What It Really Means to Pray ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’

Correctly understanding the beginning of the Lord's Prayer changes the way we pray.

Posted in , Jan 9, 2020

Praying "hallowed be Thy name"

When Jesus taught His first followers to pray, He told them to pray (in the words of the King James Version), “Hallowed by Thy Name.” 

Say what?

It’s the first request in The Lord’s Prayer, but what are we really saying when we pray those words? It’s a phrase that is as important to understand as it is easy to misunderstand, not least because various Bible translations and versions express it differently:

“Uphold the holiness of Your name.” (Common English Bible)

“Let Your name be kept holy.” (God’s Word Translation)

“May Your name be honored.” (J. B. Phillips translation)

“May Your name always be kept holy.” (New Century Version)

It’s possible that Jesus was echoing the Kedushat HaShem, an ancient prayer that has been passed down through the centuries as the third blessing of the Amidah, the daily blessings recited by observant Jews. Early in their evening prayers, Jews will say, “You are holy, and Your Name is holy, and Your holy ones praise You every day. Blessed are You, Adonai, the God who is holy.”

If that’s the case, though, Jesus rendered the affirmation of the Kedushat HaShem as a petition. He changed “You are holy, and Your Name is holy” to “May Your Name be kept holy.” 

According to author Philip Keller:

What we would say in modern idiom is something like this: “May You be honored, revered and respected because of who You are. May Your reputation, name, person and character be untarnished, uncontaminated, unsullied. May nothing be done to debase or defame Your record.

So, in saying “hallowed be Thy name”—if we are sincere—we agree to guard God’s reputation and protect the integrity and holiness of “HaShem,” the Name. To “hallow” God’s name, then, means at least three things:

1) Trusting
Once, when God’s people were wandering in the Sinai wilderness after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, they complained because of a lack of water. So God told Moses to speak to the face of a cliff where they had camped, promising that water would flow from the rock. Rather than speaking to the rock, however, Moses struck it with his staff— which had played a part in several miracles back in Egypt.

God later said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12, ESV). Believing God— trusting Him and taking Him at His word—“hallows” His name and upholds His reputation.

2) Obeying
When God gave His commandments to His people, He told them, “So you shall keep My commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel” (Leviticus 22:31–32, ESV). In other words, a lifestyle of submission and obedience to God “hallows” His name—not a legalistic Puritanism but a winsome, day-by-day pursuit of God and His ways.

3) Rejoicing
When David’s second attempt to return the ark of the covenant—the symbol of God’s presence with His people—to Jerusalem was successful, he was so overcome with joy that he threw off his kingly robes and danced with abandon in the holy procession. His wife, Michal, however, berated her husband because, she said, “he exposed himself like a fool in the sight of the servant women of his officials!” But David answered, “I was dancing to honor the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and his family to make me the leader of His people Israel. And I will go on dancing to honor the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:20–22, GNT). Joy—in worship, in trial, in the details of daily life—honors God. When our lives exude “the joy of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10), God’s name is hallowed.

“Hallowed be Thy name” is a request and an attitude like that of a friend of mine, who would send her children to school every morning with the admonition, “Remember who you are,” repeating the family name and making it clear that they were expected to bring honor, not shame, to that name. That’s what we’re saying when we pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.”

(Adapted from The Red Letter Prayer Life, by Bob Hostetler.)

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