Exodus 20:7
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(7) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.—The Hebrew is ambiguous, as is to some extent the English translation. Most modern critics regard the phrase used as forbidding false swearing only; but some think that it forbids also “profane” or “vain swearing.” Our Lord’s comment in the Sermon on the Mount favours the view that false swearing alone was actually forbidden by the Law, since He proceeds to condemn profane swearing on His own authority: “But I say unto you” (Matthew 5:34). False swearing is among the greatest insults that man can offer to God, and, as being such, is naturally forbidden in the first table, which teaches us our duty to God. It is also destructive of civil society; and hence it is again forbidden in the second table (Exodus 20:16), which defines our duties to our neighbour. The laws of all organised States necessarily forbid it, and generally under a very severe penalty. The Jewish Law condemned the false witness to suffer the punishment which his evidence was calculated to inflict (Deuteronomy 19:19). The Egyptians visited perjury with death or mutilation. The Greeks were content to punish it with a heavy fine, and ultimately with the loss of civil rights. The Romans, in the more ancient times, inflicted the death penalty. It was generally believed, alike in Egypt, in Greece, and in Rome, that the anger of the gods was especially provoked by this crime, and that a Divine Nemesis pursued those who committed it, and made them suffer for their sin, either in their own person or in that of their posterity.

The Lord will not hold him guiltless.—Punishment will assuredly overtake the perjured man, if not in this life, then in another. Jehovah will vindicate His own honour.

Exodus 20:7. The third commandment is concerning the manner of our worship: where we have, 1st, A strict prohibition. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain — Supposing that, having taken Jehovah for their God, they would make mention of his name, this command gives a caution not to mention it in vain, and it is still as needful as ever. We take God’s name in vain, 1st, By hypocrisy, making profession of God’s name, but not living up to that profession. 2d, By covenant-breaking. If we make promises to God, and perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain. 3d, By rash swearing, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, to no good purpose, or to no good. 4th, By false swearing, which some think is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment. 5th, By using the name of God lightly and carelessly. The profanation of the form of devotion is forbidden, as well as the profanation of the forms of swearing; as also, the profanation of any of those things whereby God makes himself known. For the Lord will not hold him guiltless — Magistrates, that punish other offences, may not think themselves concerned to take notice of this; but God, who is jealous for his honour, will not connive at it. The sinner may perhaps hold himself guiltless, and think there is no harm in it; to obviate which suggestion, the threatening is thus expressed, God will not hold him guiltless. But more is implied, that God will himself be the avenger of those that take his name in vain; and they will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.20:3-11 The first four of the ten commandments, commonly called the FIRST table, tell our duty to God. It was fit that those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love, before he had a neighbour to love. It cannot be expected that he should be true to his brother, who is false to his God. The first commandment concerns the object of worship, JEHOVAH, and him only. The worship of creatures is here forbidden. Whatever comes short of perfect love, gratitude, reverence, or worship, breaks this commandment. Whatsoever ye do, do all the glory of God. The second commandment refers to the worship we are to render to the Lord our God. It is forbidden to make any image or picture of the Deity, in any form, or for any purpose; or to worship any creature, image, or picture. But the spiritual import of this command extends much further. All kinds of superstition are here forbidden, and the using of mere human inventions in the worship of God. The third commandment concerns the manner of worship, that it be with all possible reverence and seriousness. All false oaths are forbidden. All light appealing to God, all profane cursing, is a horrid breach of this command. It matters not whether the word of God, or sacred things, all such-like things break this commandment, and there is no profit, honour, or pleasure in them. The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. The form of the fourth commandment, Remember, shows that it was not now first given, but was known by the people before. One day in seven is to be kept holy. Six days are allotted to worldly business, but not so as to neglect the service of God, and the care of our souls. On those days we must do all our work, and leave none to be done on the sabbath day. Christ allowed works of necessity, charity, and piety; for the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath, Mr 2:27; but all works of luxury, vanity, or self-indulgence in any form, are forbidden. Trading, paying wages, settling accounts, writing letters of business, worldly studies, trifling visits, journeys, or light conversation, are not keeping this day holy to the Lord. Sloth and indolence may be a carnal, but not a holy rest. The sabbath of the Lord should be a day of rest from worldly labour, and a rest in the service of God. The advantages from the due keeping of this holy day, were it only to the health and happiness of mankind, with the time it affords for taking care of the soul, show the excellency of this commandment. The day is blessed; men are blessed by it, and in it. The blessing and direction to keep holy are not limited to the seventh day, but are spoken of the sabbath day.Our translators make the Third commandment bear upon any profane and idle utterance of the name of God. Others give it the sense, "Thou shalt not swear falsely by the name of Jehovah thy God." The Hebrew word which answers to "in vain" may be rendered either way. The two abuses of the sacred name seem to be distinguished in Leviticus 19:12 (see Matthew 5:33). Our King James Version is probably right in giving the rendering which is more inclusive. The caution that a breach of this commandment incurs guilt in the eyes of Yahweh is especially appropriate, in consequence of the ease with which the temptation to take God's name "in vain" besets people in their common conversation with each other.4, 5. Thou shalt not make … any graven image … thou shalt not bow down thyself to them—that is, "make in order to bow." Under the auspices of Moses himself, figures of cherubim, brazen serpents, oxen, and many other things in the earth beneath, were made and never condemned. The mere making was no sin—it was the making with the intent to give idolatrous worship. Or, not carry, or not take, or lift up, to wit, in or into thy mouth, as the phrase is more fully expressed, Job 4:2; Psalm 16:4 50:16. So men are said to take up a proverb, or a lamentation, Isaiah 14:4 Ezekiel 26:17. The name of the Lord; not only the proper name of the Lord, but any of his attributes, ordinances, and works, by which God hath made himself known. In vain; or unto vanity, or vainly. Either,

