Like much of Jesus' teachings,
the Lords Prayer is loaded with meaning that we don't always appreciate because of the difference of time and culture.1
It contains several
phrases that are somewhat unclear to us as modern Christians. In particular,
the phrase hallowed be your name sounds foreign. This
phrase is very rich in its cultural context, and has an important
lesson for us to learn about our calling as Christians.
God's Name as His Reputation
In ancient thinking, a person's name
was connected with his authority and reputation. At first
thought, God's reputation doesn't sound like it would be an issue, but the idea of his reputation growing greater and greater throughout
the world is a central theme of the biblical story. At first, God taught
only one nation, the Jews, how to live and he told them to be a "kingdom
of priests" and a "light to the nations" so that the
world may know about the true God of Israel (Ex. 19:6).2 Then, in the coming of Christ, God made his identity more clear,
and sent his people to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt
28:19). The overall idea is that God's reputation would expand over
the earth as people come to know who he is. This is the means by which
salvation is being brought to the world as people hear good
things about God, and accept Christ as their Savior. We
can see that God's reputation, or God's "name" is of critical
importance for his plan of salvation.
In the Lord's prayer, the phrases "hallowed
be your name", "your kingdom come", and "your
will be done on earth" are related to each other in meaning.
All of them are expressing the desire that God's reputation grow on
earth, that people accept God's reign and desire to do his
will. This is probably the main intent of Jesus' use of "hallowed
be your name", but an excellent lesson for how it is accomplished
comes from the Jewish understanding of the idea of "hallowing
(sanctifying) the name", Kiddush HaShem. The opposite
is Hillul HaShem - to profane the name.3 These two
phrases are rich with significance in Jewish tradition and are
still used today.
Why is Keeping God's Name Holy So Important?
The rabbis of Jesus' time closely studied
the scriptures and made an interesting observation. Out of all of
the ten commandments, only one carried with it a grave threat of punishment. Surprisingly it is not the prohibition against theft or murder, but
rather against taking the name of the Lord in vain! The scriptures say "You
shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD
will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Ex.
20:7 NASB) Does it seem strange that this commandment, which we interpret
as a prohibition against swearing, is the only one that God promises to punish? Aren't other sins equally or more serious?
The rabbis believed that this commandment may also have a much greater meaning4. They
pointed out that the command literally says, "You shall not lift
up the name (reputation) of the Lord for an 'empty thing'", and
they interpreted that to mean, to do something evil in the name of
God which would give God a bad reputation. In Lev. 19:12, this is
called "profaning the name of God", and is referred to as Hillul HaShem in Hebrew. It is to do something evil and associate
the name of God with it, which is a sin against God himself who suffers
from having his reputation defamed.
Profaning the Name of God
Some examples of this clarify why "profaning
the name of God" is considered an extremely serious sin. When
a terrorist shouts out "Allah Akbar" (God is great)
before carrying out acts of murder, the response of the world is to
say, "What wicked God do you serve who commands you do such terrible
things?" This not only occurs in other religions, but unfortunately
in Christianity as well. For example when fraud or immorality is discovered in
the ministries of televangelists, it hardens many non-believers to the
message of Christ. And furthermore, even though the Crusades happened almost a thousand
years ago, they are still remembered with hatred because Christians murdered Jews and Muslims in the name
of Christ. God's reputation
in the world has been slandered, and evangelism is seriously hindered because
of the evil actions of those who bear his name.
Even in the lives of average people, this
can happen. How many stories have we heard of people who were treated
unfairly by church members, and have never returned to the church?
They have said in their hearts, "I don't want anything to do
with you or your God." Or, what did the hotel owner think when
at a Christian men's conference, use of pornographic TV channels went
up 70%? When a church-goer is dishonest in business or is rude to
his neighbors, or regularly uses profanity and dirty jokes, it is
a witness against Christ to the world around us. Each of us
is easily capable of profaning God's name, a very serious sin indeed.
