"Hallowed be Thy Name" (Part 1 of 4)
Author: Dwight A. Pryor (of blessed memory)
- from the third lecture in the audio seminar Praying Biblically
In the last session we studied the opening phrase of praise in the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Our Father (avinu) in heaven (shabbat shamayim)’ – the Father who is not just an earthly father, but a supernatural father. By his grace—when we were not even a people, without God and separated from covenants and promises—we have been joined to his family through his Son Jesus, so that now we too can say: ‘our Father.’ He is not just the God of Israel, he is also our Father and our King. More than that, the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us, actually impels us to proclaim ‘Abba’ – we are in such intimacy with God, the Holy One of Israel. Then Jesus says, the very next declaration out of your lips should be, ‘hallowed be Thy name.’ What does this mean, what did it mean to Jesus, what did it mean to his disciples? How do we hallow God’s name? What should be this first order of concern to us so that immediately after praising God, after declaring who he is, we give substance to what is most important to us – our responsibility. What does it mean to say, ‘Father, may your name be hallowed.’
The three great themes of Jewish prayer, from the time of Jesus and even to this day, are the fatherhood of God, the sanctifying of God’s name, and God’s kingship/kingdom. Right now we are going to take up the 2nd of those themes – to sanctify (or to hallow, to make holy) God’s name. Last time we read the first two benedictions from the Amidah (the 18 benedictions of the standing prayer). It was composed at least 4 centuries before Jesus. Now I want to read the 3rd benediction:
“We will sanctify Thy name in the world even as they sanctify it in the highest heavens. As it is written by the hand of your prophet, the seraphim called unto one another and they said: kadosh, kadosh, kadosh Adonai tzeva’ot - holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory. And those over against them, they blessed you this way by saying: ‘blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place.’ And in Thy holy words it is written, ‘the Lord shall reign forever - thy God, O Zion unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord.’ So unto all generations we will declare Thy greatness, and to all eternity we will proclaim Thy holiness, and Thy praise O our God shall not depart from our mouth forever, for Thou art a great and holy God and king. Blessed art Thou O Lord, the holy God. Baruch atah Adonai, ha’el hakadosh. Thou art holy and Thy name is holy, and the holy–the saints–praise Thee daily. Blessed art thou O Lord, the holy God.”
It is not coincidence, therefore that in Jesus’ sequence of prayer he begins with praise (just as in the Amidah), and the very next statement has to do with the holiness of God, and with us sanctifying his holy name. To sanctify or to hallow the name of God involves essentially two things.
1. It involves the confession, the declaration, of God’s holiness – to confess, to declare, to praise God for his holiness. The God of Israel who revealed himself to Moses by the sacred name Yahweh, is the one who says: ‘I was what I was, I am what I am, and I shall be what I shall be.’ He is holy – meaning that his very essence speaks of his existence as radically other than anything else in the world. He is over, above, beyond, transcendent, distinct from, unique from—he is in every respect uncommon. He is radically, totally other than anything in existence, because he is the source of all that exists and the cause of all that exist. And in his radical, transcendent otherness he is morally pure, removed from any blemish – he is holy, holy, holy. This tri-fold repetition is to emphasize the superlative state of his holiness. ‘There is none like unto Thee O Lord among the gods’ – there is none like unto God, he alone is holy.
So to hallow his name, is to revere him, to fear him, to stand in awe of him as holy. To confess it with your lips – to praise him. The word praise comes from the word that means to declare a truth about God - to confess it, to proclaim it. So the first way we hallow God’s name is by confessing, declaring, stating the great truth that the God of Israel is holy, holy, holy—there is no other God. So when we say the Sh’ma, we affirm that God is utterly unique and utterly indivisible; he is a unity, he is one, and he is holy. This was the vision that Isaiah had in chapter 6 in which he heard these angelic beings proclaiming this in the heavenly courts – ‘our Father in heaven, the angels are declaring that you are holy, holy, holy. And Jesus says that in our prayer we should declare that you are holy, holy, holy, here on earth.’
2. The way we hallow God’s name is not only by our declaration and our confession, but we hallow God’s name by our demonstration and our conduct. Not just declaration, but more importantly our demonstration; not just confession but even more importantly our conduct. God is holy, independently of anyone or anything—whether we declare him to be or not, he is holy. But what he wants of his people (uniquely set apart unto him) is to declare and to demonstrate his holiness in heaven, on earth below. And so when we pray ‘hallowed be Thy name,’ what we are praying is, ‘Father may your name (may you, in other words) be shown to be holy in this world by the way we, your people, conduct ourselves.’ Lev. 19:2 – ‘say to the congregation of Israel, be ye holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’ The essence of what it means to pray ‘hallowed be Thy name,’ is simply to pray ‘Father in every way may I imitate you.’ To sanctify God’s name is to imitate God. He is holy, he has taken unto himself a people (a peculiar, chosen people), and he wants them to reflect his character. ‘Because I am holy I want you, the ones I have chosen to be my witnesses, to be holy; and so say to the congregation of Israel: be holy, because I am holy.’