1. Falsely, or in a false oath; thou shalt not swear falsely by the name of the Lord, or not lift up the name of God into thy mouth in an oath to the confirmation of a lie. Or,

2. In vain, as we render it, and as the word schave is frequently used, as Job 7:3 15:31 Psalm 60:11 89:47 Isaiah 1:13. You shall not use the name of God, either in oaths or in common discourse, lightly, rashly, irreverently, or unnecessarily, or without weighty or sufficient cause. Which being a duty enjoined not only in many places of sacred Scripture, but also in the apocryphal /APC Sir 23:15-17, and even by heathen authors, as Plato in his Book of Laws, and it being evident by the light of nature to man’s reason, it were strange if it were not here understood; especially considering that it is most reasonable to take these short laws in the most comprehensive sense, such as this, not the former, is; for the prohibition of using it vainly and rashly doth certainly include that of swearing by it falsely, but this latter doth not include the former. Besides, the former exposition restrains the words to swearing, whereas the words are more general, and speak of any taking God’s name into their mouths, either by oaths or any other way. And it becomes not us to set limits to God’s words where God hath set none. It is also here to be observed, as well as in the other commands, that when this sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded, to wit, to use the name of God, both in swearing and otherwise, holily, cautiously, and reverently.

Guiltless, or, innocent, i.e. free from guilt, and the punishment of it: the meaning is, the Lord will look upon him as a guilty person, and will severely punish him. And so this or the like phrase is used 1 Kings 2:9. And it is a common figure, called meiosis, where more is understood than is expressed, as 1 Samuel 12:21 Psalm 25:3 Proverbs 10:2. And this reason is here added, because sinners of this sort are usually held innocent by men, either because they cannot discover their fault when they forswear themselves, or because they take no care to punish the abusers of God’s name by vain and customary oaths, curses, or blasphemies: q.d. Though men spare them, I will assuredly punish them. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain,.... Make use of the name Lord or God, or any other name and epithet of the divine Being, in a light and trifling way, without any show of reverence of him, and affection to him; whereas the name of God ought never to be mentioned but in a grave and serious manner, and with an awe of the greatness of his majesty upon the mind. The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan restrain this to swearing by the name of the Lord; and so the Jewish writers generally interpret it either of swearing lightly, rashly, or falsely; and to this it may very well be extended, though not limited; and so forbids, as all profane oaths; imprecations, and curses by the name of God, which the mouths of wicked men are full of, so swearing by it in matters trivial, and of no importance; for swearing even by the name of the Lord ought not to be used but in matters of moment and consequence, for the confirmation of a thing, and putting an end to strife, and where a matter cannot be determined and decided without an appeal to God. And great care should be taken that a man swears to that which is true, and not false; for false swearing, or perjury, is a very grievous sin, and as it is strictly forbidden, it is severely punished by the Lord, as follows; see Leviticus 19:12, this is the third command, and the reason enforcing it follows:

for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name is vain; will not look upon him as an innocent person, and treat him as such; will not acquit and discharge him as just and righteous; but on the contrary will consider him as a guilty person, a profaner of his name, and a transgressor of his law, and will condemn and punish him, if not in this world, yet in the world to come; and so the Targum of Jonathan, by way of explanation, adds,"in the day of the great judgment;''see Malachi 3:5.

