In this series, we are listening to the prophet Isaiah tell us about God’s dream for creation: to draw all people to the mountain of the Lord’s house. In the previous posts, we’ve seen that when God draws us to himself, we become more like him: He marks us with justice and peace; death is replaced by life; and the poor share in God’s strength against the mighty.
Today Isaiah points out another aspect of what it means to “climb the mountain of the Lord.” He says,
“When the children of Jacob see the work of my hands in his midst, they shall keep my name holy” (Isaiah 29:23).
The word “hallow” has passed out of ordinary speech, but most people know it means “to make holy.” But what in the world does that mean? What does it mean to keep the name of the Lord holy? In the ancient Jewish imagination of the Bible, names are deeply linked to the person. If you know someone’s name, you can, to some degree, control them. A name limits you, defines you, puts you on the same playing field as everyone else. In this sense, God has no name. That’s why He tells Moses his name is “I am who am.” Greek icons put above Christ the expression “Ho ‘Own.” He name is ___________. The one who cannot even in principle be circumscribed by any name, concept, or boundary. The one who is simply to be. Hallowing God’s name recognizes the sheer transcendence of the divine being.
Yet at that same encounter with Moses, God said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” The same God who eludes all description also has chosen to enter into covenant with the human race. In this way, He has, with unimaginable condescension, made His divine name accessible to human beings. Above all this is made tangible in the name of Jesus. “Hallowing” God’s name is to honor and live in covenant relationship to God.
We moderns tend to think that God’s commands somehow do Him good, which is so much nonsense. When we keep holy God’s name, it redounds to our benefit and expands God’s kingdom for us, His creation. It brings His mysterious presence to the places where His name is hallowed. Isaiah specifies this when He says that those who keep God’s name holy will be “in awe of the God of Israel.”
Hallowing God’s name draws us more deeply into the mystery of God’s presence, and brings His presence to where we are. It’s no accident that Jesus’ words “Hallowed be thy name” are followed by “Your kingdom come.” The divine name brings God’s kingdom.
All this nuance about hallowing God’s name is summed up by saying that it is a liturgical act, a public act of worship. Isaiah teaches us that the mountain of the Lord is a liturgical place. It is where people are delighted by God’s presence and offer him right praise. Keeping His name holy is the positive act of love at the center of this unending mountain-top celebration. So keep climbing!