“Oh My God!” Thoughts about the Third Commandment

The finger of God wrote these words, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Taking God’s name in vain is a large subject. Analyzing the details of “taking His name in vain” is an exercise in Old Testament theology. Any treatment of the third commandment leads the Bible student into the world of oaths, vows, what constitutes blasphemy, false worship, and so on. Perhaps one day if I preach a series on the Ten Commandments, we will go into all that detail.

For now, let me point out two things from the commandment. God values His name. His name reflects who He is, His character, His glory. He loves His name. His name is majestic (Psalm 8:1, 9). His name is holy (Psalm 33:21). His name is to be praised, feared, thanked, and rejoiced in!

The second obvious point is that God does not want His name misused. The misuse of His name prompts God to threaten punishment upon the offenders. If God’s name is valued by Him, He wants it honored, not defamed. Revering God’s name is revering God, and God does not want anything about Him taken lightly. “The commandment prohibits any misuse of the Lord’s name, from making light of it to blatantly mocking it. Every mention made of the Lord with our mouths is to be made with the highest sincerity and reverence.”

In our culture, the misuse of God’s name in cursing is terribly common. People use God’s name and Jesus’ name as curse words. They invoke God to damn. They use the blessed name of His only-begotten Son as an expletive. These uses are blasphemous and a flagrant violation of God’s commandment. These will not be small sins on judgment day.

However, I want to point out a misuse of God’s name which many Christians are guilty of. I am not saying that Christians consciously blaspheme God or invoke God’s damnation. But there is a subtle way the third commandment is violated and that is by simply using the name “God” as filler or an expletive. It is common to hear Christians say, as an interjection, “Oh my God!” Or “Oh God!” A somewhat more pious approach, “Oh good Lord,” or “Oh Lord.” And in our technological age, let me quickly add that “OMG” is the same thing.

Dear Christian, we struggle enough with our words (Eph. 4:29; James 3:2). Let us not add violating the third commandment to our sins of the tongue. Let us guard our mouths to make sure that we do not use the majestic name of our God as filler, as a comma, as an interjection. His name is glorious. The word “God” is weighty, it is one of the titles of the most important Person in the universe. The word “Lord” expresses His power, His might, His right to rule over our lives. It is an absolute contradiction, albeit often an unconscious one, to claim faith in God and reverence for His name and then misuse His name. When we use His name, let’s make sure we use it in the ways that Scripture commands and commends, not forbids and threatens punishment. May we use His name in a way that is fitting for the Lord of all.

For the sake of His name,
Pastor Brian

Psalm 16 & Delight

My Hebrew professor, Ron Allen, used to say, “Only a Philistine could fail to love the Psalms.” The Psalms are full of the ups and downs of life. They are full of praise to God, laments, complaints, cries for help, and bold declarations of confidence in God. The Psalms are prophetic, pointing us to the ultimate Blessed Man, the quintessential Righteous Man, David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ. Among all the Psalms, one that stands out to me, one that I find myself quoting, is Psalm 16. It is prophetic, pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see decay” (16:10). Peter quotes this text in Acts. The Psalm also extols the believer’s portion, which is God himself (16:5). David says that he continually puts the Lord before him, that must mean in his thoughts and affections, and because of that, he is never shaken (16:8). Right thoughts of God lead to stability in life. David also extols the joy there is in God’s presence with memorable, affecting words, “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11). This Psalm is rich. Derek Kidner rightly says, “The theme of having one’s affections centered on God give this psalm its unity and ardor.”

There is one part of this Psalm that caught my attention this morning, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (16:3). David sees something in the saints, that is believers. The word he uses to describe them is interesting, as it is variously translated, “majestic ones,” “excellent ones,” “noble ones.” David is drawn to God’s people. He sees in them something desirable, he delights in them. Spurgeon, taking the Psalmist to be ultimately Jesus, says, “He who knows them best says of them, ‘in whom is all my delight.’ They count themselves to be less than nothing, and yet he makes much of them and sets his heart towards them.” What do God’s people have going for them? Why should they be our delight? The living God is their refuge, he is their good, he is their chosen portion, he is their counselor, their hope and their joy. Even the lowest of believers have this glorious God and all that he is. What David delights in, in God’s people, is God in them and God for them. It is God who beautifies his people, making them a delight.

