Hallowing God’s Name
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 101)
by Bob Burridge ©2012
The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) asks for our Heavenly Father’s name to be hallowed. “Hallowed” is one of those words few of you use much in general conversations unless you’re talking about the Lord’s Prayer. Although it’s an archaic word in English that only shows up now and then in some old writings, we need to know what it means because here it is in the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
When you hallow something, you mark it out as special in a good and honorable way. In this case, Jesus tells us that when you pray you should ask that God’s name be hallowed.
The Greek word in the original text of Matthew is hagiasthaeto (ἁγιασθητω). It’s based upon the word hagios (ἁγιος), usually translated by the word “holy”. When something is holy it is set aside or marked out as special in a good way. We hallow it.
God is holy. He is more unique and special than all else that exist. He is the most unique of all unique things. 1 Samuel 2:2, “No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.”
We can translate this part of the Lord’s Prayer, “… let your name be specially honored.”
It’s neither telling us to pray that his name should become holy, as if it wasn’t already, nor that we want him to become more holy. His uniqueness is already perfect in every good way. It means that we want his name be recognized for what it is. Our desire is that it would be treated in a most holy way as a testimony to our respect for the one who bears that name.
We should not come to God with casual familiarity. We should come solemnly to this absolutely glorious God, the one who made all things, sustains all things, and who redeemed the lost in gracious love.
The thing that we hallow in prayer
is the Name of God, our Father in heaven.
But what’s in a name? Isn’t is just a word? Shakespeare put it this way in the well known words of Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”
She meant that her family name and Romeo’s were not going to define them. Though the Montagues and Capulets were violent enemies, they were not going to let mere words or labels stand in the way of their love.
But they were more than just words. The names represent realities and histories. Romeo and Juliet suffered and tragically died because of what those names represented.
God’s name is more than a word. It represents what he is and what he tells us about himself. We need to know what we mean when we make reference to God.
The Bible uses many different words to refer to God. The Old Testament uses the Hebrew words for God: אל (el) or אלוהים (elohim). The New Testament uses the Greek word θεος (theos). That’s where we get the word “Theology” the Study of God. Both Testaments sometimes call him Lord, King, Father, Savior, Judge, Creator, Sustainer and many other titles.
God revealed his covenant name to Moses. It’s often translated as Jehovah. It’s the Hebrew “tetragrammaton” (four letters) יהוה corresponds with Y-H-V-H . The original vowels weren’t written in Ancient Hebrew, just the 4 consonants. The German Scholars used different consonant letters because their Alphabet is different. The “Y” and “V” sounds was represented by the German letter like our “J” and “W”. This produced an academic pronunciation of the name which differs from scholar to scholar. They range from “Jehovah” to “Yahweh” and some other academic variations.
Most accurately, research shows that the ancient Hebrew pronunciation would have been “Yah-VEH”. A lot of research went into restoring Hebrew pronunciation when Israel was set up as a modern nation after World War 2. A good analysis of how that pronunciation was restored is at the “Hebrew4Christians” website.
Out of respect, God’s people in the Old and New Testaments generally didn’t pronounced this special name. It was read as “Lord” (Hebrew אדני [adonai], and in the New Testament, the Greek κύριος [kurios]). For example: Jesus in Matthew3:3 said “Lord” when quoting Isaiah 40:3. The same with Paul in Romans 9:29 when quoting Isaiah 1:9. So even the Holy Spirit led the New Testament writers to use the word for Lord when quoting the Old Testament.
It’s not the words themselves that are important, or that need to be hallowed. It is what these names represent. In Exodus 34:6-7 God explains his own name, YHVH which is translated there as Lord, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’ then in verse 8 it says, ‘So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.’ ”
Moses was humbled and moved to worship when he was reminded of all that God is. We reverence the words because of what they mean. God’s name is to be hallowed because he is uniquely unique above all else that is.
The negative side was given in the Third Commandment.
