How does one take the name of God in vain? Let’s reflect on one obvious answer: oaths. One profanes God’s holy name, not by taking oaths, but by taking them falsely. “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:2).” Many recall Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and think we shouldn’t swear at all, but this loses the real significance of what He was saying and contradicts both the Old and New Testaments.
“You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear (Deuteronomy 10:20).”
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you (Romans 1:9).”
“For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:8).”
So what was Jesus’ speaking of when He said:
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 (Matthew 5:33–37).
If you couple this with what Jesus later says concerning oaths I think you’ll get a clearer picture:
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it (Matthew 23:16–22).
Here are two related errors: 1. excessive oath taking and 2. thinking only some oaths are binding. Whatever other factors there are, this is clear, they aren’t taking oaths seriously. God commanded that when they swore, they were to swear in His name (Deuteronomy 10:20), and therefore, when they swear, it must be with the utmost seriousness and reverence.
Further, when a child of God swears by anything, He swears by God’s name, for everything is God’s, all our life is lived Coram Deo (before God’s face), and His name is ever upon us. This means that we can profane the name of YHWH not just with oath words, but with all words and all actions. His name is on us. We bear His name as a wife bears her husband’s. God in covenant love has set His name upon us. How we live reflects on His name (Deuteronomy 28:9–10). God’s children never put down God’s name, even when they put it down.
We are guilty and God doesn’t let this sin fly. Paradoxically, and gloriously, our only hope for blaspheming God’s name, is God glorifying His name. God chose to magnify the glory of His name, by exalting the name of Jesus above all other names, in His redeeming sinners who have blasphemed His name, through Jesus’ perfectly revering God’s name for them, and suffering for their every taking of God’s name in vain.
All praise be to His holy name.