go into worship. I want you to use these following verses for your worship time today. I’ll give you the references. And then leaders, there are 5 verses so ask five different women to look up these verses and read them. Then I want you to offer prayers of adoration and confession, Thanksgiving and supplication, over these verses, for your time of worship. Respond to what you’ve learned about God’s name and not taking it in vain.

These are the verses: Psalm 103:1. Isaiah 26:8, Deuteronomy 28:58, John 20:31, and Colossians 3:17.

Now, leader, pause the podcast, look up these verses, and spend a little time in worship. Praying through our ACTS acrostic of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. And then take a five minute break before you turn us back on.


Welcome back, I hope you’ve had a good time of worshipping the Lord. Now I want to go through your accountability with you. Leaders, you can do this on your own. I want you to, after I’m done talking to you about this (I’ll tell you when) to pause the podcast. I want you to go through your quiet times together, and meditation verses…your Bible memory. Perhaps some of the women have chosen which short passage they want to learn. Ask about that. Finish reading your book on priority two, whatever it is, perhaps you’ve already finished. But if not, make sure and finish your discussion on that reading. And talk about how exchanging your weekly schedules and praying for each other went. So, that’s five things. I want you to pause the podcast and discuss, leaders. You just lead them in that, how your quiet times and meditations are going, if anyone’s chosen their Bible memory verses, your final time to talk about your book for priority two, and then how it went praying for each other. Go ahead and pause the podcast now.


Now let me give you your assignment for next week. I want you to have six quiet times again, and work on your verse of meditation. Make sure you have a short passage that you would like to memorize, and begin working on it to get the first verse or two under your belt. And then we’re going to be reading Christian biographies in our last few months together. So you might start thinking about different Christian biographies. If there are any you know, or anyone you would like to read about. We’ll talk more about that next week. Then prepare a calendar to bring back with you next week to hand out to a prayer partner. Your quiet times, meditation, your Bible memory, Christian biographies, and your calendar. Those are your five assignments.


Now, take some time. Share your prayer requests and spend time praying for each other. If you have any time left, leaders watch your clock, and then exchange your weekly calendars for prayer partners. After you’ve shared your prayer requests, and you’re ready to close, come back on.


I’m going to ask you to close each week by saying our benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. I would encourage you, and maybe you know it to a certain tune (that’s great!), sing it together. Or, you could all open up your Bibles to Numbers 6:24-26, and read it over each other, or the leader could choose one person to read it over everyone. And then leader, I want you to read Numbers 6:27.

These verses say, “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.” That’s my prayer for each one of you. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel,” (and upon those who are listening to this podcast) and God says, “I will bless them.” May He restore your soul as He brings His blessing upon you through His Holy Name.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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