Wednesday, March 13, 2013

David and Goliath​- That all the earth may know...

David and Goliath​
​1 Samuel 17.
David and Goliath. Have you ever heard a sermon on this passage before? Plucky, little shepherd boy trusts in God, accepts a challenge to fight a giant and wins using a sling, an unconventional weapon for hand-to-hand combat. Lesson: Trust in God and you can take on the big, “giant” challenges in your life and be victorious. Right?
I want to bring out another side of this story.

First, a little about this description of Goliath. It says that Goliath was 6 cubits and a span. That would work out to about 9’8”. Truly gigantic for a human being. No one in modern times has been measured that big. Now some older manuscripts says 4 cubits, which would make him 6’8”. A big guy, but maybe a bit more believable for some. His armor is 5000 shekels. My bible's footnote says a shekel was about 2/5 of an ounce, so that his armor weight 125 pounds. And I like the spear head. 600 shekels works out to about 15 pounds. Now that is a really big sledge hammer. So imagine a sledge hammer shaped into a sharp point, mounted on the end of a 2x4. And a NFL linebacker is trying to stab you with it!

Let me describe to you what this kind of ancient warfare was like. You have two mobs of men. Whoever could be spared or dragged away from the back-breaking work of subsistence farming and sheep-herding. They have whatever weapons they themselves owned. If they were well off, maybe they owned a spear or a sword. The poor might just have a sharpened stick or a club. Combat meant the two groups met, and each man tried to kill the enemy man in front of him, while he tried to do the same to you. Think of two street gangs clashing with each other. If you lost, were killed or surrendered, then they would take whatever possessions you had, particularly weapons and armor. Those were valuable. Then they would go on and raid your village, enslave or kill your wife and children, take your crops and livestock for themselves. They would burn your house and fields. If all the men were dead, maybe just move in.

Winning and losing was not just a matter if life and death. It was more important than that! It was also a matter of personal honor. If you fought well your exploits would be sung about for generations. Cowardice, running away was a great shame.
Warfare was also the great spectator sport. It was really exciting watching two guys fight it out to the death. So it made sense before everyone rushed together into a huge melee, for each side to send out their best soldier and for them to fight one-on-one. Before the fight the warriors would boast and taunt each other, building up their own courage and trying to frighten their opponent.

So. David arrives, sees and hears Goliath challenging the Israelite armies. And particularly notices that no one is accepting his challenge. David asks the question, “What shall be done for the man who kills Goliath and takes away this reproach from Israel?” Notice that he asks this after he has heard the answer: The king will make you rich, give you his daughter as wife and your family won’t have to pay taxes anymore! David’s question is rhetorical. He doesn’t just want information. Rather he is amazed that no one, none of the great, mature warriors, have taken this up. By his question he is trying to shame the other warriors.

“And takes away the reproach from Israel? ” What reproach?
They are looking at the size and strength of Goliath. David is looking at the God who Goliath is defying. This is a shame, a reproach on the whole nation of Israel, and more, it is a shame, a reproach on the name of Israel’s God. By running away, they are proclaiming that their God is inadequate for this situation.

He is not only shaming the other soldiers, which includes his own elder brothers, (no wonder his eldest brother gets mad at him) but he is also implicitly rebuking Saul, the King, whose number one job is to lead his warriors into battle. Saul is “head and shoulders” taller than everyone else, like Goliath. Saul also has a suit of armor, like Goliath. But Saul also is not accepting Goliath’s challenge.
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God!”
David isn’t just outraged over the shame to their national honor or concerned about the results of a military defeat. He doesn’t say, “Who is this philistine to take on the great army of the Israelites!” “Woa, Goliath, you just opened up a big ‘ol can of whoop ass on yourself!”

David was outraged that someone uncircumcised, that is outside the covenant Israel had with God, should defy the army of the covenant people, the people who belonged to YHWH the living God. By not accepting Goliath’s challenge and running away from him, the army of Israel was bringing reproach and shame on God’s name.

In v. 30 David asks more soldiers. I don’t think he is just trying to confirm the size of the reward. Rather he is trying to motivate one of the grown ups to take up the challenge on Israel and God’s behalf. But no one will.

