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Hollowed be Thy Name

Series: Lord's Prayer

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Apr 9, 2000

Matthew 6:9

The Lord's Prayer - 5

Hallowed be Thy name…

Even a cursory reading of the Bible will reveal that names are important to the biblical writers. Some will recall recent expositions of Genesis where the text was a list of names! Some of you are intensely interested in your family names, proudly declaring Scottish or Irish or, as in one case, a Welsh ancestry. I vividly recall having fun with a children’s talk using the name of one of Isaiah’s sons: Maher-shallal-hash-baz. Names are important; and no more so, than in the name of God.

names of god
Doesn’t God have several names in the Bible? Yes, He does, but two stand out among the rest. The first and most basic is the name El, or Eloah, or Elohim. All of these are usually translated as "God" in our English Bibles. There are also some well known compound forms, including El Shaddai, as well as names of individuals in which the root ‘el’ can be seen, as in Elijah, Elisha, and Ishmael.

The meaning of words can sometimes be ascertained by looking at the roots of words and seeing how they developed. Surprisingly, there isn’t much agreement amongst scholars as the root of these words, but most seem to think that the most basic form is Eloah, partly because its most frequent occurrence is in those passages which are amongst the oldest in Scripture (it occurs over forty times in Job for example). In Deuteronomy 32, the Song of Moses celebrating their deliverance from Egypt and anticipation of Canaan, the word occurs in parallel to "Rock" (Deut 32:15). That gives the clue that the meaning of Eloah has to do with strength and power. God is a great power. That would explain why it is this group of words, specifically Elohim, that is used in the opening sentences of the Bible about how God created the heavens and the earth.

Some, though not all (Calvin wasn’t one of them, for example) have suggested that since Elohim is in the plural, it is an early signification of the Trinity. Others have suggested that what is in view is the plural of majesty. The use of "us" and "our" in the creation account does appear to allude to something which only later in the Bible becomes clear: that God is one and God is more than one. Even in the very first chapter, the Hebrew (and not other Semitic language does this) introduces us to God as though it were saying, "There is more to him than you imagine."

God has another specific designation, one which he gave to the church and by which he demands to be called. It is the name Jehovah, or as it is now increasingly vocalized, Yahweh. In our English Bibles it is usually capitalized as ‘LORD.’ The name is first given in Exodus 3, where Moses is being commissioned to return to Egypt as God’s emissary in the deliverance of Israel from slavery. Moses expresses his reluctance, suggesting that he would need to know what name he should use to describe the God who is to deliver them. In response, God tells him that is name is "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod 3:14). In the very next verse, God goes on to say to Moses: "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers— the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob— has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation" (Exod 3:15). The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14. God is the LORD, the I AM. It is also possible that the tense should be future rather than the present, and in which case, Moses is being told that God’s name, LORD, is "I WILL BE."

Where did Jehovah come from? The Jews thought the name LORD (Yahweh) was so holy that they refused to vocalize and substituted the vowels for another name of God Adonai (which is often translated ‘Lord’ in lower case) with the consonants of Yahweh. Hebrew was written in earlier times without vowels, and this made the substitution all the more easy to perform. It is not at all certain that we have the correct pronunciation of Yahweh, and this has led some to be cautious in its use.

But where has all this brought us? The LORD is the "I AM," signifying His eternal existence. Theologians have talked about the asceity of God, by which they have meant God’s eternal, or independent existence. He owes His existence to no one. He is the uncreated being. Everyone, everything else, has an origin, but God is absolutely independent. The bush that was on fire and was representative of God "did not burn up" (Exod 3:2).

But, the words, "I AM THAT I AM," (or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE) is more significant than simply a statement of God’s eternal and independent existence. As Exodus 3:15 relates all too clearly, the name LORD is closely associated with the relationship God had with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is his covenant name. It is the name in which He bonds with His people. It is interesting that in verse 12, God says to Moses "I will be with you." The One who signifies that he is the "I AM," or "I WILL BE," seems to be saying that he is the One who "WILL BE WITH US." That would make sense: the God who is transcendent is also immanent. He is "high and exalted" and yet He is in the midst of his people (cf. Isa 6:1)

It is deeply interesting that the New Testament pours into this name an even deeper significance. John, for example, in the last book of the Bible, speaks of Christ using a formula derived from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures of Exodus 3:14, referring to Him as "Him who is, and who was, and who is to come… the Alpha and the Omega…who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev 1:4, 8). John is saying with audacious clarity: Jesus is Yahweh! The God of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ.

What has all this to do with the Lord’s Prayer? Quite simply, that the first petition calls for us to think about God, and in particular His Name. Our prayers are to be suffused with large thoughts about God. We are to take the attributes of God which are suggested by His various names. If our prayers are not consumed by God we are guilty of idolatry; we are putting someone (or something) else in God’s place.

