Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Third Commandment


Moses was taking care of his sheep. As with any other day he had taken his sheep out to pasture and was keeping watch over them, when he saw a fire burning and he went over to investigate what it might be. As Moses neared the bush he realized the bush was burning, but it wasn’t burning up. The fire was burning on the bush, but the bush remained intact. As Moses moved closer to see if he could figure out the problem, he heard a voice. The voice cried out, “Moses!”. Moses kind of looked around to see who might be calling him because it didn’t occur to him right off that it was the bush calling to him. Moses responded, “Here I am!” The voice came again - “Don’t come any closer to the bush, Moses. Take off your shoes for the ground around this bush is holy ground.” Moses realized this voice really was coming from the bush and it must be the voice of God so he took off his sandals and hid his face…. because he had been taught that to see God was to die. But God reassured him and said, “Moses, I am the God of your ancestors - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have seen my people who are in captivity in Egypt. I have heard them crying to me because of the misery brought to them by the slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering.”
Just a brief review - Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of his people. His grandson Jacob had 12 sons and by a series of events ended up in Egypt where they were given the best of the land - the land of Goshen - to live in. for many years they had been protected and allowed to live their lives, but after several hundred years their protection was forgotten and they were turned into slaves. Their lives were extremely difficult and so they cried out to God for help.
Now back to Moses….. God in his voice from the burning bush tells Moses he wants to free his people from slavery but needs a human to do it for him and God has chosen Moses for this job. Now Moses is not thrilled by this idea and spends a great deal of time arguing with God about why he is not the person to do this. God counters each of Moses arguments. Finally Moses says, “But God, I don’t know your name. How can I go tell the people who sent me if I don’t know who you are?”
For the ancient Hebrews, your very essence was held in your name. Your name reflected your personality, your characteristics, your identity within your family and the society around you. If you remember we have several instances where God changes people’s names because their roles changed - Abram became Abraham when he agreed to God’s call to his life and the promises God made to him and the same thing happened with his wife Sarai who became Sarah. After Jacob wrestled with God, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel reflecting the change in Jacob’s view of himself and his understanding of his relationship with God. In the New Testament we read about how God tells people what to name their children - Elizabeth and Zechariah were instructed to name their miracle baby John who as he grew became known as John the Baptist and we are familiar with God’s directive to Mary and Joseph to name their child Jesus. Knowing someone’s name meant you knew about that person - their personality, their character - it meant you had a relationship with that person.
In our society today names are just that - names. We are named who we are because our parents wanted to honor a relative or a friend or because they just liked a name. There was no thought to the concept that the name would determine who that person became or of changing someone’s name because of a significant event that changed their character or their outlook.
Unless of course you are the subject of Johnny Cash’s song - A Boy Named Sue!
What Moses is really asking God at the burning bush is not so much what God’s name is, but who God is - what do I know about you God? Can I trust you? Will the people you are sending me to really know who you are or what you are about? I need your name God so they will know about you.

And God answers Moses - my name is I AM. “I AM who I am” is what God says. What he meant was he is the God who was, who is and who always will be. He is the God of creation and the God of eternity. He is THE God and there is no other except him.
God’s name reveals the ultimate power found in who he is.
When the name of God is written in Hebrew it is
יהוה. It is pronounced in Hebrew Yahweh and later when translated into Latin and then English became Jehovah - both of which you have probably heard before.
The name of God leads us to the 3rd Commandment. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Our first thought usually when we hear this commandment is a rule to tell us not to swear. And certainly what we call cussing - using the Lord’s name in vain - is an element of this commandment and something we all know we shouldn’t do. But the commandment is so much more than simply just telling us not to cuss. The commandment is about using God’s name at any time that disrespects God the things of God. It is any time we use God’s name in a superficial or shallow way - it is thoughtlessly throwing God’s name around.
After they received this commandment, the ancient Hebrews were so worried they would use God’s name incorrectly, they quit using God’s name at all. Whenever they would read scripture and they came to the word Yahweh instead of saying Yahweh they would say the word Adonai which was a Hebrew word for ‘My Lord’. By saying Adonai they were acknowledging the verse they were reading was about The God, but they didn’t say his name just in case they said it incorrectly or unworthily.
I have a personal story about that - somewhere when I was very young in Sunday School, evidently my Sunday School teacher had taught a lesson on this commandment and I took it very literally. I was scared to teach to say “God” and when someone around me would say it I would flinch worried something was going to happen. Even during worship I was a little concerned about how God’s name was just thrown about…. I was in high school when I talked to a minister who was over our youth group and he helped me have a more healthy understanding of what the 3rd commandment was all about! But even to today, in the pervasive use of OMG, causes me to cringe a bit.
But it is exactly the use of OMG and other slang phrases where ‘God’ is used that this commandment addresses. God is not a name to be tossed about without any thought or any meaning. God’s name is always to be used in the context of respect and honor. We really need to think before ‘God’ comes out of our mouth.
There is another aspect to this use of the word ‘God’. Think about a court of law and during a trial what does the person say before they testify? They put their hand on the Bible and say they will tell the truth, “So help me God”. Literally this is an interpretation of the 3rd Commandment - if we are going to use God in the context of telling the truth then we had better tell the truth - we dishonor God if we say we will tell the truth in God’s name and then don’t.
The commandment also addresses the idea of doing things in God’s name for the wrong reasons - you go on a mission trip in God’s name but do it only so you will look good; you do the work of the church not because it is doing something for God but so that you can say, “Look what I did for the church”; you become a leader in the church for your own glory or your own power; you try to use God as the foundation to get money for yourself instead of for the work of God.
Anytime we talk about God and it is not in the context of honoring or respecting who God is - The Creator, The Almighty, our Redeemer and Sustainer - it is an inappropriate use of God’s name and we are breaking this commandment.
But as God’s people we would like to know why, why is this so important to God. It is because God knows us and knows that we need to always be reminded; we always need to remind ourselves of who God is in respect to who we are. It is awfully easy for us to become self important, to want to
elevate ourselves to the position of God, and if we start using God’s name in a frivolous way then that is how we start to think of God - God goes from being the one who makes us fall on our knees in honor and respect to something that is just ordinary - just something that is HoHum. And we understand the danger in that.
This commandment tells us to think before we speak and to consider our motives before we do something in the name of God.