So then David comes before his King, Saul. David accepts the challenge.
Saul compares David’s youth and lack of experience with Goliath. Goliath is a trained, professional soldier. David is a boy. But David brings up his own experience. He has killed lions and bears who attacked his sheep. But his ultimate confidence is not his own experience or prowess with a sling, but the God who Goliath has defied. It is his experience with God that gives him confidence to take on this experienced soldier. And it is his confidence that God will defend his own name, his own reputation that gives David confidence to do this on God’s behalf.

So now David approaches Goliath to fight him. In verse 42 Goliath sees and evaluates David for the first time. He makes the same mistake that everyone else has been making throughout this story. He judges based on outward appearances. Goliath is personally insulted that they would send against him such a weakling with such inferior weapons. “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” He saw David’s shepherd’s staff. He didn’t even notice the sling. Then for the first time Goliath mentions his owns religion, he curses David by his gods.
(v. 45) David replies: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you..."
- with a bigger sword that I borrowed from King Saul.
- with this deadly sling. Fear me. I am a crack shot with this!
- with years of experience killing lions and bears.
No. He says, “I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts (YHWH of the armies) whom you have defied.”
Goliath, You are in trouble, not because of me or anything about me, but because I represent, I stand in the place, defending the honor of YHWH, the one true, living God.

David does not boast in his sling, but neither does he despair because it is inadequate. Like the boy in the Gospels, who gives his 5 loaves and two fish to feed 5000 people, David puts at God’s service the best he has and trusts that God will meet the need through it however inadequate it looks to be.
And note, David does not contrast the power of Goliath’s gods with the power of Israel’s God. He certainly doesn’t put them on the same level: “Well, you have your gods and we have our god. Let us see who is stronger today.”
David continues his boast, (v46-47) “The Lord will deliver you into my hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s and he will give you into our hand.”
For David, the really important issue at stake here is not the military victory, not which nation will be masters and which slaves. It is not even his own honor or the honor and reputation of his nation. What David really cares about is how people view his God, YHWH, the living God who made heaven and earth.
Because of David’s victory, all the Israelites and even all the Philistines will know that “there is a God in Israel” and that he saves even when, or maybe especially when, his people’s resources are inadequate.

Jesus had this same concern for God’s reputation. That is why he had us pray, “Hallowed be thy name”. This means, God, honor your self, exalt your reputation. Let the true knowledge of yourself, your power, your goodness and character and holiness, be truly know for what it is.

We probably have all heard sermons about David and Goliath which emphasize how we can take on the giants in our lives, if we trust in God’s might, not relying on our own strength and the weapons of this world. But do we also take on the giants, the challenges in our lives with a concern for how it affects God’s reputation?

Is there some circumstance, some habit that has defeated you over and over again; maybe something that enslaves you? One lesson we can take from this story is that victory will come not by relying on any strength you or others have, but by a more profound dependence on God, on Jesus. But another lesson we can take is how our bondages affect God’s honor, reputation and name. When we as Christians, God’s people, are enslaved, it tells the world that our God either doesn’t care that much, or he is unable to save. When we refuse to turn to him and keep trying to solve our problems on our own, it says to everyone that God isn’t worth turning to. But when we are delivered, when we are walking in victory free from the sins and habits that bound us, it sends a quite different message. And we should make sure that it is God who is given credit for it. “That all the earth may know.”

How do you pray for the things that concern you? The first step is certainly to bring all of our concerns to God, to lay them at his feet and put our faith in him to deliver us. “God, I have this need, I have sinned this sin, I need your help, your healing. I need your forgiveness.” But do you ever pray for things, putting foremost how God’s reputation, his name will be affected?

“God honor your name. Don’t let me be put to shame. Let people see what a good, mighty and loving God you are by how you work in my life in this situation.”

And when you are healed, when you do find the means to pay those bills, when you are delivered from that sin, that disease, that despair; are you careful to give God the credit, to let these things rebound to his glory and honor? It must start in your own heart. Let us not say, “Oh, that situation worked out. I didn’t need to ask God about that after all.” Rather, “Praise and thanks to you oh, God! It may look to some like this was a natural event, or dumb luck, or that it happened by my own ability. But I know that this was God miraculously working on my behalf and for the sake of his people. I want to never forget that and make it perfectly clear to everyone who hears of this, that this was God’s doing, and it shows, once again, what a wonderful, trustworthy, loving, mighty, promise-keeping, glorious God he is!”

