Vanity of Vanities
Learning to Honor the Name of God
Vanity is a word that we usually associate with King Solomon and his book called Ecclesiastes. The opening verse of that portion of Holy Scripture says, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. ‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ What he means by that is his going after the sensual things, heeding the counsel of his pagan wives (Neh.8:26), all had brought him to the point that he realizing how much of the blessing of God he had wasted in this present evil world. What had been the point of all that frivolity but to bring the very son of David to his knees in a quiet and fleeting desperation? If you go on and read the rest of Solomon’s testimony to how he had spent his life he ends with a pretty straightforward word of confession:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” — (Eccl. 12:13-14)
There we see in stark detail that every man and woman in their day has a simple choice to make: will we heed the words of a godly father to his son as we read in Proverbs or will they go after the vanity, the worthless idols which cannot do what they promise? In some ways the parable of the prodigal son is a condensing of the life of Solomon. He went from the highs of praising the name of God as the source of all truth and wisdom to the broken man who gave the lamentation of Ecclesiastes to posterity.
In today’s catechism lesson we are going to look at the 3rd Commandment which, as we will see, has a lot more to tell us than just what words we are allowed to say.
Let’s get to this week’s questions:
Q. 53. Which is the third commandment?
A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requires the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.
Having heard statutes against having any other gods before the one true and living god and an admonition against forming any image of God, either in the mind or in physical form, we come now to a warning to all men to consider what the very name of Jehovah means. We know that in the Old Testament (and in even in some cases, see Peter, in the New) that the appellations given to men and women mean something. Consider for a moment a couple of the children of Hosea. First you have a daughter who is given the name, Lo-ruhamah, which translated means “No Mercy”. She was the Cobra Kai of the 8th Century B.C. Then we hear of a Lo-ammi, the so-called “Not My People”. What this little exercise reminds us of is that if the names of the creatures matters than how much more so does the way in which God reveals Himself to man matter?
The revelation of His title is granted to us in Exodus 3: 13-14 when we read:
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
We learn so much about who God is from that passage. We get the idea that He is constant. The same yesterday, today, and forever. We are reminded, as Jesus helps us to recall, that He is the God of the living, and not the dead. But it is not just the given name that the catechism has in mind that we should honor. This also includes all the “…titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.” For instance when we read in Isaiah 9:6 the list of titles that the Messiah shall have we are granted peace in Christ because all of these apply not only to Him, but for our benefit in Him: “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
All that is contained therein is under the purview of what Moses gained on Sinai.
The question then becomes how to keep and/or break this commandment?
Let’s go back to the whole idea of vanity. If Solomon uses that term to describe his wasting the gifts that the Lord had provided him, then when we think about using the name of God in vain what we are called to do is to see and take the blessings which we receive and use them for the purposes in which Jehovah gave them. Having done this then we are moved to return thanks unto Him for that gift. We break the command when we do the opposite. Israel violated this commandment when it turned to Egypt for help in their day of trouble. Rather than resting in the Mighty God, they turned to the god that the Lord had redeemed them from. When Ananias and Saphira got fried in Acts 5 their judgment came from not just the gross violation of the 9th command, but their taking the good gift the Lord had provided and using it for their own means.
In closing, let’s bring it back forward to today. A concrete example of how we can break the 3rd Commandment is by neglecting the baptism by which we were baptized. Our having water and hands laid upon us along with the Ministerial benediction of God’s promise means that when we turn away from the LORD what we are doing is taking His vow, which He has made in His ordinances, and treating it like a common thing. In light of what God has revealed to us in the 3rd Commandment we are to be sure to rest and trust in the beauty of His ways, for what one of us wants to end life broken, defeated, and under the weight of their transgressions like Solomon? Finishing well means obeying this portion of God’s law, with joy, thanksgiving, and humility.
Here is a little bit more for this week:
In the Hope of Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church