To Sanctify the Name
Just as evil actions can damage the reputation
of God in the world, good actions can bring honor to God, and this
is called "sanctifying God's name" (Kiddush HaShem). This
means to live in such a way as to bring God glory - as when Jesus
said, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your
good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
The rabbis described it as one of three things: to live a life of
integrity, carefully observing the biblical commands; or to do some
heroic deed, like risking one's life to save another; or even to be
martyred to honor God. We think of spreading the gospel through information,
but they point out that the world is watching our lives too. When
we think of sanctifying Gods name, these stories speak volumes:
• Many En-Gedi supporters contributed money toward the
installation of some water units for villages in Uganda. When the
site preparation team was visiting these sites, they were welcomed
enthusiastically by each village with a ceremony of thanks. Our local
coordinator, Rev. Titus Baraka, made a point to explain that these
water systems were brought in the name of Jesus Christ, who brings
living water to the world. He also explained that this water is not
only for Anglicans or Protestants, or Catholics or Muslims, but for
everyone in the community. One local water committee member stood
up to make the following remark: "I represent the Muslim community
here. When I see that you have come here at great expense... when
I see the way you do your work...when I see that you want to show
love to people you dont even know, I realize that you serve
a greater God than I do. It makes me want to "cross over" to become a Christian."
• A few years ago a young pastor moved to a small community to start a new church. One day, as he paid his fare while getting on a bus, the driver gave him back too much change. When he realized that he had been given too much money back, he began to rationalize that it was a small amount, that no one would know, and that it wouldnt make any difference if he just kept the money. But by the time he got off the bus, he had decided to give the extra money back to the driver, explaining that he had received too much change. "I know," the driver replied, "I gave you back too much because I knew you were the new pastor - I wanted to see if I should come to your church next Sunday."
• Jonathan Miles is a Christian
who has a ministry of bringing Palestinian and Iraqi children to Israeli
hospitals for heart surgery.5 His work has a powerful
impact on the Muslims and Jews who see him and his staff regularly risk their lives, in the name of Christ, to serve others. One time, while
he was waiting to pick up an infant in Gaza, he was verbally assaulted
by a Hamas member for several minutes. When the man finally asked him why he was there,
he explained that he was trying to locate a certain infant who needed
medical care. When the man heard what his mission was, he was like
a balloon quickly deflated! He immediately asked how he
could help and took Jonathan all around town searching for the infant.
They actually became friends over time! Jonathan said that the man
is now even considering becoming a Christian. What a profound change
came over this man from Jonathan's actions to serve God.
Hallowing God's Name with our Lives
We have heard of many heroic Christians
like Corrie Ten Boom, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Rachel Scott (at
Columbine) who by their actions make people ask the question, "Who
is this Christ, that you would sacrifice so much to serve him?" But the ultimate example of sanctifying God's name is Jesus himself.
As God incarnate, his death on the cross has proclaimed to all the
world that the God of Israel is a merciful, self-sacrificial God.
No one who believes that Jesus is God himself can claim that God is cruel
or uncaring because Jesus has proven otherwise through his own actions.
Because of his great sacrifice, God's reputation has expanded
to the ends of the world.
As Jesus' followers, we are commanded
to be like him, as a "nation of priests" and a light to
the world. We need to be always aware that the world is watching,
so that our actions always reflect the holiness and love of the God
that we serve.
But you are a chosen
people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9
We are under constant scrutiny whether we are aware of it or not; let us always try to be a favorable witness to the Holy Name whose image we bear.
A series of articles on the Lord's Prayer in its Jewish context by
Dr. Brad Young can be found at www.jerusalemperspective.com.
(Premium Content subscription required.)
2 See the En-Gedi article Letting
Our Tassels Show for more about the idea of being a "kingdom
3 H. H. Ben-Sasson, Kiddush
Ha-Shem and Hillul HaShem, Encyclopedia Judaica CD-ROM, Version
4 J. Telushkin, The Book
of Jewish Values, p 197. Copyright 2000, Bell Tower. ISBN 0-609-60330-2.
(This is an outstanding book on ethics for living. Available at Barnes & Noble or online.)
5 Jonathan Miles' ministry
is called Shevet Achim, http://www.shevet.org/.
©2007 En-Gedi Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the ministry.
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