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in {f} vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

(f) Either by swearing falsely or rashly by his Name, or by condemning it.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
7. The third commandment. The name of God to be treated with reverence.

take … in vain] properly, take up (viz. upon the lips, as Exodus 23:1, Psalm 15:3; Psalm 16:4) … for unreality (Di. ‘zur Nichtigkeit’)—i.e. make use of it for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose. The root idea of shâw’, is what is groundless or unsubstantial: hence in a material sense it means unreal, vain (Psalm 60:11); and in a moral sense it denotes what is empty, frivolous, or insincere: cf. Exodus 23:1 ‘Thou shalt not take up a groundless report’; Psalm 24:4 ‘hath not lifted up his soul (i.e. directed his desires) unto unreality’ (i.e. to what is either frivolous or insincere): in the Psalms it is generally rendered vanity, but it often really means what we should call insincerity, as Psalm 12:3, Psalm 41:6 (see the Glossary in the writer’s Parallel Psalter, p. 464). God’s name is to be treated with reverence; it is not to be desecrated either by false swearing (Leviticus 19:12 (H), Jeremiah 5:2; Jeremiah 7:9, Zechariah 5:4, Malachi 3:5), or by being used disrespectfully for any other frivolous or idle purpose, as in cursing or reviling, or to support false pretensions of being able to use magic or divination, or to predict the future (Jeremiah 27:15).

hold … guiltless] i.e. leave unpunished, as 1 Kings 2:9 shews is implied and as the word is sometimes actually rendered, e.g. Proverbs 6:29 Jeremiah 25:29. Cf. Jeremiah 34:7, with the note.Verse 7. - Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. It is disputed whether this is a right rendering. Shav in Hebrew means both "vanity" and ,'falsehood;" so that the Third Commandment may forbid either "vain-swearing" or simply "false-swearing. It is in favor of the latter interpretation, that our Lord seems to contrast his own prohibition of unnecessary oaths with the ancient prohibition of false oaths in the words - "Ye have heard that it hath been said by" (or "to") "them of old time - Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shelf perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you - Swear not at all" (Matthew 5:33-34). It is also in favour of the command being levelled against false-swearing, that perjury should naturally, as a great sin, have a special prohibition directed against it in the Decalogue, while vain-swearing, as a little sin, would scarcely seem entitled to such notice. Perjury has always been felt to be one of the greatest both of moral and of social offences. It implies an absolute want of any reverence at all for God; and it destroys civil society by rendering the administration of justice impossible. There has been a general horror of it among all civilised nations. The Egyptians punished perjury with death. The Greeks thought that a divine Nemesis pursued the perjured man, and brought destruction both upon himself and upon his offspring .(Herod. 6:86). The Romans regarded the perjurer as infamous, and the object of Divine vengeance in the other world (Cic. De Leg. 2:9). The threat contained in the words - "The Lord will not hold him guiltless" - may be taken as an argument on either side. If viewed as equivalent to "the Lord will punish severely" (Kalisch), it accords best with the view that perjury was intended; if taken literally, it would suit best a lesser sin, of which men ordinarily think little. And God spake all these words, saying, The promulgation of the ten words of God, containing the fundamental law of the covenant, took place before Moses ascended the mountain again with Aaron (Exodus 19:24). "All these words" are the words of God contained in vv. 2-17, which are repeated again in Deuteronomy 5:6-18, with slight variations that do not materially affect the sense,

(Note: The discrepancies in the two texts are the following: - In Deuteronomy 5:8 the cop. ו ("or," Eng. Ver.), which stands before תּמוּנה כּל (any likeness), is omitted, to give greater clearness to the meaning; and on the other hand it is added before שׁלּשׁים על in Deuteronomy 5:9 for rhetorical reasons. In the fourth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:12) שׁמור is chosen instead of זכור in Exodus 20:8, and זכר is reserved fore the hortatory clause appended in Deuteronomy 5:15 : "and remember that thou wast a servant," etc.; and with this is connected the still further fact, that instead of the fourth commandment being enforced on the ground of the creation of the world in six days and the resting of God on the seventh day, their deliverance from Egypt is adduced as the subjective reason for their observance of the command. In Deuteronomy 5:14, too, the clause "nor thy cattle" (Exodus 20:10) is amplified rhetorically, and particularized in the words "thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle." So again, in Deuteronomy 5:16, the promise appended to the fifth commandment, "that thy days may be long in the land," etc., is amplified by the interpolation of the clause "and that it may go well with thee," and strengthened by the words "as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee." In Deuteronomy 5:17, instead of שׁקר עד (Exodus 20:16), the more comprehensive expression שׁוא עד is chosen. Again, in the tenth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:18), the "neighbour's wife" is placed first, and then, after the "house," the field is added before the "man-servant and maid-servant," whereas in Exodus the "neighbour's house" is mentioned first, and then the "wife" along with the "man-servant and maid-servant;" and instead of the repetition of תּחמד, the synonym תּתאוּה is employed. Lastly, in Deuteronomy all the commandments from תּרצח לא onwards are connected together by the repetition of the cop. ו before every one, whereas in Exodus it is not introduced at all. - Now if, after what has been said, the rhetorical and hortatory intention is patent in all the variations of the text of Deuteronomy, even down to the transposition of wife and house in the last commandment, this transposition must also be attributed to the freedom with which the decalogue was reproduced, and the text of Exodus be accepted as the original, which is not to be altered in the interests of any arbitrary exposition of the commandments.)

