The Lord’s Prayer: What’s in a Name?

{Today’s blog is a little more in-depth, but you can do this.  It will be worth it.}

Do you finish your prayers, “In Jesus’ name, Amen”?  Why?  What does it mean?  In the previous Bible Study blog, “What? Me Worry? – a Reflection”, I mentioned that Jesus stated, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” [John 14:13. NIV]  And there’s the same thought following in John 16:24.   What in the world does this mean?  What is the impact of “name” in the Scriptures?

William Shakespeare wrote that Romeo said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.”  Have you ever heard of a wild carrot?  It gives me visions of packs of stampeding orange vegetables with gnashing teeth.  But there is a more refined name that you may have heard of:  Queen Anne’s Lace.  The lacy white tiny flowers were used in England to decorate dinner tables as living lace.

What’s in a name?  Names mean little to us today.  Our children are often named according to what sounds nice or what’s in vogue at the time.  Or perhaps you are named after someone your parents like or a grandparent or a relative.  Names can also identify, and are sometimes descriptive (such as wild carrot vs Queen Anne’s Lace.

The Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . .”  [Matthew 6:9. KJV]  But what is it about God’s name that the Lord’s Prayer should mention it? 

A name in Biblical times – and indeed in other cultures – was an indication of character or nature.  A name didn’t just identify who a person is. Instead, a name described that person and their nature.  For instance, let’s look in Genesis at Jacob as he wrestled all night long with a man he encountered:

Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.
”The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But [the man] replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”  [Gen. 32: 26-30.  NIV]

The name Jacob means “one who grasps the heel of” when he was born grasping the heel of his twin brother Esau who was just ahead of him in birth.  Due to his behavior, though, Jacob became a figure of speech for one who deceives.  Esau meant hairy, and it was red hair.  Esau eventually settled the country of Edom which means Red. Peniel means “Face of God.”  You see? Names mean something.

Jacob’s name was changed to Israel:  “struggled with God and with men, and has overcome.”

So why are Jewish people called “the people of Israel” and not “the people of Jacob”?  Not only are they descendents of Jacob/Israel’s 12 sons, but because of the meaning.  They struggled with God, and even today they struggle with men.  And they continue overcoming as a people.

Next, let’s look at the name of God in Exodus 3: 13-15 as Moses tried to talk God out of his assignment (God’s will) to go back to Egypt and free the Hebrew people from slavery:

Moses said to God, ”Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?,‘”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites:  ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God’s name is not a name by our standards, yet it is a name that tells us who God is, that describes him as much as he can be described.  We try to understand him through philosophy and theology and even by experience, but the bottom line is that he is simply, “I AM.”  This name is “Yahweh.”  It can be understood as “I am who I am; I was who I was; I will be who I will be.”  All dealing with God being consistent, unchanging, dependable and eternal.  I heard a professor in seminary say that it can also be fully appreciated as “I was who I am; I was who I will be; I am who I was; I am who I will be; I will be who I was and I will be who I am.”  Yahweh.

An aside:  Just to give you further information, when you see in the Old Testament, “LORD” with the first letter capitalized and the other three letters in smaller caps, the publisher is conveying the use of the name of God, “Yahweh.”  However, when you see a capital “L” followed by lower case letters “Lord,” it is the Hebrew word for Lord: “Adonai.”

So going back to the first line of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9, God’s name is holy [“hallowed” is from Old English, meaning “holy.”  God’s name (his character, his nature) is holy.  “Holy” means God is unique, separate, set apart.  While God can be and wants to be your friend, he still must be respected as the “Holy Other.”  Too often, we become “buddies” with God, but forget he is the one who  created the universe and whose power is so much more than our imaginings (Ephesians 3: 20-21).

God’s name, then, is not to be taken lightly. 

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.  [Exodus 20:7. Revised Standard Version]

We often use this verse to talk about swearing or using God’s name in anger.  It is so much more than that.  Literally, “Do not bear up or carry God’s (YAHWEH’s) character or his nature for no reason or without purpose.”  Why?  Because his name is Holy, Special.  He is Holy, Special.  And He is not to be spoken of lightly.

Do we ever bear up God’s name (that is, his character, his nature, who he is) for no reason?  How about as an expletive?  It may be swearing or just a form of speech for emphasizing a point.  “God”.  “Oh, my God!”  We hear that a lot on TV. OMG! On the internet.  His character, who God is, is being carried for no reason. 

How about when we call ourselves “Christian?”  We are saying we are Christ-like or little Christs.  We call ourselves a Christian nation, yet a majority are not in church or on the live-stream on a Sunday (or even Saturday) morning or any other time during the week.  One of the best selling books is the Bible, yet it is not read.  Our prayer life is often poor at best.  Yet, wasn’t Jesus Christ in the synagogues on the Sabbath?  He knew the scriptures & he certainly prayed.  Christian isn’t just a label, a description.  It is bearing God’s name, to be Christ-like. Keep God’s name holy – his character and nature – set apart and special in your life, in your inner life as well as your outward speech and actions.

So we often say, “In Jesus name, Amen.”  It’s the closing to our prayers.  When we pray in the name of Jesus, why do we do it? Is it just another form of “Sincerely Yours” we tag onto the end of a letter?

[Jesus said,] And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14: 13-14. NIV]

[Jesus said,] You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  This is my command: Love each other.  [John 15: 16-17. NIV]

So “In Jesus’ name” is not just a formal closing to our prayers or a tag we put on the end of a prayer.  It is to ask according to the will, the character, the nature and for the sake of the reputation of Jesus Christ our Lord.  What are some examples? 

  • How about when we call upon God in prayer – and don’t really mean it?
  • We pray to help us out of a jam and we make all sorts of promises (like in a battle or illness). But after God helps us, we say we were sure lucky, and we go on and do what we want without consideration of what God wants.
  • We pray for our church to grow – but are not willing to be God’s instruments to bring about that growth.
  • We pray for a person to come to know and commit to God personally – but are not willing to take the time to help that person grow spiritually.
  • We pray for healing – without expecting that person to be healed.
  • We pray for ourselves selfishly – to make lots of money, to win a game (not just to play our best), to be rescued from financial woes brought about by our own foolishness – expecting the great God Almighty to be manipulated by our prayers to do our bidding.

Think about all this the next time you pray – and consider carefully what you are praying.  Also, be careful of your actions, for they represent Christ to others on this earth.

Are you still with me?  Let’s conclude this by looking at the names of Jesus.  What did the angel tell Mary to call her baby in Matthew 1: 21-23?  “Immanuel” – “God with us.” Is he called Immanuel in his lifetime?  No, not that I could find.  However, it is a prophecy from what we call the Old Testament. It’s the meaning that’s important.  To encounter Jesus Christ is to encounter God with us.  Why “Jesus”?  it means, “God Saves”.  That is the nature of Jesus. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3: 16-17. NIV]

Published by John M

I think differently. Every once in a while, I have an insight or a thought that could be useful to others. My background is over 30 years in church leadership & 30 years in social work with M.Div. and M.S.W. degrees - and yes, I do enjoy retirement. My heart is in teaching. And I try to teach in a way that you don't have to have a degree to understand it. So, join me on this journey we call Life as we explore God, the Bible, the Church and the world around us together. I've been married to my wife for 48 years. We have three grown and married children of whom we are very proud. And they have blessed us with seven grandchildren. We both grew up in Washington State, but we now live in North Carolina with a lot of experience between those two points.

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