What do we think of God’s people? Are they our delight? Or do we grumble against them for being “hypocrites,” (thus always indicting ourselves in such charges!). Do we take more pleasure in being around worldlings who serve the god of this age more than God’s holy ones? Worldlings are the very ones running after others gods (16:4). Do we admire the godless and the sinner because of their success and dismiss the children of God? Do we avoid God’s people? By the way, most of the time when we avoid God’s people, it is not really because we think we are better than them, although that is what we might say, but rather, it is because we are convicted by them. How we feel about other Christians is an indicator ultimately of what we think of God. There is no such thing as esteeming God and despising his people. They are his people, his children, he knows them, loves them and is sanctifying them. No worldling can make such claims! Certainly, some of God’s people are more mature than others, wiser than others, more pleasant than others, more sanctified than others, but they all have one thing in common, they all belong to the same God, redeemed by the same Savior.

So are the saints your delight? If not, why not? If not, then the Psalmist would simply say to you that you are looking at the wrong things in them and most likely, the wrong things in yourself. Set the Lord before you, let your heart be glad in him, rejoice in his work, most especially among his people and join this rag-tag bunch of struggling sinners who are the majestic ones in all the earth. When we see God’s beauty in them, we will delight in them as we should.

Clinging to God in Depression

Psalms 42-43 have long been recognized as one Psalm, perhaps divided for liturgical purposes. But these two Psalms have also long been recognized as coming from a depressed soul. He says his tears have been his food day and night (42;3a). He says his soul is in despair, disturbed within him (42:5, 11; 43:5). He questions himself as to why this is the case. Throughout the Psalm, he acknowledges that the depression is caused by external oppression (42:3b, 9b-10; 43:1-2). But the Psalmist is depressed for more reasons than his circumstances. There seems to be an inner sense of loss. He remembers happier times with God’s people, in God’s presence (42:4), but that seems to be no more. He still longs for God, but it is a longing that appears to be unfulfilled at this point. The sense of despair in these two Psalms is palpable and is certainly better felt than merely exegeted.

Nevertheless, there is something else in this Psalm. The Psalmist not only questions himself, he preaches to himself. Three times there is this inquiry, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (42:5, 11; 43:5). The magnificent thing about this inquiry is that the Psalmist immediately responds to himself each time with, “Hope in God.” He preaches to his despair. He tells himself to put his confidence in God. He continues, “For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” This is nothing other than a declaration of faith. He doesn’t feel like praising God, in fact he is complaining. But he knows that the outcome of maintaining hope in God will be that God’s praise will once again be on his lips, it is only a matter of time.

One other observation should be made. The Psalmist identifies certain truths about God throughout, which reveal where his hope is. He is the living God (42:1a), He is the God who commands lovingkindness (8a), he is the God of my life (8c), He is the God of my strength (43:2a), He is the God of light and truth (43:3), He is the God of my exceeding joy (43:4b), He is God, my God (43:4c) and He is the help of my countenance and my God (42:11c; 43:5c). The Psalmist does not hide his depression or despair, nor even his own sense of disappointment with God (which is more perception than reality). But right in the middle of all of it, he clings to who God is and what He is like. It is this that stirs his soul to say, “Hope in God.” It is this that keeps his faith from being extinguished.

Christina Rossetti, in a hymn that we should sing more often, captures this beautifully.

“My faith burns low; my hope burns low;
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.”

(None Other Lamb, None other Name)

When our faith and hope burn low, remember who your God is. Remember what He is like. Preach to yourself that hoping in Him is never in vain and that in His lovingkindness you will again praise Him.