and are called the "words of the covenant, the ten words," in Exodus 34:28, and Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4. God spake these words directly to the people, and not "through the medium of His finite spirits," as v. Hoffmann, Kurtz, and others suppose. There is not a word in the Old Testament about any such mediation. Not only was it Elohim, according to the chapter before us, who spake these words to the people, and called Himself Jehovah, who had brought Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 20:2), but according to Deuteronomy 5:4, Jehovah spake these words to Israel "face to face, in the mount, out of the midst of the fire."

Hence, according to Buxtorf (Dissert. de Decalogo in genere, 1642), the Jewish commentators almost unanimously affirm that God Himself spake the words of the decalogue, and that words were formed in the air by the power of God, and not by the intervention and ministry of angels.

(Note: This also applies to the Targums. Onkelos and Jonathan have יי וּמלל in Exodus 20:1, and the Jerusalem Targum דיי מימרא מליל. But in the popular Jewish Midrash, the statement in Deuteronomy 33:2 (cf. Psalm 68:17), that Jehovah came down upon Sinai "out of myriads of His holiness," i.e., attended by myriads of holy angels, seems to have given rise to the notion that God spake through angels. Thus Josephus represents King Herod as saying to the people, "For ourselves, we have learned from God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our law through angels" (Ant. 15, 5, 3, Whiston's translation).)

And even from the New Testament this cannot be proved to be a doctrine of the Scriptures. For when Stephen says to the Jews, in Acts 7:53, "Ye have received the law" εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων (Eng. Ver. "by the disposition of angels"), and Paul speaks of the law in Galatians 3:19 as διαταγεὶς δι ̓ἀγγελων ("ordained by angels"), these expressions leave it quite uncertain in what the διατάσσειν of the angels consisted, or what part they took in connection with the giving of the law.

(Note: That Stephen cannot have meant to say that God spoke through a number of finite angels, is evident from the fact, that in Acts 7:38 he had spoken just before of the Angel (in the singular) who spoke to Moses upon Mount Sinai, and had described him in Acts 7:35 and Acts 7:30 as the Angel who appeared to Moses in the bush, i.e., as no other than the Angel of Jehovah who was identical with Jehovah. "The Angel of the Lord occupies the same place in Acts 7:38 as Jehovah in Exodus 19. The angels in Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19 are taken from Deuteronomy 33. And there the angels do not come in the place of the Lord, but the Lord comes attended by them" (Hengstenberg).)

So again, in Hebrews 2:2, where the law, "the word spoken by angels" (δι ̓ἀγγελων), is placed in contrast with the "salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord" (διὰ τοῦ Κυρίου), the antithesis is of so indefinite a nature that it is impossible to draw the conclusion with any certainty, that the writer of this epistle supposed the speaking of God at the promulgation of the decalogue to have been effected through the medium of a number of finite spirits, especially when we consider that in the Epistle to the Hebrews speaking is the term applied to the divine revelation generally (see Exodus 1:1). As his object was not to describe with precision the manner in which God spake to the Israelites from Sinai, but only to show the superiority of the Gospel, as the revelation of salvation, to the revelation of the law; he was at liberty to select the indefinite expression δι ̓ἀγγελων, and leaven it to the readers of his epistle to interpret it more fully for themselves from the Old Testament. According to the Old Testament, however, the law was given through the medium of angels, only so far as God appeared to Moses, as He had done to the patriarchs, in the form of the "Angel of the Lord," and Jehovah came down upon Sinai, according to Deuteronomy 33:2, surrounded by myriads of holy angels as His escort.

