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 ESV]
We will find in the context of each verse help in understanding that verse. The general interpretation of Exodus 20:7 is to not verbally misuse the name of God. You do not use His name in casual speech, when taking an oath, as a vulgar, profane curse. You do not ejaculate OMG when surprised or pleased.
Jewish tradition demanded no one use the actual name of God, YHWH. Throughout the Hebrew Scripture when the name of God is used the reader would substitute LORD. This substitution was done as a sign of respect for God. But, it was also done as a means of keeping people from unintentionally taking God’s name in vain. To think not using His name is a fulfillment of some expectation or superstition robs meaning from what God is saying.
This statement reaches down into the soul and substance of everyone created in His image. God’s name is unknowable. However, God has revealed Himself in ways which are knowable and understandable. Knowing His name means knowing and understanding His character and personality, knowing His attributes and passions. Knowing is intimacy. Using His name implies intimacy with Him. We are created for intimacy with Him, given permission and encouraged to know Him and use His name.
We can know Him intimately because we are created in His image. He created us for relationship. Being created in His image means everything we do and everything we are, is a reflection of Him. His image in us gives us the authority to speak and act on His behalf.
He gave Adam dominion over the earth, to name the animals and plants, to work the ground and care for His creation. Just as God is authority over all creation so He gave man authority over this planet. Adam, and those who followed, would know what to do because of the intimacy of their relationship with their Creator. Adam, and all who would follow, are servants of God, acting on His behalf with His authority behind their actions.
And then Adam rebelled and dying he would die, and all who came from him followed in his rebellion and died. Sin gained control over all men. This does not mean God lost control. Man lost control. Every word, act and attitude has turned from God to self. Every person lives a life judged, sentenced and awaiting execution of the sentence, separated all from God. God still wants intimacy with each person, and has provided a means, through the substitution and sacrifice of His Son, commanding each person to return to an intimate relationship. It is work He does on our behalf. We do nothing but receive or reject. Receiving carries no merit. For, if we are honest with ourselves we will see our continued rebellion against Him who has poured out upon us His grace.
Here is the point. Everything we do, whether in obedience or steeped in rebellion, reflects God’s character, His name, to those around and to the world and to the spiritual realms. Being created in His image, and carrying all that means even in our rebellion, tells us all we do, all we say, all we think and feel, reflects the character and personality, the attributes and passions, of God.
It is the next logical statement. There are no other authorities than God. We do not get to manufacture an excuse to sin by manufacturing an idol to replace Him. No wonder He says he will “not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” We are required to live our lives in righteousness. We do not because of sin and are held accountable. Those who carry His image must be changed or eternally separated from Him. We cannot change ourselves but continually rebel against Him, by our actions and words which is a misusing the name of God.
There is hope. As God changes us into the likeness of His Son, preparing us for eternity, He uses the fires of faith to purge sin from our lives. And the world which hates Him will hate us because we reflect Him. We are His witnesses to a world in rebellion. Everything we do for Him is evidence against those who do nothing for Him. Hope is in Jesus and nowhere else. Living a righteousness life upholds the name of God.