Top Ten Words: Hijacking Heaven — Exodus 20:7

Top Ten Words: Hijacking Heaven — Exodus 20:7

Jun 29, 2015

Top Ten Words: Hijacking Heaven — Exodus 20:7

Sermon Series by Pastor Dusty Mackintosh

Next Step Christian Church, Thornton, CO

The other day I asked Logan to go call Arabelle and Dylan in for dinner from outside. He went outside, yelled at them, “Dad says to come in for dinner!” and they came in. That’s a true story.

Another day, Dylan made his way over to the neighbor’s house. He knocks on the door and tells the neighbor, “My Dad said I could have dinner here.” In he goes, playing with his little friend there, and our neighbor starts dishing up some food.

Fortunately…he also texts me. And I get our story straight with Anna: “Did you say he could? I didn’t say he could!” and over I go.

So close…he almost snagged free dinner in the name of Dad! You are probably all thinking: “how cute” and “how innocent.” No, he’s a little devious manipulative monster!

God’s Name in Vain – Exodus 20:7

Exodus 20:7

7 “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.”

Man, did I have fun with this one! Studying and learning and listening… I was usually taught that this was the go-to verse about not cursing. So the very worst curse words possible were the ones with “God” in them.

Now, I still hate hearing that, and my kids hear about it whenever they try picking it up from school. But somewhere along the way I had heard a little broader interpretation of this verse, and I got the chance to really dive deep and examine what is going on here.

Two representative stone tablets with the ten commandments inscribed on them on an isolated dark ethereal background

Not about cursing?

This made the Top 10 list…so maybe it is not just about frivolous cursing. But let’s be clear, whatever it means it certainly covers frivolous use of the name of God.

What’s in a Name

What was so important about the name that it made it into the 10 commandments? What is meant by the name of God? People who curse now don’t say “Yahweh”…so are they good to go? “God” is more of a title than a name. God has JUST shared the name Yahweh with His people…is He now outlawing its use? A name was not just a form of address but carried with it the character and authority of the person. Names meant something…and they were something. The name invokes the power, authority and character of the person.

“Take” God’s Name

So if you “take” someone’s name… “Take” here means to use, to lift up — you are invoking or harnessing the power, authority and character of the person with the name. This is not just something they believed back then, this is a concept my kids understand. When Logan calls Arabelle and Dylan in, they come, because I have the power and authority to command them to come in for dinner, and Logan invokes that. When Dylan “takes” my name to get dinner, he invokes my character and friendship with our neighbor, as well as my authority and power in allowing him to go. You see how sneaky he is?

Taking God’s name invokes His power, authority and character behind your word or deed. We can see how this would be really useful. There are many things we do, rightly, in His name: we baptize in His name; we gather together in His name; we are saved in His name; we dedicate and bless babies in His name.

In Vain

Now, the command specifies “in vain.” God gave His name. He revealed it to Moses, told him to tell the people His name. What is it we are NOT supposed to do regarding the name? This word “in vain” is translated variously: emptiness, ineffective, without effect, deceitful, for wrong purposes. So which one is it? Yes. Let’s just take the whole bunch.

When Dylan used my “name in vain” it was an empty claim. As soon as my neighbor asked me, it was clear there actually was no power or authority behind it…because it was false. It was claimed deceitfully, being untrue, and it was used for wrong purposes: to achieve something that he was not allowed in that moment. This then serves as an excellent model for using God’s name in vain. It isn’t that you cannot accomplish anything by using God’s name, and so we are only talking about frivolous swearing. It is that you hijack God’s name for something that actually is not in God’s interest, from God’s word, for God’s purposes. You then create the illusion or impression that God is behind your words…when in fact He is not. We still use the phrase “hollow speech” or “hollow words” to describe lies and deception.


There is the sense in which the futility of this could be kind of cute. In a Dylan sort of way:

Ahhh… look at the little human trying to hijack the name of God, flailing around like a wee little baby.”

This is not the perspective God has. Instead, we have a Godfather-esque, subtle sort of threat.

“Let’s just say… I will not hold you guiltless.”

To see why God might take a dim look — in fact He really hates this — let’s see how this has been violated in history.

God’s Name in Vain — A Historical Survey

Super (perhaps most) straightforward taking of God’s name in vain: false prophets. Someone literally says “Yahweh says this…” and he is lying. “Yahweh says everyone is going to be fine!” No, actually Jerusalem is going to be conquered and exiled because of their immorality — and you helped keep them from repenting by telling them what they wanted to hear. That is not going to end well for you… you will not be held guiltless…” In fact, you’ll be stoned.

The other straightforward violation of this verse: oath taking. It was common to invoke higher powers in oaths. The implication was that the power was behind your words. The idea was that the higher power would punish those who lied in this way.

