We have discussed in the previous two articles that the Scriptures clearly indicate that if we are to serve God acceptably we need to know Him, that is to learn about Him and act as imitators of Him; to set our sights on the mark of the true holiness which God and His Son have set before us.

One of the ways in which we can help ourselves to do this is through prayer to God, and Jesus helps us in the Way of God by teaching us how to pray. Prayer is not to focus attention on ourselves and our needs. It is primarily to help us focus on God and His purposes with us, and how we might achieve God’s objectives in us. So Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:6–13 starts and finishes with God: it is about directing our thoughts to Him, in contrast to, for example, the hypocrites who (v5) stood in the synagogues and street corners “that they might be seen of men”. The word “pray” is composed of two parts, pros and euchomai, which combined convey the idea of expressing towards our God our thanks, our praise and our requests. This is to be done in humility and joy, but never with pride or self-assertiveness. It reminds us again of that vital purpose of God’s Word—to turn us towards God.

The opening words of our Lord’s prayer direct us to two particular aspects of God—perhaps an insight into how Jesus thought about and related to God. The closing thoughts, after dealing with our basic and essential needs in His service, return to God and are a statement of the end result of all God’s doings.

For now, we will pay particular attention to the opening words of Jesus’ model prayer. Jesus says that in our relationship with God (our private, intimate and very personal relationship with Him), we should focus on two particular aspects especially, and we will quickly see, when we meditate about them, that these two cover everything about God. So let us ponder Jesus’ leading thought in this prayer and be instructed by what Scripture teaches us about our Father in Heaven.

Firstly then, “Our Father who art in heaven…” is drawing attention to God’s purpose in creating mankind. For example, the first time God as a Father is specifically mentioned in Scripture is in Deuteronomy 32:6 where Moses states that God’s purpose in doing so was that His Name would be “published abroad” (v3). By corrupting themselves, by behaving in a manner contrary to their Heavenly Father, Israel were denying the Fatherhood of Yahweh.

The second occurrence of God being called a Father is in 2 Samuel 7:14, in relation to David’s seed, who would “build a house [of people as well as a house of worship] for My Name”. “I will be his Father, and he shall be My Son.” Isaiah 64:8 states that God made us from the clay and that He is therefore “our Father”; and again, in Isaiah 63:16 the prophet says that there is no doubt that God was their Father; and again, that the purpose of Israel’s deliverance stemmed not only from their being related to Abraham, but also from His purpose to make Himself “an everlasting name” and “a glorious name” (verses 12,14). Jesus, too, in his prayer is linking these two ideas together—God’s Fatherhood and His Name. Is it not important that we do too, and that we understand this aspect of the Father’s work, summarised so beautifully in the apostle’s teaching in 1 John 3:1–2: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” And what manner of love it was that “He gave His only begotten son” for us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). Is it possible to “hallow His Name” if these things are not known and understood, even partially?

So Yahweh wants and intends to be, the Father of a great family and for this reason He created Adam and Eve to “be joined together” as “one flesh”. This was not merely for their benefit, socially and physically; nor was it merely to ensure that they, like the animals, reproduce “after their kind”. It was really that in the process of time the earth would be inhabited by “a godly seed”, genuinely “made in His image and likeness” (Gen 1:26).

In the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi, in rebuking Israel (and assuredly us today too!) says in chapter 2:15–16 that God made one man and one woman. He could have, by His limitless power, made Adam more than one wife; so why only one?—because He desired “a godly seed”. Therefore they should be faithful to one another (v14) and should not deceive (“deal treacherously with”) one another, or seek to avoid their covenant responsibilities by divorce! (v16). Why this emphasis upon only one wife and not many?—doubtless because God could see in His wisdom that the best arrangement, the most loving, beneficial and likely to produce a Godly seed was a united home, a family with one wife and one husband. Why does God hate divorce? because it negates the very purpose for which God created man and woman— namely that “He might seek a godly seed”.

