Chapter 1: God is Holy
Meekness and humility is the only proper attitude that dare to be assumed toward the holy one, who as the sole good seeks His own glory. And while the wicked, that love darkness rather than light, must needs say to the prophet of Jehovah, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the holy one of Israel to cease from before us,” God’s children, the work of His own hands, shall sanctify Jehovah’s name and sanctify the holy one of Jacob and fear the God of Israel. . This holy one of Israel, and that too emphatically as the holy one, is the Redeemer of Jacob. . And when the Lord shall have redeemed His people and shall have destroyed all their enemies, they shall rejoice and glory in the holy one of Israel. . Against the pride of Babylon, that shall be brought low, God’s people shall say: “As for our Redeemer, the Lord of hosts is his name, the holy one of Israel.” . And this Redeemer, the holy one of Israel, shall be called the God of the whole earth. . Jehovah is the holy one, and as the holy one He is the high and lofty one, that inhabiteth eternity. But for that very reason, while He Himself dwells in the high and holy place, He also dwells with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. . Throughout the Old Testament, and emphatically so in the prophecy of Isaiah, the holiness of God stands out as His ethical virtue par excellence. It is the divine perfection in which He is the incomparable one that distinguishes Him from all creatures and according to which He is wholly consecrated to Himself as the sole good.
However, not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New the holiness of God is emphasized as the implication of His ethical virtues. Also here the term holiness is used absolutely of God. He is called the holy Father in self-consecration. Of the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit the triune God is consecrated to Himself, is absolutely self-centered, as the only good. : “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are.” God is the absolutely holy one, and as such is separated from the common and unclean, from the kosmos, the world, in its ethical corruption. The world as such is not consecrated to God; it is unholy. In this world, however, are the elect, the saints, that are called to be holy and to walk in holiness, even in the midst of the unholy world. Therefore, they must be kept in the name of the holy Father, that is, in the sphere of the revelation of the holy one, that to Him they may be consecrated, separated from the world, and in this consecration may be one. Thus also in God is called the holy one absolutely: “But ye have an unction from the holy one, and ye know all things.” The idea is that God is absolutely holy, the one that is consecrated to Himself. Hence, only when we are anointed by Him with the spiritual ointment that causes our hearts and minds to be consecrated to Him, can we know all things, that is, are we rightly able to discern the truth of God. Without this unction from the Holy one we love the lie and are incapable of knowing the truth. This is also the thought in : “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation: Because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Here too the fundamental idea is that God is the absolutely holy one, that He is consecrated to Himself as the only good. When He calls, therefore, that calling is necessarily a calling unto Himself, and therefore unto holiness, that is, to consecration to God. For even as holiness in God is the virtue according to which He seeks and finds Himself, is consecrated to Himself, and according to which He desires and wills all things for His own name’s sake, so holiness in the creature must necessarily consist in this, that he seeks and is consecrated to God alone in his whole being and nature and walk. Because God is holy, that is, consecrated to Himself, His people must be holy, that is, consecrated to Him. Because He is self-centered, the creature must be God-centered. Hence, also the Spirit of God, the third person in the holy trinity, is called the Holy Spirit: for He is spirited forth, and proceeds from the Father to the Son, and again proceeds from the Son to the Father, and as such He is the very principle of divine
Hence, Christ as the Servant of Jehovah is the holy one of God in the highest and perfect sense of the word. It is remarkable that according to it was the man that had the spirit of an unclean devil that cried out, “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the holy one of God.” Profoundly the unclean spirit realizes that there is nothing common between him and the Lord. And the antithesis is rooted in the fact that Jesus is the holy one of God, that is, that He is wholly and perfectly consecrated to God and His cause and therefore must needs destroy the house of Satan. And even as the unclean spirit apprehends the holiness of Christ by way of the antithesis, so the disciples discern through the Spirit that He is the Holy one of God. Thus they call Him, according to a well-established reading of . They are attracted to Him because they discern that He speaks the words of eternal life. For to know the holy one, that is, God, is eternal life. Hence, He that is the holy one of God speaks words of eternal life, and the disciples acknowledge this. Christ is the holy one of God because the Father sanctified Him, separated Him from the common sinful world, that He might be wholly consecrated to God. Even from and through His very conception He was so sanctified. For “the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” , , .
This holiness of God lies at the basis of the third commandment. Because God is holy, His name is holy. And because His name is holy, it must be revered.
