Today we look at the next phrase from Jesus’ lips. Having just addressed the Father who resides on His throne in the heavens, Jesus utters his first wish: “Let your name be sanctified” (Mt 6:9c). This is my translation. We’re more used to “Hallowed be thy name,” for the King Jamers. It could also be translated, “Let your name be made holy.”
While the address, “Our father, the one in the heavens,” likely recalled for Jews Psalm 2, this call for the sanctification of God’s own name likely has its roots in another Old Testament passage, though one with which few Evangelicals are familiar. We’re talking Ezekiel 36:16-36. When was the last time you read Ezekiel 36?
It’s a fairly large chunk of Scripture, so I won’t quote the whole thing. But here’s the basic flow. The passage begins with the Lord bemoaning Israel’s behavior. Israel had revoked her calling to represent Yahweh to the world and so, in Ezekiel’s day, was suffering the consequences, namely, exile in Babylon. The part of this worth noting, as it relates to the Lord’s Prayer, is that the term God uses categorize what Israel has done is that she has “profaned God’s holy name” (vv. 20, 21, 22, 23).
Gratefully, this covenant God of Israel, and so Jesus, doesn’t end with the consequences of Israel’s neglect of their God’s reputation. The Lord moves on to restoration. Beginning in verse 23, God lays out His plan for restoring that reputation. The Lord will remove Israel from exile and return her to the Promised Land (v. 24); He will cleanse Israel of her idolatry (v. 25); a new heart and a new spirit will be her gift (v. 26); Israel will see no more famine (v. 29).
Israel had sullied their God’s good name by failing to represent Him well on the earth. As a result, they found themselves a conquered people, exiled in Babylon. But the Lord would restore His own holy name by rescuing Israel from captivity and returning her to her true home.
Now, back to Jesus’ prayer. When Jesus prays, “Hallowed be Thy name,” he is praying for the covenant God of Israel to restore her fortunes. He is asking the Lord to finally make good on His promises to Ezekiel. For though Israel was living again in Palestine, she was not an autonomous nation as she had been under David. She was still, for all intents and purposes, still in exile. (See, for example, Ezra 9:8-9 and Nehemiah 9:36, two texts written after Israel’s return from Babylon.)
Couple this with the opening address of the prayer and we begin to see a rather powerful Kingdom statement. Jesus is addressing the Father, who sits in heaven deriding the pagan nations and their vain plots against the Lord’s anointed king, and Jesus is beseeching the Lord, rather directly, to follow through in restoring the fortunes – among them political and economic fortunes – of Israel.
Right from the start, we’re seeing a prayer that goes right to the root of Israel’s national hopes – hopes that had been simmering, by Jesus’ day, for hundreds of years.