Growing up, my understanding of using the name of the Lord in vain was clear, don’t use His name in a derogatory manner. The reality is, even though Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament so we no longer need to live under the law, Jesus always went deeper into the heart than the superficial. Today, I understand this to be quite different than I once had.
To illustrate, I’d like to go back to Exodus 17:5-6, “The LORD answered Moses, ‘Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.’ So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.”
This story comes after the Israelites had been wondering out of Egypt and they had no water to drink. They were coming hard against Moses and after inquiring from the Lord what to do, Moses was told to strike the rock with the staff he used to strike the Nile. So Moses did exactly that, the water flowed and the people saw the power of God through Moses’ obedience. It was orderly, it was proper.
Now there was no water for the congregation, so they gathered against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had perished with our brothers before the LORD! Why have you brought the LORD’s assembly into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you led us up out of Egypt to bring us to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain, figs, vines, or pomegranates—and there is no water to drink!”
Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. They fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. And the LORD said to Moses, “Take the staff and assemble the congregation. You and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock while they watch, and it will pour out its water. You will bring out water from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.”
So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as He had commanded. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen now, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that a great amount of water gushed out, and the congregation and their livestock were able to drink.
But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”
We see a similar scenario, but this time, God tells Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock. Moses spoke to the people in a condescending way and then struck the rock as before. Interestingly, the miracle still happened. The water flowed just as before. But, because Moses misrepresented God in this manner, neither he nor the current group of people could enter into the land that was promised them. This is using the name of the Lord in vain.
Words matter. We can be careful to not superficially use His name in vain by refraining from using course talk, all the while our actions are misrepresenting who God is and who He wants to be to each of us. If I am not a loving person but confess to be a believer in Christ, I am misrepresenting Him and again, using His name in vain. Why would anyone want to be drawn to Christ if this is what Christ looks like in me?
Jesus always goes deeper into the heart. In whatever situation we are in, this is a great reason we are to be slow to speak and slow to anger. Misrepresenting who He is has serious consequences, so much so, it could stop us from entering His promised land. The great thing is, God does look at our heart and He has mercy. When we do use His name in vain, if we repent, He will surely forgive us!