Let us therefore briefly recapitulate what we have found to be the teaching of holy writ in regard to the virtue of God’s holiness: 1) God is holy in the absolute sense of the word. And holiness is the divine attribute of God par excellence. 2) Especially in His holiness God is the incomparable one, the one that is of and by Himself and that is distinct from all creatures. The reason for this is that holiness denotes that He is the sole good, the implication of all perfections, and that as such He seeks Himself, is consecrated to Himself, is the absolutely self-centered one. 3) Especially the revelation of His holiness as the divine virtue par excellence is at the same time His glory. In this respect the third commandment is closely related to the second, as is evident from the threat that is added to both of them. To the second commandment it is added that God is a jealous God, who will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children in the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. And to the third commandment the warning is added that God will not hold him guiltless that taketh His holy name in vain. The holiness of God is His glory. 4) Because God’s holiness consists in His being self-centered and self-consecrated, the holiness of man can only consist in being God-centered and consecrated with all his heart and mind and soul and strength to the living God.
Briefly, therefore, we may describe the holiness of God as that wonder of the divine nature according to which God is absolute, infinite, eternal, and ultimate ethical perfection, Himself being the standard, motive and purpose of all the activity of His personal nature, so that He is eternally consecrated to Himself alone as the only good.
Such is the holiness of God. And because He is holy, His name, by which He stands revealed to us and through which He personally comes down to us, that we might have fellowship with Him, speak about Him, and address Him, is likewise characterized by holiness. His name is separated from and infinitely above all other names. It is not a class name. It is not common. God’s name is unique, as God is unique, and stands all by itself. This holiness of the name of God is the basic principle of the third commandment. In this commandment God, as it were, speaks to His people and says: “I am Jehovah thy God, thy reconciler and thy Redeemer. I make known unto thee my name, that thou mayest know me and speak about me and to me, and that thou mayest glorify and sanctify me in thy heart and in thy life. Beware, lest thou take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. For I will not hold him guiltless that taketh My name in vain.”
Chapter 2: God’s Holy Name
The third commandment prohibits that we use the name of God in vain, which positively implies that we always speak of that name with fear and reverence. The question is: what is meant by the name of God? Can the incomparable God have names at all? And if so, are they names of our invention, or are they given to us by God Himself?
Among men the word name is used in more than one sense. Thus, for instance, it is used in the sense of reputation. When we speak of the good or bad name of a person, we mean his reputation, that which is known of his character, his dealings with men, and his general walk of life. In this sense it is used in : “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.” Secondly, we have our class names, by which we denote certain species of creatures and things in distinction from others, such as horses, sheep, tree, flower, river, mountain, table, chair, and the like. And finally, we have our personal, our proper names. By these last names we refer to one another and address one another and speak about one another as persons. In someone’s name, such as John, William, Henry, and the like, there is always a reference to his person. Person and name are inseparable. When a person signs his name to a certain document, he thereby expresses that he is personally responsible for its contents. When a person’s name is passed by, he feels that his person is slighted. When his name is slandered or reproached, it is his person upon which contempt is heaped. The name in this last sense has reference to the person. It may be said, however, that names among men have lost their real significance. They do not express anything about the being or nature of a person or thing whatever, but they are mere marks of distinction.
In Scripture, however, this is quite different. A name, according to the Bible, has profound meaning. Originally a name was a sign of the nature or being of anything. This is evident from the fact that Adam in the state of righteousness was able to give the animals their real names. Thus we read in : “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” From this account it is evident, in the first place, that the real nature or being of the animal, and therefore, of any creature, is its sense, its meaning in itself and in relation to all the rest of creation. And this sense or meaning of the creature is expressed in the name. God had created all things through the Word. All are a reflection of the eternal Wisdom of God of which we read in : “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with thesons of men.” Hence, every individual creature has in it the individualized Word of God. It is the embodiment of God’s eternal idea. This idea, this Word of God, is its real being. And this being as it is revealed is manifested in its name. The name, therefore, is the expression of the being of anything. Secondly, this name of each creature is known to God. He reads and calls all things by their names, and glorifies Himself in the revelation of His wisdom. But in the midst of this creation he had formed a creature that was adapted to bear His own image, and was originally endowed with that image, in true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. To this creature, in whose heart was to be the union of all creation with God, He had given power intuitively to know the meaning of creation about him, as well as within himself, and of each creature in relation to all the rest and to God. In other words, Adam could read the words of God in the things that are made and discern their real meaning. He looked into their being and knew their names. And, in the third place, this name of the creature Adam was able to express in human language. And whatever he called the animals, that was their name, that is, the expression of their inner nature or being in a human word symbol. This intuitive knowledge we have lost through sin. Hence, our names are mere distinguishing signs. No longer do we see the real meaning or essence of things. We may see the difference between one creature and another, because we observe some external attributes of the creature; and this difference we denote in the different names we give to the things that are perceived. Rut names among us are no longer the expression of the essence or real meaning of a creature. In Scripture, however, the original meaning of a name is often preserved, particularly in those instances in which God Himself appoints the name of a person or object. This is evident from names such as Melchizedec, of whom we read in : “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation king of righteousness, and after that also king of Salem, which is king of peace.” This is evident too from the change of Abram into Abraham, that is, father of many; and of Joshua into Jehoshua. Jacob, heel holder, is changed to Israel, a name which is interpreted in Scripture as follows: “For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Hosea is instructed by the Lord to call the three children which Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, bare unto him: Jezreel, Loruhamah, and Loammi, respectively. The first of these names expresses that presently the Lord will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. . The second, Loruhamah, signifies that God will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel, but will utterly take them away. . And the third, Loammi, signifies that Israel will no longer be the people of God and that God will not be their God anymore. From all these passages, and many more, it is evident that the name in Scripture has a profound significance. It is not a mere mark of differentiation, but denotes the being or nature of anything.