God heal your people, God forgive us our sins, God deliver us from evil, so that YOUR name will be hallowed, your reputation exalted and that all these people may know that there is a God in your church and that he saves.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All the earth shall be filled with the glory of The Lord

Last time we looked at Moses pleading for mercy for the Israelites after the whole mess with the golden calf at Mt. Sinai. Almost the same thing happens again in Numbers 13 and 14.

God has lead the Israelites from Mt. Sinai to the edge of the promised land. In chapter 13 Moses sends in spies to to see what it is like. Most of the spies report that though it would be a great place to live, the people already living there are too strong to conquer. Upon hearing this the people despair. (14:3) "Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword?" Wow! What does that say about God's character? Precisely the same wrong ideas that Moses was afraid that the Egyptians would think about God, are what God's own people themselves believe!

God is once again angry with them for not believing in him. (v.11) "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?"

They may have seen God's signs, but they have no understanding of his character yet. And again (for the last time) God considers wiping them out and starting over. (v.12) "I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you [Moses] a nation greater and mightier than they."

So again Moses intercedes for the Israelites by appealing to the importance of God's reputation. But now it is not just among the Egyptians.
(v.13) "But Moses said to the Lord, 'Then the Egyptians will hear of it ... and they will tell the inhabitants of this land." Word is going to get around. "they have heard that you, oh Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, oh Lord, are seen face-to-face and your cloud stands over them."

God is now closely associated with these people. How he treats them has consequences for himself and for his reputation.

"Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of your fame will say, 'it is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them, that he killed them in the wilderness."

Why should God care what these nations think about him? But he does care and so does Moses. What wrong ideas would they get about God if he performs this judgement? According to Moses, they will conclude that he is weak, since he is not able bring the Israelites into the promised land. Secondly, they will conclude that he is unfaithful, because he will have broken his covenant with their ancestors. Thirdly, they will conclude that God is vicious, because he will have killed them to cover up his own weakness.

And next Moses reaffirms God's character as he knows it to be, "let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised" He is powerful and does keep his promises, "the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgressions." - God is merciful and loving - "but he will by no means clear the guilty." - but he is also just and has standards of righteousness which he will not compromise.

Now because of Moses' intercession, God does show some mercy to the people ("I have pardoned according to your word"), he will not wipe them out. He is able to bring mercy as well as judgement into the situation because of Moses' awareness and proclamation of God's character and the importance of God's reputation.

Now God announces his new judgement on the people of Israel. All those 20 years old or older will not enter the promised land but only their children will. In this proclamation God takes an interesting oath: (v. 21) "But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD..." the oath starts, as most oaths do, by declaring things that are absolutely sure to emphasize the truth of what follows. One of God's fixed, settled purposes in history, as sure as the fact that he himself lives, is that all the earth shall be filled with his glory; that is, that everyone will undeniably know the glory of God, how good he is, how just, how pure, how merciful, how righteous, how holy he is. It is eternally significant not only that he is these things ("as I live"), but that they be known by everyone ("all the earth shall be filled").

The older generation of Israelites showed by their rebellion and testing God that they had been clinging to wrong, wicked ideas regarding God and his character. If allowed to continue these lies about God would be spread. God's response to them, this judgement, will undo that and will eventually lead to the truth about God being known, his glory filling the earth.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why should the Egyptians say...

(if this is your first time reading these essays i encourage you to start with the first one titled "Surprises.")

Last time we looked at Abraham's intercession for Sodom, and his concern for God's character. An even more dramatic appeal to God for mercy comes from Moses after the episode of the golden calf. Moses has been up on Mt. Sinai receiving God's laws and instructions. On his way back down, God fills Moses in about the mess he is going to encounter when he gets back.

Exodus 32
7 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'"

Notice the possessive pronouns God uses in verse 7. Whose people, and who brought them out of Egypt? I am reminded of a scene where a father arriving home from work, is greeted by his wife with, "do you know what your son did today?"

9 And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.
10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you."

God is so angry and disappointed with the people that he is planning on wiping them out and starting over with just Moses. What a terrible thing for God to say, "let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them." Do not intercede! Do not change what is going to happen by praying. Let "your" people share the fate of Sodom, and let you, Moses, be the new Lot, the new Abraham, who will be the sole father of the chosen people.

But the Hebrews are not called "the children of Moses." They are still "the children of Abraham", because Moses disobeys this word from God and does intercede.

