Hallowed be Thy Name
Prior to getting married, my wife and I did as many couples do: we created a “wedding registry.” That’s a fancy term for going around the shops to create a sort of wish list from which wedding guests can (hopefully) choose things you’re certain to appreciate. It was a blast! Beyond the fun of dreaming about our future together, I got to carry around a laser gun and zap the UPC of each item we liked!
Since paper plates are not a long-term investment, the wedding registry often suggests a particular manufacturer and style of every-day table wear that appeals to the couple. In addition, it has long been tradition for couples to also select a make of fine quality china to spruce up the table on holidays and special occasions. We followed suit, and have one dinner plate, two saucers and a couple of pieces of silverware to prove it! You probably have some memory that revolves around a meal shared using “the fine china.” After the meal was finished, those dishes were probably carefully hand-washed, individually dried and stored separate from all the rest in a special location such as a china cabinet where they could be kept safe and add decorative value to the dining room. If so, then you have at least some idea of what the word “hallowed” means.
Outside of the Lord’s prayer, it’s unlikely that you’ve ever used the word in conversation. “Hallowed” is an old Anglo-Saxon word that has long passed out of use. Ironically, it appears in nearly every modern English translation of the Bible in Matthew 6:9 due undeniably to familiarity with the wording of the Lord’s prayer as conveyed by the King James translators. And yet, familiarity is not the same as understanding! Hallowed refers to something that is holy or set aside for a unique purpose. A university with a longstanding tradition of academic excellence might speak of its original classroom building in terms of “these hallowed halls….” because they were set aside for the purpose of learning. In the case of the Lord’s prayer, it is God’s name that is set apart for unparalleled honor.
God’s name is more than a mere label, it is the representation of all that He is. To pray that God’s name will be sanctified (another synonym meaning “set apart for holiness”) is to pray that God will be made known for who he truly is in all his glory, both in our lives and in the lives of others. This is illustrated for us in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 36:22-38.
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.... 38 Then they will know that I am the LORD.”
In this passage, Israel is rebuked for allowing God’s name to be profaned or thought little of. It started with their choice to ignore God and live for themselves. The consequence of their sin was observed throughout the nations of the Middle East because they were publicly and shamefully dispersed among them (v.23). It’s as if Israel had shouted, through her disobedience, that God was not worth serving. Not merely his name, but his entire reputation was diminished!
We too may be guilty of tarnishing the Lord’s good name by actions that do not flatter our profession of faith (Romans 2:24), by not treating others with the same grace and love with which we ourselves have been treated (James 2:3-7), or by wilting under pressure and failing to stand firm in the face of social pressure or persecution (1 Peter 3:15).
Fortunately, God is not like inanimate dishes that serve our purposes and then sit on the shelf waiting for the next use. Ezekiel explains that he is not only beautiful but is active. The only God who exists should not and can not allow such falsehood to propagate unconfronted. He promises, in verse 23 to vindicate his name. Here’s how he’ll do it:
He’ll show his power by gathering his people again and returning them to the land (v.24)
He’ll forgive and cleanse them (v.25)
He’ll transform their hearts (v.26) and give them a will to obey
He’ll fill them with the Holy Spirit who will empower them to obey (v.27)
He’ll permanently bless their land because now they’ll be holy and sinless and the world will see that only the power of a unique and awesome God unlike any they have known could have done such a work (v.28-38, esp. v.38)!
This plan to receive ultimately glory is something we too can be confident in because the first four out of these five points has not only happened in Christ but has been offered to you and I as well so that we might be grafted into that original tree and receive all the blessings promised to her.
In summary, God himself is the one who really ensures that his name is made holy! We simply participate when we approach him through Christ, are transformed by him, and love him faithfully while we wait for his kingdom promises to be fulfilled.
That’s why I think Isaiah puts it best when He writes of that same restoration in 29:23 They will sanctify my name… and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.”
Setting apart God as holy is more than just setting him aside for special occasions, getting dressed up for major religious holidays, or avoiding the use of his name as a curse word, it’s an all-encompassing commitment to the Lordship of Christ.