And this is especially true of the name of God. God’s name is God Himself. It is the revelation of His being. It is Jehovah Himself as He reveals Himself to us, is known unto us, and is near us. God is God. He is the infinite and eternal one, who is invisible. But He made Himself a name. He revealed Himself, and by this name He Himself came down to us, is known by us, is near us, and surrounds us on all sides. This name of the Lord is in all the works of His hands; as the Psalmist sings: “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” . For all creation is his handiwork. Brute creation, sun and moon and stars, mountains and valleys, oceans and seas, streams and lakes, forests and fields, as well as the living creature, man and beast, are called forth by His Word. And they are, as it were, so many letters spelling the name of the most high. And not only did He call them into being, but He is in them and upholds them by His almighty and omnipresent power. He sustains and governs them all in their existence and operation. It is He that causes the sun to rise every morning and to set every evening; that causes the clouds to gather and the rain to fall on the thirsty land; He makes the seed to sprout in the earth, and prepares food for man and beast; and He governs the life of man and beast, of individuals and nations; and He directs the whole creation to the end which He determined from before the foundation of the world, the glory of his everlasting kingdom. Hence, in all that occurs in creation and in the history of the world, we may see the name of the Lord, the revelation of the living God, Who is always near, so that the psalmist may sing: “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.” .
And thus it is throughout Scripture. The name is God. It is His revelation to us. To love the name of the Lord is to love Him, : “And the sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, everyone that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant.” To cause His people to forget the name of the Lord is the same as to forget Him, . To call upon the name of the Lord is to call upon Him, as He has revealed Himself to His people, , “O give thanks unto the Lord; and call upon his name; make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.” Very often that name of God is identified with God Himself, : “If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord thy God.” That name of God is said to be near, . It is holy, . It is great, . The name of the Lord is a strong tower, unto which the righteous runneth and is safe, . And the name of the God of Jacob defends those that trust in Him, . It is in the name of the Triune God that we are baptized, . All these, and many other passages of Holy Writ plainly reveal that the name of God is God Himself, as He has revealed to His people.
But there is more.
Scripture not only speaks in general about the name of the Lord, but also gives us names of God that correspond to what we call proper, or personal, names,—names by which we may speak about Him and address Him, and through which He enters into personal contact and fellowship with us. These names of God, such as Jehovah, Lord (Adonai), Almighty (El Shaddai), most high (Eljon), God, Father, indeed also express who and what God is, because they all denote one or more of His glorious virtues. But they are nevertheless names by which we may refer to Him, speak about Him, and address Him in prayer and adoration. These names of God, you understand, are not of our own invention, but they are given us by revelation. They are a gift of God to His people. And how marvelously gracious an act of condescending love and friendship on the part of God it is, that He who is infinitely glorious, and who only knows His own name, was pleased to reveal Himself to us in such names as we can understand and use to speak of Him and to Him. How unfathomable is the covenant mercy of our God, revealed in this, that He, who is the Holy one of Israel, introduced Himself to us by name,—to us, who are not only creatures of the dust, but also sinners, unworthy, and incapable of using the name of God aright. You will understand that this covenant act of boundless grace is possible only because it pleased God to reveal Himself to us in a name in and through which He made it possible for sinners such as we to approach Him, to enter into His sanctuary, and to address Him as our God. That name is the name Jesus. That name means Jehovah salvation. In that name He makes Himself known to us, and enters into personal fellowship with us, as the God of grace and mercy, Who blotted out all our sins and forgives all our iniquities, Who clothes us with an everlasting righteousness and makes us worthy to dwell in His tabernacle, Who delivers us from sin and death, and makes us heirs of eternal life and glory.
