We often look at God’s 10 Commandments as those things which we are or are not to do, and they certainly speak clearly in that way. They are more though. In this series of articles, we’ll look at these Commandments functioning like a fence. A fence protects valuable gifts from being harmed. A fence prohibits what’s inside from becoming abused or lost into the abyss of all that exists outside its boundaries. A fence promotes the value of that which exists within.
Using this three-fold function of a fence, we’ll begin taking a look at God’s familiar 10 Commandments.
A fence prohibits what’s inside from becoming abused or lost into the abyss of all that exists outside its boundaries.
A number of months ago, my wife planted a garden. After a few weeks, she was pleased to see many of her plants start to grow and ﬂourish. But it wasn’t too long before she discovered a problem. Something was eating the leaves of her plants. She told me we were in need of a fence. We needed some sort of barrier to keep out the deer or whatever else was eating those leaves and destroying her garden. Fences can certainly serve to protect something precious.
In this series, we are considering how the commandments of God act as a fence, especially in order to protect something for our beneﬁt. As we consider the second commandment, we ask the question, what exactly is God protecting? The answer should be obvious—His holy name. But perhaps the more difficult question is why? It’s easy to see why God commanded us not to steal, or not to murder, or not to have other gods, but is taking care to use God’s name rightly really a serious sin? Does it actually warrant God’s further warning: “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain?”
When God called Moses up to Mt. Sinai, He said that He would pass before him and proclaim His name. In doing so, this is what God declared: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). God revealed to Moses that his name Yahweh, or the LORD, referred to himself who was the God of justice and grace.
Certainly the name of God should be revered by all because it is the name of the one who judges, but more importantly because it is the name of the one who saves by grace. Those who misuse this name dishonor and blaspheme the one who has the authority to condemn and the power to save. This is why God puts up a fence around his name that it be regarded as holy among us and among others as we bring to them the truth of both God’s Law and Gospel. God’s saving name is so precious that we want to only use it rightly, especially to pray, praise, and give thanks.
Yet there are times when we have been guilty of using God’s name in a careless way. Perhaps using it as a ﬁller word when we see something amazing or shocking, “Oh my God” (or even its abbreviation “OMG”). Sometimes we misuse God’s name when we have cursed others. Sometimes we have misused God’s name to lie or deceive, hoping this will give what we say that extra oomph needed for the other person to believe us. Sometimes we have misused God’s name when we have made an oath to Him, perhaps in our marriage or in our calling and yet have not been faithful to what we have sworn to God. At other times, we have sought to use God’s name in prayer, but it has been mere lip service as our thoughts stray far from focusing on the words we say. Yes, we must confess that we all have violated this command of God and drug his most precious name through the dirt. We fall under God’s condemnation, “The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
Thanks be to God for the one he has given us, His Son Jesus Christ, who has himself submitted even to this law of God in our place. God reveals in 1 Peter 2:22, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was in his mouth.” God would have us look to Christ as our Savior and to be comforted that he has fulﬁlled this law perfectly in our place. And as the apostle Paul testiﬁed to the Corinthian Christians, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus… who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:4,8). Be assured of this when you consider your sins against this commandment: the grace of God has been given to you through faith in Christ. Because of him, because of his perfect life and innocent death for you, you are guiltless in his sight.
What precious names God has revealed to us then, especially the name of our Savior God and our redeemer Jesus Christ! What an important reason he has in establishing a fence around this holy name! This truly is the name of the one with all power and authority in heaven and on earth, but most importantly this is the blessed name of God our Savior. Amen.
The Second Commandment
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not curse swear, practice witchcraft, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
Rev. Matthew Moldstad
Peace Lutheran Church
North Mankato, MN