So the next question has to be, How can a mortal flesh and blood man and woman produce a “godly seed”? By making God their “Heavenly Father”, ensuring their lives demonstrate this and that they teach their children this objective also. It is one of the beautiful realities of knowing God; one of the great comforts and extraordinary assurances, to know that in our baptism into Jesus Christ a process of spiritual begettal by God has been taking place (John 3:3–5), the end product of which, by God’s grace, will produce a godly seed, in whom “our Father… in Heaven” will be glorified.

The relationship, therefore, that should exist in the families that belong to God by covenant, is undoubtedly that described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3–12: the husband not establishing a dominant lordship over the wife, but a walking together in true harmony, in “the image and glory of God”, with the objective and commitment to the production of “a godly seed”, just as their Heavenly Father.

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Let us pass on to the second part of our Lord’s opening statement in his model prayer “Hallowed be Thy Name”.

Having drawn attention to God as our Heavenly Father, why now draw attention to His Name? Surely because, if we are to properly see the basis of our relationship to God as a Father, we need to know the reason for Him wanting to be our “Heavenly Father”; and that reason, simply stated, beyond any shadow of doubt, is expressed in His Name, which He has revealed in His Word. Not only do we need to know what that Name is, we need also to understand what it means and how it reaches out to embrace us and draw us to God. This then in turn helps us to engender in us, as Jesus expressed it, a reverence for, and deep awareness of the Holiness of that Name. Jesus intended that its meaning and purpose should be part of our understanding of God and therefore an intrinsic part of our daily life, just as much as our need for “our daily bread”. The inward comprehension and joy over what God’s Name holds out for each one of us will be a strong and powerful factor in helping us to avoid “the evil” and to daily glorify Him before men. The details of God’s Name are set out in such passages as Exodus 3:13–15 and 34:5–8.

Exodus 34

Let us look at the Exodus 34 passage. “And Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh. And Yahweh passed by before him and proclaimed, I will be who I will be, I will become strength, mercy, graciousness, longsuffering, goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving… but not accepting sin.” This is our Heavenly Father describing for us what He intends to become and what He wants us to become, as expressed in His Name.

It is significant that Moses’ immediate response to the hearing of that Name was to “make haste and bow his head toward the earth and worship”. This may help us to understand more fully the sense in which Jesus said that we should “hallow” God’s name. Recognising that what it is expressing to us, as it did to Moses, is God’s way, just as Moses had asked in Exodus 33:13, “Show me now Thy way that I may know Thee.” This knowledge should bring a response from us to become truly part of “the Way” in Christ—devoting our lives, our resources, our talents and abilities, which God has given each one of us, to being “imitators of God as dear [beloved] children” (Eph 5:1). The end of this process will assuredly bring glory to God and reveal us amongst those “mighty ones [who come out] of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, who will be with Christ our King in God’s Kingdom, when His will shall be done in earth, as it is in Heaven.

But there is another side to this lovely picture, expressed in the command to Israel—“Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11).

Leviticus 19:2 and 12 tell us that because “God is holy” so must we be, and not “profane the Name of thy God”; and Deuteronomy 10:12–20 asks the vital question we all need to ask, namely, What doth the Lord thy God require of thee?”

Jesus takes these statements and shows that the two greatest commandments come from them:

  • to love thy God with all thy heart, mind and soul, and
  • to love our neighbour as ourself (Matt 22:36–40).

Let us conclude these brief thoughts on Jesus’ teaching with another question. Why “hallow God’s Name”? and why “love Him and fear His Name”? Surely our answer could be expressed in the words of Deuteronomy 10:20—“to Him shalt thou cleave and swear by His Name.”

The Old Testament closes with our Heavenly Father’s promise in Malachi 3:16–17: “Then they that feared Yahweh spake often one to another: and Yahweh hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared Yahweh, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be mine, saith Yahweh of Hosts.”