That name of God, and all that is connected with that name, is holy, even as God is holy. For even as God is the Incomparable One, that cannot be compared with any creature, so the name of God is not common, but is absolutely unique. It stands alone. It is infinitely exalted above all other names. And this also means that the holy name of God stands antithetically opposed to all that is of sin and darkness in this world.
When, therefore, standing on Mount Zion, in the New Jerusalem, as the redeemed and sanctified people of God, we hear the name of Jehovah our God, a holy fear and reverence fills our hearts and minds. It is in that name that He has covenant fellowship with us. It is in the name of Jehovah salvation, revealed unto us in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, that we approach Him, enter into His sanctuary, pour out our hearts before Him in prayer and supplication, praise and adore Him, trust in Him, seek our refuge in Him, and hope for His salvation. Whatever other names of God we may use, we can take them upon our lips only in and because of His revelation in Jesus Christ our Lord. And it is also in that name Jesus that we hear the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
Chapter 3: With Fear and Reverence
The Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 36 teaches us that the third commandment implies, negatively, that we refrain from cursing, from perjury, and from rash swearing, and also that we do not become partakers of these sins by connivance or silence when we know that others violate this third commandment; and positively, that we use the holy name of God with fear and reverence, so that He may be rightly confessed and worshipped by us, and glorified in all our words and works. Moreover, it teaches us that there is no sin more provoking to God than the profaning of His holy name, and that therefore God has commanded that this sin be punished with death.
In the narrowest and most direct sense of the word, therefore, this commandment has reference to the use of God’s holy name in vain by cursing. An illustration of this we have in , ff.: “And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp; And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan). And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be showed them. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.”
From these verses it is evident that the name Jehovah is the name of God par excellence. Twice in these verses we read in the original “the name.” In verse 11 we read that the son of the Israelitish woman blasphemed “the name”, and cursed. And again, in verse 16, in the last part of that verse, we read that he that blasphemeth “the name” shall be put to death. Our version has correctly inserted the words “of the Lord”, that is, of Jehovah, because it is evident that the reference in the entire passage is to that name. It is emphatically by that name that God revealed Himself to Israel through Moses when He was about to deliver them from Egypt, the house of bondage. Thus we read in : “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” In we read that to the fathers God had revealed Himself under the name of El Shaddai, or God Almighty: “And God spake unto Moses and said unto him, I am the Lord: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.” It is evident from the book of Genesis that this cannot mean that the name Jehovah as such was not known to the patriarchs. For not only do we read repeatedly of that name in the first book of Scripture, but the patriarchs even addressed God as Jehovah. The meaning must therefore be that while God revealed Himself emphatically to the patriarchs as God Almighty, so that before their consciousness He stood out as the omnipotent God, to the children of Israel in bondage He became especially known as the covenant Jehovah, who is faithful and true, the unchangeable God, who never forsakes His people or breaks His covenant with them. Such indeed is the meaning of the name Jehovah. It reveals God as the I AM THAT I AM, or the I WILL BE AS I WILL BE. He is the eternal God, who loves His people from everlasting, and who keeps covenant and truth with them forever. He is the absolutely independent one, who has the ground of His being in Himself, and who is not dependent for His existence on any being outside of Himself. He is, therefore, the immutable one, with whom there is no change or shadow of turning. In fact, virtually all the divine attributes are implied in and may be deduced from the name Jehovah. And in the narrowest sense of the word it is directly to this name that the third commandment has reference when it prohibits to use the name of God in vain. It is that name that was especially considered to be the holy name of God among Israel. In fact, it was considered too holy to be pronounced by them; and therefore, instead of pronouncing the name, which originally was most probably pronounced as Yahweh, they inserted the vowels of the name Adonai into the name, and so pronounced it Jehovah.
Now what does it mean to use the name of God in vain, or, as we read in the original, to raise, or lift up, that name into vanity? It is any rash or profane use of the holy name of God. The sinner, the natural man, is by nature profane. And therefore, profanity is a very general thing in the world. Profanity is to make common that which is uncommon. It is the act of obliterating the distinction, all and any distinction, between that which is holy and that which is common; in fact, between that which is pure and that which is impure. Profanity, with a view to the name of God, therefore, is all such use of God’s name, and all such attitudes which we assume over against the name of God, that tend to obliterate all distinction between His name and other names, between the name of Jehovah and the name of the creature. Moreover, profanity is the act whereby we use the name of God in the service of sin and corruption. The sinner not only drags the name of God down to the common level of the creature, but he also drags it into the mud of the defilement of sin.