Nor are we to think of God in any other way but that way in which he has revealed himself. Calvin, citing Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315 –365) in his work On the Trinity, wrote: "God alone is a fit witness of Himself in His Word." We are take everything God has disclosed about Himself in the Word and turn it into prayer. It is a mark of the worldliness of our praying that we are far too little occupied with God when we pray. Too often, we rush into intercession without pausing to reflect on the character of the God we are addressing. Taking time to pause and reflect on God’s being is what the Lord’s Prayer beckons us to do. Do not be in too much of a hurry whenever you address the Almighty, it seems to suggest.

"Hallowed be Thy name…" But, what does "hallowed" mean? After all, it is not a word we use in our everyday speech. One modern translation puts it this way: "May your name be honored." Eugene Peterson in his free translation of the New Testament renders it, "Reveal who you are."

The Greek word used is the verb form of the word for "holy." We do not have a verb form in the English language and hence we tend to say "sanctify," rather than "holify." The word, then, is the usual one in the New Testament for sanctification. From its Old Testament usage in particular, "sanctify" has the basic idea of "setting apart." It is what Peter says: "…set apart Christ as Lord" (1 Pet 3:15). It is what Isaiah says:

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
(Isa 8:13)

God is to be revered. He is to be though of, and spoken about, and served with godly fear. He is to be set apart, not in the sense of placing on a shelf and ignored, but in the sense of being exalted above everything (everyone) else and worshipped. In our theology it means having great thoughts of God. Think of what B. B. Warfield called Reformed Theology, "a profound apprehension of God in majesty." In prayer it means spending some time cleansing our minds of the dirt that soils and filling our thoughts with God’s incomprehensible greatness and majesty. In speech it means using words that describe Him in ways that extol and beautify Him. In service it means applying the slogan of the Reformation: "To God alone be the glory."

Sanctifying God! It sounds heretical, doesn’t it! And it would be if, by this expression, we meant that God can be made more holy and majestic than He is. But that is not what we mean when we say: "Hallowed be Thy name." It is not that God is made more holy than He is, but that He is made more holy than we have imagined Him to be. He becomes more glorious in our eyes.

Isn’t it interesting that on the heel of the expression, "Our Father in heaven," in which God is made closer to us, comes an expression in which God is driven away from us. There is this purposive balance in the Lord’s Prayer between God’s immanence and transcendence. Some theological systems fail to appreciate that. Some, for example, in the interests of maintaining our relationship to him as children, suggest that it is never right to be motivated by fear, but that we should always be motivated by love. But this is far too simplistic a distinction to draw. The book of Hebrews, for example, could not be more explicit: "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:28-29). And Peter can say: " Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear" (1 Pet 1:17).

Reverent fear! That’s the way the NIV, in this case, translates the word. It is an attempt to maintain that the fear is just the craving fear of a slave being punished by an uncaring master; rather, it is the healthy fear of discipline that a child will have in a loving relationship within a family unit. Without this fear, families break apart. Is it right to be afraid of God. The question needs to be handled very carefully, but it is the height of folly, as John Murray argues, not to be afraid of God when there is every reason to be afraid. To any professing Christian who begins to think in terms that lie outside of Scripture’s ethical norm, there is every reason to be afraid. To the sincere Christian who is trying to walk within the terms of covenant life, there is not. Did not Jesus say: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). What else do the words of Jesus mean but that there are occasions and situations in which it is right to be afraid if we are heading in a direction he disapproves! To those who say that this is an Old Testament motive, and unworthy of the gospel, these words of Jesus in the New Testament form a necessary corrective. "My flesh trembles for fear of Thee, And I am afraid of Thy judgments" (Psa 119:120 NAS). There are times when it right to tremble!

Fearing God brings wisdom and knowledge:

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7)
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 9:10)
"…always be zealous for the fear of the LORD" (Prov 23:17)

God’s holiness and our sin
Whenever God’s holiness is perceived in the Bible, there is invariably a reflex in which the believer’s own unworthiness is exposed. Thus it was with Isaiah: "’Woe to me!’ I cried" (Isa 6:5). Thus it was with Peter: "’Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’" (Luke 5:8). Thus it was with John: "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17). Let some of the teachers of the past be your mentors here. Let Thomas Watson be your mentor in The Mischief of Sin. Let John Owen teach you in Temptation and sin. Let Jeremiah Burroughs lead you in The Sinfulness of Sin. Let Octavious Winslow redirect your spiritual focus in Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul. Let Octavius Winslow train you in Keeping the Heart.

This is the way to hallowing God’s name. As we decrease, He will increase. He cannot be set apart in proud hearts, for there is no room for Him. Only empty vessels can he fill.

His name for ever shall endure;
Last like the sun it shall:
Men shall be blessed in him, and blessed
All nations shall him call.
Now blessed be the Lord our God,
The God of Israel.
For he alone doth wondrous works,
In glory that excel.
And blessed be his glorious name
To all eternity:
The whole earth let his glory fill.
Amen, so let it be.
(Psalm 72:17-19, Metrical Version).

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