We’re beginning today to look at the first section of requests found in the Lord’s prayer, and we start with the first one – “hallowed be your name.” This is probably the least understood request of the whole prayer, so I want us to spend some time looking at what it means.
The meaning of the request
1. First of all, this is not an offering of praise to God. We’re not saying, ‘Father, we hallow your name,’ so that we begin our prayer with praise. Now this is a good thing to do as Psalm 100:4 tells us, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” But that’s not what we’re doing here.
Rather this is a petition to God. This is clear in the grammar that’s used in both Matthew and Luke. (It’s an aorist imperative – an imperative of entreaty; a request.) We’re asking God to do something.
2. The phrase “hallowed be your name”– notice the passive voice here – is what’s called a divine passive. This is a deferential, respectful way of speaking of God that uses a passive grammatical construction, but has an active meaning. It means, “God, hallow your name.” This is kind of odd to us, but was fairly common in Judaism at this time.
But, what does it mean to ask God to hallow his name?
3. A person’s name stands for the person, their character and identity. It has to do with their reputation or renown; who they are and how they’re seen by others. So we’re asking God to act. Show who you are, so that people will know who you are. Make yourself known.
4. The word “hallow” means to regard as sacred or holy. We don’t use this word anymore, except in the word Halloween (all hallows or saints eve) which isn’t much help here. Sometimes it’s translated “sanctify” as in, “your name be sanctified.” But I don’t think this get us much further in terms of understanding the meaning.
“Hallow” is from the word “holy” which means ‘set apart or different’ with the idea of ‘better or special’ connected to it. So we’re praying that people will see that God is different and better than all else – whether people or any other so-called gods. God’s in a class all God’s own in terms of power and character.
5. When people see who God is they will hallow God and God’s name. To truly know who God is leads us to be in awe of God and to glorify God. In Isaiah 29:23 we see that to “hallow” or “sanctify” God’s name is the same as to “stand in awe” of God (synonymous parallelism).
Putting all this together so far, we can say that this is:
- a request
- for God to act (divine passive)
- to reveal who he is (his name)
- so that people will see God’s unique greatness (hallow)
- and will respond with awe and praise (hallow)
Next we look at a bit more at –
How God hallows his name
There’s a process involved. 1. God acts. This is what we’re asking God to do when we pray “hallowed be your name.” The hallowing process begins with God acting to do great things that show who he is.
2. God displays his glory through his people, by acting for them. Since we bear God’s name as his people, we’re connected to God. So when God acts for us to bless and help, or uses us as his instruments to accomplish his will, or we faithfully live out God’s wisdom in this world – this reflects back on God as others see this. This is how God makes his name or identity known to others.
- Leviticus 10:3 says, “Through those who are near me I will show myself holy and before all the people I will be glorified.”
- In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that the world may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We are God’s instruments. And it is through us that God makes himself known to the world.
3. Those who see this come to know and acknowledge God’s greatness. They hallow his name.
The background to this petition is that the world doesn’t know God or it has distorted ideas about God. In the context of idolatry the question is, “Who is the true God among the various gods?” Today we ask, “Is there really a God? Is God alive? Does God care?”
So this request is missional – we’re praying that people who don’t know God will have their eyes opened to who God is, so that they will know and glorify God. And sometimes this is a request for God’s people, who should know God, but easily forget how great and awesome God is, and need to be reminded.
An example of the hallowing process: Ezekiel 36
The context here is that Israel has been judged by God for their unfaithfulness. They have gone into exile among the nations; into Babylon. But this has profaned God’s name, which is the opposite of hallowing God’s name, for the nations say, “Yahweh must be weak, for his people, have been defeated!” (Ezekiel 36:20-21)
What does God do to hallow his name? 1. God acts. v. 22 – “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act . . .” (NRSV) God is going to do a great thing. In this case God will act to bring them back from exile (v. 24).
2. God displays his glory through his people, by acting for them. v. 23 – “I will hallow my great name . . . when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” (NRSV with “hallow” for “sanctify.”) God’s greatness will be seen in that he can bring his people back from exile and re-establish them in the promised land.
The result is that 3. Those who see will come to know and acknowledge God’s greatness. v. 23 – “the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.”
Notice again the missional part of this request – those who currently don’t know God, will know that Yahweh is God.
Now in this example God’s people are unfaithful and he acts despite them, for his name’s sake. But what God wants is to act through our faithfulness to bring glory to his name.
Finally, let’s look at some –
Different ways of praying this request
We can pray it in different time frames. God’s kingdom has begun, but will only be completely here on the final day. So God hallows his name now by working in the world, and will also more fully hallow his name on the final day.
In the future tense we pray that God will bring about the end when every knee will bow before Jesus and glorify the Father, as Paul says in Philippians 2:9-11. This is when God will fully reveal who he is and even those who have spurned God will have to acknowledge how great and good God is. They will hallow his name.
In the present tense we pray that God will act day by day to do great things in the world so that people will come to know and honor him.
Also, in the present tense, we can pray it on two levels, individually or corporately.
As it’s written it’s both at the same time, as we saw, but we can focus on one or the other.
Pray that God will bring glory to his name through your own life
Pray that God will bring glory to his name through our local church, as well as the church world-wide.
Finally, we can also use different words. This request actually shows up lots of times in Scripture, said a little differently, and we can use these to pray this request. Here are a few examples:
- Psalm 57:5 – “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth.” Let everyone see who you are and glorify you.
- Psalm 67:2-3 – “May . . . your way be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God!” This has to do with the nations seeing how God provides for and blesses his people.
- John 12:28 – “Father glorify your name.” Jesus prays this as he begins to face the cross.
These are some of the ways that I pray this request that try to capture some of the nuances we’ve talked about:
- Do great things in the world so that everyone will know who you are and honor you.
- Cause all people to know that you are God through your mighty acts which display your character.
- Glorify your name through your people. May others come to know you through our witness.
- Act in the world, O Lord; show everyone that you are alive. Make known your power and your character. May we all come to honor and glorify you.
- Bring forth the final day when every knee will bow and rightfully glorify your name.