“Hallowed be your name” is what Jesus taught His disciples to say in prayer (Matt. 6:9). It expresses a desire that the Father will be revered and praised and spoken about in a manner that befits His resplendent glory and dignity. After hearing God speak and seeing a bush on fire with no apparent sign of being burned up, Moses asked, “What is your name?” In reply, God first said, “I am who I am” (or “I will be what I will be”), then shortened it to “I am,” then to “the Lord” (I AM translates the Hebrew Yahweh or YHWH, known as the tetragrammaton, a Greek term meaning “four letters.” English translations used to render it as Jehovah; Ex. 3:6, 13–16). Thus, God shows himself as the One who exists, eternally and without change, who is utterly trustworthy and dependable.
God’s name is who He is. And Yahweh or YHWH acts as a synecdoche—the part representing the whole. Thus, David sang, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Ps. 8:1). And in the Third Commandment, God tells us very clearly that we are not to misuse His name: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). So seriously do the Jews fear misusing God’s name that they refuse to utter it at all. But that is more superstition than obedience; God wants us to use His name—but with respect and dignity.
THE FINE PRINT
Commandments have positive and negative things to teach us. First, let us consider the negative. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “The third commandment forbids all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known” (A. 55). Using God’s name in a frivolous or insincere way is wrong. Take bad language, for example. Television and movies are so littered with expletives that we have almost become immune to their destructive power. The use of “Jesus,” “Christ,” or “God” as a mere expletive, vocalizing frustration or anger or disgust, is blasphemy, make no mistake about it.
Or, take promises we make. The Old Testament spoke strongly against the practice of adding God’s name to a promise to add extra assurance of its trustworthiness (Lev. 19:12; Jer. 5:2; Zech 5:4). And Jesus revealed the Pharisees’ insincerity and hypocrisy, masquerading as pompous piety, when they said promises made that excluded God’s name could be broken with impunity (Matt. 5:33–37). The statement “I give you my word” ought to mean what it says. Christians should make promises guardedly and keep them carefully.