Exodus 20:7,”You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
When God’s name is used, or any of the words that describe his perfections and divine work, there should be a solemn awareness of what it means. To use his name in vain means to use it casually without really meaning what we say.
Most obviously we offend God when his name is used as an expletive to express emotions. People use his names to show frustration, surprise, or anger. They use the words “God,” “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” or even “Jehovah” as vain expressions. When people throw words like “Oh God,” or “Good Lord” into conversations they are quick to point out that they don’t really mean anything by it. That’s exactly what the word “vain” means.
The names of God identify him with all his unique divine attributes. He is the one who is Just, Holy, Gracious, and Merciful. When we use words like those in a vain or in a profane way, we violate this commandment. These words are used at times as names of God in Scripture.
One of the names used for God in the Bible is “Holy.” He is the perfection of holiness. All other holiness must come from him. To speak of holy cows and such things trivializes this characteristic of God.
Only God can condemn someone to eternal punishment. To use words like “hell” and “damn” in a profane way is to trivialize the very serious acts of God’s judgment. Sin and it’s eternal penalty are not trivial. They are a tragic reality. The application of them must always be God’s own prerogative.
To use words about what God is and does, but without really meaning what they stand for, is to vainly take up these words. The enemy of our soul is quick to get us to use high and holy words in ways that corrupt them and numb us to their meaning. One of the greatest joys to Satan and evil is to get God’s people to take God lightly, to make him an object of our humor and careless expressions, to diminish his holiness and trivialize his glory.
All this may seem innocent, unimportant, and trivial, but God made the honoring of his name the Third Commandment.
Some even violate the Third Commandment during worship. They let their minds wander off to other things while they sing his name, repeat creeds, hear scripture read and expounded, and when they pray. If while doing these good things your minds are not thinking of God when you say his name, you take it up without meaning and use it in vain.
In the Lord’s Prayer we have the
positive side of this moral principle.
The Third Commandment tells us how not to treat God’s name. Here Jesus tells us how his name ought be treated.
One of the first goals of our prayers is to ask that God’s name should be hallowed. It should be used with special awareness of all that God is. Pray that you will hallow the names of God. You might avoid the vain use of his name by just not mentioning him much, but the duty you have is to glorify him and to promote that glory.
Talk about him and his truths in a natural and respectful way. Don’t let people assume that God has become unimportant in this world. You can change that perception by speaking naturally about him in your daily conversations, by hallowing his name. Don’t be satisfied with the general words about God which are so confused and watered down today. Clarify why God is so important to you. Honor the name of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, as Shepherd and Comforter. Avoid trivial expressions about him, but do not keep silent.
Psalm 96:2-3 tells us, “Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.”
Pray that God will make you grow to more appreciate his absolute uniqueness over all that is. When you see his glory you will not have to work hard to let it show to others. Ask God to teach you about his own special nature. Study his word to learn more about him. Ask him to give you the humility to know how far short you fall of his perfections.
Let the names of God remind you that you owe him for all your skills, ideas, and abilities. Thank him for the faith he put in your heart, for the spiritual strength you draw from him, and for the grace that richly blesses you because of his perfect and undeserved love. Learn to rest in his perfect sufficiency and promises.
Pray that God would stir you to conform your whole life, all your thoughts, words and deeds, to that perfect moral standard, the unique holiness of God.
Pray that others will hallow the names of God too. Do all you can to help them come to understand God’s absolute uniqueness and perfection.
For the lost to become able to hallow God’s name, they need to become believers. Not just accepting some list of facts, or theological ideas. Not just making a personal decision, or reaching some emotional conviction. They need to rest in Christ alone for all that he is and has done. Only by his work on the Cross can anyone understand the real holiness of God and hallow his name. Tell them about the wonderful gospel that can really change their lives. Help them join with God’s people for worship, instruction, and encouragement.
This is how we hallow his name. It is what we expect our prayer to accomplish.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)