Both of these are on the same spectrum: attempting to manipulate others into believing and doing what they would otherwise not believe and do by invoking the name of God.

Hijacking the name of God to manipulate others. If they thought God really would back up whatever they happened to claim — that’s actually worse. That is attempting to manipulate God by invoking His name.

People at the time of Jesus tried to get around this. Clearly we can’t actually say “in the name of Yahweh…” But we can get all the same advantages and avoid the literal use of the “name” by saying something like “we swear by heaven.” Well, what am I

really doing with an oath? I am attempting to manipulate you into believing me when you normally would not. My simple Yes or No isn’t good enough, probably because you are skeptical of my character. So I will hijack the character and reputation of God (or heaven) so that you will now believe me. Jesus calls this sinful and calls people of the Kingdom to simple integrity: “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.”

When we say “name of God” we encompass the character, power and reputation — even the person of God. So this can get pretty subtle. How about a medieval priest who uses the respect for and worship of Christ to amass personal power and wealth? How about the Catholic church at the time of the Reformation, when priests would say things like “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs,” essentially holding your ancestors’ souls ransom in the name of God?

Without ever saying the “name,” is this still taking the Lord’s name in vain? Hijacking the name, character, power and authority of God to manipulate? Yes it is.

How about a politician who calls himself a Christian only because it means a jump in the polls — no one who doesn’t say “Jesus” can get elected President in America. For now. How about the “Christian Business Directory.” Now probably most are loving brothers and sisters who just see another opportunity to help their business grow. But…if anyone simply adopts the name of “Christ” to capture a little Christian bubble market share…

That’s gross.

Where is my heart?

But how would you go about taking God’s name in vain if you wanted to? How do I do it?

Do I hijack the name, character, reputation or word of God for my gain or glory?

I am not a false-prophet, a Pharisaic oath taker, a medieval priest or a politician. Where are my opportunities to hijack the name of God?

You and I wear the name of Christ. We announce it to the world. We share it with our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers. I hope we do. If, at any moment, we play upon any trust or respect that comes with that for our gain; if we do anything under the mantle or name of God that is not in line with His purpose…we speak in vain. If you speak on God’s behalf to impress others, you hijack the name of God. If you tell people “I’m a Christian” so that they’ll trust you…you hijack the name of God. (A realtor once told me that this was taught to him as a strategy: join a church, best place to get clients.)

We cannot use the name of God, our association with Him, the name of Jesus, of Christian, of Church, of anything that invokes His power, authority and character, for any purpose that is not His purpose. We cannot use or twist the Word of God to get people to do what we want. That, too, is speaking in His name for purposes that are not His. Hijacking the name of God.

Let me phrase this in a different way: you cannot use God. You cannot use His name, His power, authority and character, in the sense we use a tool for our own purposes. God cannot be manipulated and He cannot be used to manipulate others.

You cannot use God. Many translations pick up on this, and the NIV for example translates: “You shall not misuse the name of God.”

God cannot be used. Neither will He be forced to obey you

because you used His name, nor shall you attempt to coerce or manipulate or convince others by using His name as leverage or threat or guarantee of honesty.

God cannot be used… He is holy.

The Total Holiness of God

Together these first three commandments capture the total

holiness of God.

You cannot replace God…He is the only one worthy of worship.

You cannot control God… no image or idol can capture His essence. He refuses to be put in a box.

You cannot hijack His name, His power, or His authority. You are about Him — He is not about you. He loves you — He neither obeys nor serves you.


God cannot be used.

Our Relationship with God

And this comes to our final question. It is the question we ask of every commandment. How is this showing me the course of love? What is broken in my relationship with God such that I might attempt to use His name to manipulate either Him or others?

And, maybe, it boils down to this: He is the center. He is the center of your relationship with Him. As hard as that is for us individualists to get: He is at the center.

I am about Him. He is not about me.

He loves me, yes. He created me. He saved me. He took risks for me. He sacrificed for me. He LOVES me. But His being is not wrapped around my being, such that I could invoke Him and use Him for my benefit. Or that I could use Him and His name to manipulate the world around me.

Even while our relationship is for my good, it benefits me, but it is not for me. It is for Him. It is for His glory. It is wrapped about Him: He sits at the center.

In him we live, and move, and have our being.

It is not ultimately about us — about you or about me. We are about Him. We are used for His purposes, He is never used for ours. Any word, any action, any life without God at the center is hollow, it is empty, it is in vain.

May we be a people that take the Lord’s name in spirit and in truth; that take His name as the forever center and bedrock

of our lives; that always work with His purposes because His purposes become our purposes.

God, destroy that within me that seeks to use You and Your name for my glory and gain. Show me again Your holiness. Make me all about You. May I be holy, only and always, as You are holy.

Clip to Evernote