11 But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, "O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'"
14 And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

Moses reminds God that these are not Moses', but God's people, and that God is the one who delivered them from Egypt. He also reminds God of his agreement, his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Israel. A covenant that God vowed by himself to fulfill.
But in between comes this appeal to God's reputation: "Why should the Egyptians say, 'with evil intent did he bring them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth.'"

In other words, "God, if you give these people what they deserve, the pagan Egyptians will get the wrong idea about your motives and character. They will think you were treacherously deceiving the Israelites the whole time." Now why should God care about what the Egyptians think? After all not long ago God sent ten plagues on them. But this consideration is enough for God to change his mind. He does care what all people say and think about him. And it worked. I have heard many horrible accusations against God, but never this: that God's promises to the Jews were a sham, just designed to get them to a place where he could destroy them.

God's dealings with the Israelites were not just a private matter between God, Moses and them. Israel was not just chosen for their own sake. At least part of God's plan for Israel is that through them and their relationship with God, all the world was to receive some truth about God and his character. Moses had at least a glimpse of this and so was able to intercede effectively.

So you and I stand outside, looking at this exchange, like the ancient Egyptians did. If God had not relented and had destroyed the Israelites and started over with Moses, what would you conclude about God and his character? Given what is recorded here, what do you instead learn about God's character?

Next time, Moses has to do this all over again.

(“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Far be it from You

Imagine you are a lawyer. Your client has just been convicted of a crime. The jury has pronounced him guilty. The judge is now weighing in his mind what sentence to pass. Will he throw the book at your client, or will he show some mercy? You have one chance to plead for mercy, to try and convince the judge to let your client off easy. What arguments are you going to use?

What pops first into my mind is to talk about the newly convicted criminal. To tell the judge how much a long sentence will hurt him and his family. I would try to portray him as not really bad inside, that somehow his recent crime is not truly indicative of his character.

Now suppose that the judge is God himself and he is threatening your client with judgement and destruction? How do you plead for mercy then? That is the situation we find in a number of places in the Old Testament, and the plea made by the advocate in each of these does not revolve around the sinner, but rather around God's character and reputation.

Genesis 18:20-26
The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have become horribly corrupt, full of perversion, violence and wickedness. God is weighing whether or not to destroy them for their sin. But first he visits Abraham and gives him a chance to intercede. What does Abraham say to God? "Spare these poor people! They aren't really so bad. They had a tough childhood. I am sure they will be nicer in the future." No. Here is what Abraham says,
Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are 50 righteous people within the city? Far be it from you to do such a thing to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked. Far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?
He then goes on to urge God to spare the cities if there are even less than 50 righteous people until he gets down to ten.

Abraham's argument goes like this: We know that most of fhe people in Sodom are wicked, but there might be some that are not, who do not deserve the judgement that the rest do. It would be unjust to treat them the same as the rest. We also know that you, God, are righteous, you are the judge of all the earth and always judge and act righteously. Therefore, if there are any good people in the city, please spare all for their sake. The center of Abraham's plea is that God be true to his righteous character. Even when bringing judgement on a whole people, God will do it justly and righteously. Abraham seems horrified, not just at the impending destruction of the cities, but at the prospect that God would sully his own name, that he might act contrary to his character. "Far be it from you!"

I am sure that Abraham was concerned for the life of his nephew, Lot, who was, hopefully, one of the 10-50 people righteous people in the cities whose presence would save them. But Abraham seems at least equally concerned with God's character and reputation.

In the end, not even ten righteous people are found in Sodom. But God does answer the heart of Abraham's prayer. Though there are not enough righteous people to spare the sinners from judgement, God does not "put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked," but he goes to great lengths to save Lot, the one righteous man found.

Now this may seem a lot of fuss over a small passage. And I might not of paid much attention to it, except that it is the first of many that exhibit the same pattern, as we shall see next time when we look at Moses.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


"What is in a name?"
Romeo & Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

"But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed."
Othello Act 3, Scene 3

"A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold."
Prov. 22:1

So it seems that when Jesus told us to pray, "Hallowed by Your name" he was showing a concern for God's reputation, honor and glory. But what is this thing "reputation?" Why is it important?

Information, not you.

Your "name", your reputation, is not you, yourself. It is information about you. It consists of how others think about you, what they say about you, and what they write about you. Nowadays it includes information stored in computer databases. One very important part of your reputation is information about you how you handle money and ebt which is compiled into your credit report.

