It is important to know how often Jesus in his preaching and teaching spoke directly from the Hebrew Scriptures. One stand out example came when He was asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” He answered, “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Mark 12:28–29).
His choice of words is a direct link to the what Jews call the Shema which is described as ‘Judaism’s greatest contribution to the religious thought iof mankind,’ according to Joseph H. Hertz.
The Shema is the central prayer of Jewish liturgy and is part of the fiber and fabric of Jewish identity and Jesus called it ‘the first commandment of all.’
The prolific emphasis by the Lord on quoting Scriptures from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) highlights the value for Christians to know the early writings.
Shema, for example, is from the Hebrew word “to hear,” which means listen attentively, and then act upon the teaching.
Norman Lamm offered this possible reading: “Hear the Lord our God, O Israel: The Lord is One.”
The “hear” is a divine command, an imperative. Listen and then act! It is not a study for the acquisition of head knowledge. It is to be applied in a practical way. It is very likely the Lord had the same motive with The Model or Sample Prayer.
When Jesus told His disciples the Name of God was ‘hallowed’, in Hebrew thought He was telling them, the Name was and is ‘to be set apart, holy, sanctified.
‘Hallow’ is the Greek word ‘hagios’. It commands that we focus reverently on Him.
In his expository teaching Dr Thomas Constable wrote, ‘The clause ‘hallowed be your name’ means ‘may everyone regard your name as holy.” He gives the following references – Lev 22:32, Psalm 79:9, 119: 9, Isa. 29:23). (The Expository Notes, Dr Thomas Constable. Sonic Light, July 2009)
It is that understanding of the phrase that must cause us to seriously consider ‘hallowed’, ‘holy’, ‘sanctified’ and how as attributes they should be displayed to the world around us.
Leon Morris wrote: “Hallowed means ‘made holy’, ‘reverenced’. The name in antiquity stood for far more than it does with us. It summed up a person’s whole character, all that was known or revealed about him. The prayer concerns more than the way people take the name of God upon their lips (though this is included). It refers to all that God is and has revealed of himself and asks for a proper attitude in the face of this.” (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol 3, Luke, Leon Morris, Inter-Varsity Press)
When Jesus emphasized the hallowed nature of God, He once again enforced what was already revealed in earlier scriptures.. “Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.’” So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.” (Lev. 10: 3)
“‘For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…..” (Lev 11:44a)
God is Different
The message is clear. God is holy.
“He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! The LORD is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He.” (Psalm 99: 1-3)
These are heady heights but the standard for us is so high, even Moses fell short. “The LORD said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) (Deut 27:12-14)
The Christian theologian, Dr J. I Packer wrote: “’Holy’ is the Bible word for all that makes God different from us, in particular his awesome power and purity. This petition, then, asks that the praise and honor of the God of the Bible, and of him only, should be the issue of everything.” (Growing in Christ, Dr J. I Packer, Crossway Books)
Dr Packer wrote that ‘hallowed be Thy name’ is ‘the biggest and most basic request of the whole prayer.’ It is also where we most fall down. How often have I shown my family, friends and others far less than the holy character of God?
When I talked about faith and Jesus with my Jewish friends, they appeared to nullify our conversations with glaring examples of fallen pastors and priests whose public shame tarnished the hallowing process.
In his book ‘The Knowledge of the Holy’, bible teacher A. W. Tozer said, “The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labours this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.” (The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer, O.M. Publishing, Carlisle)
In the introduction to his book Tozer referred to ‘a loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine presence.’ He said, “The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them (problems in the Church). It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate.”
Jewish leaders who were my friends eloquently challenged me about the authenticity of the Christian faith. They wanted to know about the Christian understanding of the family of God. They observed prominent Christian leaders who visited the Middle East but offered no comfort or assurance for Arab Christians living in Bethlehem.
This did not add up to the gospel we preached they said.
Closer to home, we instructed Christians working with us to be aware of our witness. Do not cross the street against a red light. Be courteous in supermarkets. Prefer others as you join the checkout queue.
How do we embrace the holiness of God? A. W. Tozer said, “This we can do by keeping the majesty of God in full focus in all our public services. Not only our private prayers should be filled with God, but our witnessing, our singing, our preaching, our writing should centre around the person of our holy, holy Lord and extol continually the greatness of His dignity and power.”
His advice settles comfortably with the priorities shared by Jesus. He instructed His disciples to hallow the Name. “If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly than He is,” said Tozer.