What’s in a name?
Part four of a series of studies on the Lord’s Prayer
“ ‘…hallowed be your name…’ ” Matthew 6:9 (NIV)
To know a person’s name – to be introduced to them – is the beginning of getting to know them. Through knowing and using God’s name, we come to understand more perfectly who he really is.
In Exodus 3:1-15 God introduces himself to Moses in a spectacular way, and when Moses approaches the burning bush, a conversation begins. Moses wants a name. He wants a name because the Egyptian rulers will expect one. All their gods have names. God’s response could seem a little confusing when the name he provides is, “I am that I am” (v.14). This might not have rolled easily off Moses’ tongue when he was standing before Pharaoh demanding the release of the Israelite slaves. However, Exodus records that it didn’t take long for Pharaoh to realise that “I am that I am” was an all-powerful being who could not be resisted.
In this passage ‘God’ is translated from three different Hebrew words: ‘Elohim’, ‘El Shaddai’ and ‘YHWH’ – usually expressed as Yaweh. This last name occurs nearly 7000 times in the Old Testament and is usually translated as ‘LORD’. The meaning of the word is ‘being’ or more specifically, ‘to bring into being’, in other words Creator. And this is where we first meet God, in Genesis, as the Creator who framed the world we live in.
These are among many names attributed to God throughout scripture. God the Father and Christ the Son are brought together in the majestic passages from Isaiah where we have a picture presented of the nature of God through the names that are used. In Isaiah 7:14 there is the prophetic statement: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God with us’. And again in Isaiah 9:6: ‘…And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’
When we recognise God as ‘holy’, as the prayer reminds us to do, all of these names help us to begin to understand what holiness is, but our understanding is not complete. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, the Apostle Paul acknowledges his own limited understanding in knowing the God who has been revealed to him when he says, ‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’
We are invited to address God as ‘Father’ and, at the same time, acknowledge his holiness. The familiarity of the name may make it seem difficult to reconcile these two things. But ‘Father’ encompasses all we know of God and his holiness, and if we are looking for a name to use in prayer, it is enough for us.
Father, before your throne we acknowledge your holiness and we thank you that we can still come before you in prayer as a child comes before their Father. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Study by Maggie Mitchell
About the writer:
Maggie Mitchell attends the Northampton congregation of Grace Communion International and is Chair of the Pastoral Council
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