Deeds, not words.

What really affects your reputation is not what you say about yourself, but what you do. If you tell me you are honest, that does not affect what I think about you near as much as knowing you have demonstrated honesty. Often I do not have direct experience with your choices, so I have to depend on others who do know you, who have observed your actions over time. That is why .we ask for references.  If I apply for a loan, the bank doesn't spend much time asking me if I plan to pay them back. Rather they consult my credit report, a record of my past actions regarding money. But reputation is not just a list of past actions. Just as a credit agency will sum up all my financial history into a single score, so we sum up all we know about a person's actions.and choices into a judgement regarding their character.

So when God wanted to show humanity what he is like, he did not just give us a list of his character qualities. Rather he entered into relationships with a number of people. They got to know him firsthand. They learned by word and experience what God is like, what he values, his ways and his heart. Then they wrote down, both a record of their dealings with this God, and their summary judgement of his character and nature.

Look at Psalms 105 and 106.  The psalmist recounts God's actions in bringing the Hebrews out of Egypt(105) and disciplining them afterwards (106), all to illustrate the judgement that:

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" Psa. 106:1

This is a major reason why the Bible exists, not only to show us how to be saved or teach us the moral law, but to reveal God's character, to honor his name.

Not always true.

Because your reputation is not the same as yourself, it may be wrong. The ideas others have about you may not accurately describe your choices or your character. There is a neighbor who won't talk to you and keeps giving you dirty looks. You finally find out why. It turns out that he heard some old falsehood about you and has gotten the wrong idea regarding your character. Or the story was actually about someone else. Or maybe what they heard was true, but it was out of context and interpreted wrongly. You need to clear your name with them. Of course the opposite mistake can happen. Because of lies and missing information we think someone is a good, trustworthy person, when actually they are the opposite. A credit report may have wrong information on it, and it can be kind of a pain, though really important, to get it corrected.

All these same things can and do happen with God's reputation, his name. Lies are told about him, false judgements are made. Evil things others did are credited to him. Actions he did out of love, are considered cruel and vindictive.

The Family Name

Another source of reputation, besides our own actions, are the actions and choices of those associated with us. That is why children are warned against doing things that would sully the family name, and status-conscious teens are careful not to be seen hanging out with "uncool" kids. Think what could happen to your credit rating if you co-sign on a friend's loan application. Doing so would be lending them your name.

The same applies to God. The actions of God's people reflect back on his name, his reputation. As in Romans 2:23-24 "You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" What we do in God's name reflects back on his name.

But not only do our actions reflect on God's name, but his name and reputation reflect back on us.

Ps. 69:7-9
For it is for your sake [Lord] that I have borne reproach, that dishonor has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother's sons. For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

God and his people are joined together. The name, glory, and reputation of one affects the other. We will, someday, share totally in his glory, and we do share in it somewhat now. But now, just as God is dishonored by our actions, so we too share in the dishonor that God has among the nations.

As our reputation can be shared with someone else, so it can be taken, stolen. People can say they are doing something "in my name", when I never was told about it. When someone uses my credit history as their own, we call it identity theft. Jesus warned about people stealing his own reputation and authority when he said, "Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray." (Mark 13:6) if we do something "in Jesus' name" that he does not approve of, isn't this the real meaning of "taking the Lord's name in vain"?

So what?

Why do we care about reputation? Why all this effort to find out about people's and God's past actions? Because we want to predict the future. We need to know what to expect from others in our relationships with them. We may be loaning someone money, hiring an employee, entering into marriage, or trusting someone to change our life and save our eternal soul. In all these cases a person is promising us something. We need to know that they can fulfill those promises. But more Important than their ability, is their character. Not "can they do it", but "will they"? Are they honest and trustworthy? Do they place any value on keeping their word? Do they care about me, even love me? Or are they only looking out for their own interests, and even if so, are they honest about what those interests are?

Reputation matters because actions and choices reveal character, and character does not often change. In fact how changeable you are is an important part of your character. In Christian evangelism we are trying to convince people to put their faith in God. But do we show them that he is faithful? You can't trust God, especially with your soul, your life, if you do not think he is trustworthy,

I am believe that many people who reject a belief in God, do so because something in their experience convinced them that if he exists, then he is evil. Maybe it was a tragedy, a so-called "act of God". Maybe someone associated with God, a professed Christian or a whole church, hurt them or did something they judged as evil. And though, I guess, it is possible to intellectually affirm that an evil god exists, it makes a pretty horrible world-view, and it is impossible to trust, have faith, in such a god. It is far easier to deny his existence.

