Jesus says we are to pray in this manner: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). “Hallowed” is a form of the word “holy”. Certainly, God is holy. Jesus is essentially calling his disciples to reverence the name of God as holy. God’s name is to be holy and used only in ways that honor him (Exodus 20:7). It is our acknowledgement that God is God and we are not. When we approach him humbly, we do so from a posture which seeks to exalt God, not ourselves. But what is it about the phrase “hallowed be your name” that is so important to this model prayer? Do we really understand the import of this phrase in the prayer of Jesus?
The significance lies in the word “hallowed”. At first thought, we think of the word “holy”. As I said, God is certainly holy. And hallowed is a form of the word holy. So it makes sense that his holiness comes to mind when we hear this phrase. But it’s more than just saying that God is holy, or thinking of these words as coming from the same root. Thayer’s says this word is understood as to render or acknowledge to be venerable. This, essentially, has to do with being respected, esteemed, honored, and revered.
God’s name is to be revered above all else. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). These words were given to the Israelites as they stood at the base of Mount Sinai. Such an interesting scene, but quite revealing. The Israelites were not long removed from their mass departure from Egypt, God leading them all the way. They had finally made their way into the wilderness of Sinai. As the people gathered together at the foot of the mountain, they began to see the power and glory of God.
“On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly” (Exodus 19:16-18).
Obviously, the people had witnessed the power of God since departing Egypt. The Red Sea, the manna from heaven, the water from the rock. But this was for them an altogether new experience. Certainly God’s mighty works are a tremendous sight to behold. And the Israelites understood the capabilities of God, at least to some extent. But they had not yet experienced the presence of God in this way. They trembled at the sight and sound of God descending upon the mountain. What a moment this must have been.
This is the context in which God speaks to the people, sharing what has come to be known as the Ten Commandments. Often, we think about Moses being atop Mount Sinai and receiving the commandments from God. But the Bible tells us that Moses was with the congregation of people when God spoke these foundational words. At the conclusion of this message from God, the impact this experience had on the people is realized.
“Now when all the people saw the thunder and flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21).
The people were overcome with fear in the presence of God. Interesting how the people back away from God, while Moses draws near. Perhaps this is explained by Moses’ having grown somewhat accustomed to being in the presence of God, speaking with God mouth to mouth (Numbers 12:8). For Moses, it started in the region of Midian at the site (sight) of the burning bush. In that moment, God identified himself and Moses hid his face, “for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6).
There’s something about coming to know and experience God’s glory and holiness that brings us to our knees. As we grow and develop an understanding of God’s presence in our lives, we have no other option than to bow to him. Countless times in scripture, we see individuals who find themselves in the presence of God. Their response is the same; they fall to the ground and worship. This occurs when one experiences God’s presence, because his holiness is undeniable. And as Jesus teaches, when we address God in prayer, when we come before his throne with a humble attitude, the only posture is one of reverence. Therefore, we acknowledge the venerableness of God. He is to be esteemed. He is to be honored. He is to be respected and revered. Because he is holy. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”