(Note: Lud. de Dieu, in his commentary on Acts 7:53, after citing the parallel passages Galatians 3:19 and Hebrews 2:2, correctly observes, that "horum dictorum haec videtur esse ratio et veritas. S. Stephanus supra 5:39 dixit, Angelum locutum esse cum Mose in monte Sina, eundem nempe qui in rubo ipsa apparuerat, v. 35 qui quamvis in se Deus hic tamen κατ ̓οἰκονομίαν tanquam Angelus Deit caeterorumque angelorum praefectus consideratus e medio angelorum, qui eum undique stipabant, legem i monte Mosi dedit.... Atque inde colligi potest causa, cur apostolus Hebrews 2:2-3, Legi Evnagelium tantopere anteferat. Etsi enim utriusque auctor et promulgator fuerit idem Dei filius, quia tamen legem tulit in forma angeli e senatu angelico et velatus gloria angelorum, tandem vero caro factus et in carne manifestatus, gloriam prae se ferens non angelorum sed unigeniti filii Dei, evangelium ipsemet, humana voce, habitans inter homines praedicavit, merito lex angelorum sermo, evangelium autem solius filii Dei dicitur.")

The notion that God spake through the medium of "His finite spirits" can only be sustained in one of two ways: either by reducing the angels to personifications of natural phenomena, such as thunder, lightning, and the sound of a trumpet, a process against which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews enters his protest in Exodus 12:19, where he expressly distinguishes the "voice of words" from these phenomena of nature; or else by affirming, with v. Hoffmann, that God, the supernatural, cannot be conceived of without a plurality of spirits collected under Him, or apart from His active operation in the world of bodies, in distinction from which these spirits are comprehended with Him and under Him, so that even the ordinary and regular phenomena of nature would have to be regarded as the workings of angels; in which case the existence of angels as created spirits would be called in question, and they would be reduced to mere personifications of divine powers.

The words of the covenant, or ten words, were written by God upon two tables of stone (Exodus 31:18), and are called the law and the commandment (והמּצוה התּורה) in Exodus 24:12, as being the kernel and essence of the law. But the Bible contains neither distinct statements, nor definite hints, with reference to the numbering and division of the commandments upon the two tables, - a clear proof that these points do not possess the importance which has frequently been attributed to them. The different views have arisen in the course of time. Some divide the ten commandments into two pentads, one upon each table. Upon the first they place the commandments concerning (1) other gods, (2) images, (3) the name of God, (4) the Sabbath, and (5) parents; on the second, those concerning (1) murder, (2) adultery, (3) stealing, (4) false witness, and (5) coveting. Others, again, reckon only three to the first table, and seven to the second. In the first they include the commandments respecting (1) other gods, (2) the name of God, (3) the Sabbath, or those which concern the duties towards God; and in the second, those respecting (1) parents, (2) murder, (3) adultery, (4) stealing, (5) false witness, (6) coveting a neighbour's house, (7) coveting a neighbour's wife, servants, cattle, and other possession, or those which concern the duties towards one's neighbour. The first view, with the division into two fives, we find in Josephus (Ant. iii. 5, 5) and Philo (quis rer. divin. haer. 35, de Decal. 12, etc.); it is unanimously supported by the fathers of the first four centuries,

(Note: They either speak of two tables with five commandments upon each (Iren. adv. haer. ii. 42), or mention only one commandment against coveting (Constit. apost. i. 1, vii. 3; Theoph. ad Autol. ii. 50; Tertull, adv. Marc. ii. 17; Ephr. Syr. ad Exodus 20; Epiphan. haer. ii. 2, etc.), or else they expressly distinguish the commandment against images from that against other gods (Origen, homil. 8 in Ex.; Hieron. ad Ephes. vi. 2; Greg. Naz. carm. i. 1; Sulpicius Sev. hist. sacr. i. 17, etc.).)

and has been retained to the present day by the Eastern and Reformed Churches. The later Jews agree so far with this view, that they only adopt one commandment against coveting; but they differ from it in combining the commandment against images with that against false gods, and taking the introductory words "I am the Lord thy God" to be the first commandment. This mode of numbering, of which we find the first traces in Julian Apostata (in Cyrilli Alex. c. Julian l. V. init.), and in an allusion made by Jerome (on Hosea 10:10), is at any rate of more recent origin, and probably arose simply from opposition to the Christians. It still prevails, however, among the modern Jews.

(Note: It is adopted by Gemar. Macc. f. 24 a; Targ. Jon. on Ex. and Deut.; Mechilta on Exodus 20:15; Pesikta on Deuteronomy 5:6; and the rabbinical commentators of the middle ages.)

continued...

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