Next time I'll jump back to the Old Testament and we will see this same concern among God's people there.

(“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hallowed Be Thy Name - what does it mean?

We have seen that "hallowed be your name" is a request, and that it is a request for something to happen, or to be, on earth that is already accomplished in heaven.

But what does "hallowed be your name" mean? Let's break it down this way: What does "hallowed" mean? Then what does "name" mean, especially the Father's name? and then what does it mean when we put them together?

Except for reciting the Lord's Prayer we hardly ever use the verb "to hallow" nowadays. "Hallow" means to make something holy,  The exact same Greek verb and verb form is used at the end of Rev. 22:11 "Let the evildoer still do evil, ... and the holy still be holy." So a more literal translation of "Hallowed be thy name" could be "let your name be holy."

What does "holy" mean? This an important word and i can only scratch the surface here. "Holy" means, first of all, to be set apart. Consecrate, sanctify and dedicate are all words with close meanings to "hallow". We hallow a piece of ground when we erect a memorial on it or turn it into a cemetery. (Remember Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.) We hallow a building when we turn it into a church. Holiness is, first and foremost, attributed to God. Or it might be better to say that God's nature defines what holiness is. But not only God is holy. That which belongs to God, what is dedicated to him, is also holy. So the temple is holy, and God's people, Israel and the Church, are holy. In fact in the New Testament, the word for Christians, "Saints", is just another form of the word "holy", so Paul often addresses his letters to all the "holies" in a certain city.

But then what does "name" mean, particularly "Our Father's name"? You might think that after dealing with "hallowed", "name" would be easy, but here is where things get interesting. In older, more traditional societies, names are not just tags to identify people, but they also tell something about the person. Often, when a major event happened in a person's life, they would change their name to reflect that. That happens a number of places in the Bible.

When the New Testament uses the term "name" applied to Jesus or God, there is a continuum of meanings these terms can signify. At one end of the spectrum is that it means simply God or Jesus himself. In these sentences you can replace "the name of God" with simply "God" without changing the meaning. For example:

  • Act 2:21 everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, (calls on the Lord).
  • Heb. 6:10 by serving the saints you show love for God's name, (show love for God).

If we use this sense in "Hallowed be thy name" we get: "may you, heavenly Father, be holy." But that doesn't make sense as a prayer, a petition. It is like praying, "God, be omnipotent."

Another meaning for "the Lord's name" is the truth about the Lord, his works and his character, and the proclamation of that truth.  Examples are:

  • John 17:6 I (Jesus) have manifested your (the Father‚Äôs) name to the disciples.
  • Acts 9:15 Paul will carry Jesus' name before the Gentiles.
  • Acts 26:9 Paul thought he should oppose the name of Jesus.

If we use this sense in "Hallowed be thy name" we get something like: "may the truth about you, Father, and its proclamation, be set apart, held in honor." A fine sentiment, but a bit incoherent.

A third meaning is a title, position or honor.

  • Phil. 2:9-10 God gave Jesus the name that is above every name. 
  • Heb. 1:4 Jesus has inherited a name superior to the angels.

I am not sure what it would mean to "make holy" the name, the position of authority, that Jesus has from the Father. Unless it would refer to how people view Jesus' name. Which brings us to the last shade of meaning of "name":

The fourth way "the Lord's name" is used is to mean reputation, how other's talk and think about the person. Do they view his character as good or bad? This is the meaning we find in Proverbs 22:1, "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches." This is also the meaning for "name" that I believe is appropriate in the Lord's prayer.

  • Acts 19:17 name of Jesus was extolled (after sons of Sceva) 
  • Rom. 2:24 name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of Jews breaking God‚Äôs commands.
  • Rom. 9:17 God raised up Pharoah that God‚Äôs name might be proclaimed in all the earth
  • 2 Thes. 1:11-12 Pray to God to make you worthy of his calling ‚Ķ so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him. 
  • 1Tim 6:1 slaves honor their masters so that the name of God may not be reviled.
  • James 2:7 the rich blaspheme the honorable name by which we are called.

Now let us put this together. A literal use of my definitions turns "Hallowed be thy name" into "may your (the Father's) reputation be holy, set apart," or "may you be known as holy." Note that in this sense, a name, even God's name, can be honored or reviled. A good reputation can be won or lost. From a human perspective it is still an open question whether God's name will be hallowed or not.

Here are a few translations of this passage, that also do not follow the traditional wording:

May your name always be kept holy. (New Century Version)
May your holy name be honored; (Good News Translation)
May your name be honored (New Living Translation)
Your name be honored as holy. (Holman Christian Standard)
Hallowed (kept holy) be Your name. (Amplified)
Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. (The Message)

So Jesus commanded us to pray that the Father's name be held sacred, that God's reputation and honor would be upheld. That instead of his character being blasphemed and reviled, it would be praised, honored, known and spoken of as it truly is: pure, faithful, loving and just.

Next time I will look a little more at the idea of "name" or "reputation" and see how it applies to God and why God should care what we think about him.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hallowed be Thy Name - It's place in the Lord's Prayer

"Hallowed be Thy name." A scripture passage that every one has heard and that is known by heart by anyone that attends a Christian service. It is a passage almost all Christians recite at least once a week; but very few of us have thought about what it means. Have you ever heard a sermon or teaching about this passage before? Here it is in context in two different translations: (Matt. 6:9-10)

(KJV) Our Father which art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven.

(GNT) Our Father in heaven:
May your holy name be honored;
may your Kingdom come;
may your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

For reasons which I will make clear, I rather prefer the second.

First let us think about the place it holds in the Lord’s Prayer. In very general terms, there are two kinds of things we say in prayer: there are petitions, that is requests, and there are declarations where we state that something is true. So, for example, in the Lord’s prayer, when we say “Our Father, who art in heaven”, this is a declaration. We are not asking God to become our father or go and be in heaven. We are declaring, that is he our Father and that he is heaven. Praise and worship often use this kind of prayer.

For an example of a petition think of when Jesus told the disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Luke 10:2) Here, Jesus is telling his disciples to ask God for something: that more laborers would be sent into the harvest. When we are told to petition for something, I think it presupposes two things: one, that this thing has not happened yet. As Jesus says, "the laborers are few." And two, that God wants it to change. He wants this request to be granted It is God's will.

But if it is God's will, why doesn't he just do it himself? This is the mystery of prayer; that God has chosen to share his rule over the universe with us, that there are certain things he does not do until we ask for them.

Another example of a petition is in the Lord's Prayer when we say “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” We are not declaring that this is true now. We all know that his will is not being done on earth, certainly not like it is being done in heaven. And, plainly, God wants his will to be done on earth, but also wants us to be part of bringing that about, at least through our prayers. So Jesus tells us to ask that he would act and move others to act, that it would be so.

So what kind of statement is “Hallowed be thy name”? Is it a declaration of something true already, or a request for things to be different? I used to lump the first two phrases together, making them both declarations. I am addressing God the Father, whose name is hallowed (whatever that means, that is the subject of the next post.) i think this understanding is largely the result of the rhythm in our English translation:
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” Breath,
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Breath.
We have the nice parallel, almost rhyming phrases, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Because it sounds this way, we tend to group their meanings this way.

But in Greek, the language in which the New Testament is written, the form of the words and the parallel phrases goes the other way. It goes more like this:
Your name, be hallowed
Your kingdom, come
Your will, be done.

All three are requests about something of God’s: His name, his kingdom, his will. All three verbs: "be hallowed", "come", "be done", are imperative verbs, that is commanding or requesting something.

And because of this parallelism, it seems to me, that the following phrase, “On earth as it is in heaven” should be applied to all of them. So when we pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer we are asking God that his name would be hallowed on earth, and his Kingdom would come on earth, and his will would be done on earth, all just like they are in heaven.

Note also that this is the first request in the Lord’s Prayer. If this order is significant, then it would imply that hallowing our Father’s name is more important, or somehow comes before his kingdom coming! Now I have seen many books and heard many sermons about the Kingdom of God and about knowing and doing God's will. But how many teachings regarding this theme, hallowing God's name, are you aware of? I hope, through these posts, to begin to remedy this neglect. I believe this is an overarching biblical theme that should be as prominent in our thinking as the Kingdom of God itself.

In my next post I will explore what is meant by the words "hallowed be Thy name" and what has to happen for this prayer to be granted.