by Doug Ward

As disciples of Jesus we regularly pray, "Hallowed be your name" (Matt 6:11; Luke 11:2). These words express a desire for God's uniqueness and preeminence to be universally recognized and acknowledged.1


The events of the Exodus caused God's name to be hallowed or sanctified in the eyes of many. In delivering the Israelites from Egypt God used a series of mighty wonders, one purpose of which was to demonstrate his greatness and power to both Israel and Egypt (Exod 7:5; 10:1-2). Pharaoh's magicians were forced to admit that the Exodus plagues were of divine origin (Exod 8:19). Surrounding nations also took notice, as evidenced by the reaction of Jethro the Midianite. Jethro declared to his son-in-law Moses, "Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods ... "(Exod 18:10-11).


The Exodus was still widely remembered forty years later. God's reputation was further enhanced when Israel soundly defeated the attacking armies of kings Sihon and Og (Num 21). Notice the testimony of Rahab of Jericho, another instance of the hallowing of God's name. Rahab told two Israelite spies, "For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11).


The Example of Balaam

Not everyone chose, like Jethro and Rahab, to acknowledge God's sovereignty. King Balak of Moab hoped to prevail over Israel by enlisting the aid of the renowned Balaam son of Beor (Num 22:1-6). Balaam "practiced divination" (Joshua 13:22), which means that he tried to discern the will of the gods by reading various omens. Balak believed that Balaam might also be able to influence the will of the gods. His plan was to hire Balaam to curse Israel.


The extent of Balaam's fame as a diviner is suggested by the fact that he lived in faraway Mesopotamia (Deut 23:4), a journey of over four hundred miles from Moab.2 There is also archaeological evidence of Balaam's status. In March 1967 a Dutch archaeological team at Deir Alla in Jordan found fragments of an inscription about Balaam that had originally appeared on a plastered wall. This inscription calls Balaam a "seer of the gods" and describes a troubling vision that came to Balaam one night. The inscription, which is written in a northwest Semitic language, is believed to date from the eighth century B.C., several centuries after the events recorded in the book of Numbers.3 It seems, then, that Balaam was still remembered hundreds of years after his death.


Despite his reputation as an expert on the supernatural, Balaam's powers were severely limited. God brought this fact home to Balaam during the diviner's journey to Moab. When a sword-wielding angel blocked his path, Balaam was oblivious to the presence of the angel. His donkey possessed greater spiritual awareness than he did (Num 22:22-35).


Balaam apparently desired to curse Israel, but he was powerless to oppose the will of God (Deut 23:4-5; Joshua 24:9-10). To the chagrin of King Balak, Balaam pronounced blessings on the descendants of Jacob. God's name was hallowed through the words of the ancient world's most famous diviner. "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind," Balaam proclaimed. "Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" (Num 23:19)


Vanquishing Every Enemy

The Bible teaches that all those who oppose God ultimately will be defeated, as were Balak and the Pharaoh of the Exodus. In Ezekiel's prophecy against Gog and Magog, nations that represent the enemies of God and his people, God tells Gog, "With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur" (Ezek 38:22). The imagery in this verse (pestilence, hailstones, fire) calls to mind the mighty works of the Exodus. As in the Exodus, God's name will continue to be hallowed. "So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord"(v. 23).


In Balaam's fourth and final oracle, he looked into the future: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;... " (Num 24:17). According to both Jewish and Christian tradition, the star and scepter are names for the Messiah in his kingly role. Balaam saw this star/scepter exercising universal dominion and conquering all the enemies of Israel (vv. 17-20).


Recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, we believe that Jesus will return to reign forever and ever, causing God's name to be hallowed once again (Rev 11:15-18; I Cor 15:24-25). Jesus' future reign constitutes an important part of the fulfillment of Balaam's oracle. More broadly, Jesus reigns in his church today (Eph 5:23), and in his resurrection, he has defeated the final enemy-death (I Cor 15:26). The resurrection of Jesus hallows God's name by demonstrating the uniqueness of God as giver of life.


In summary, our prayer that God's name be hallowed has been, is, and will be answered by the One who was, is, and is to come. We join the angels in praising God and the Lamb (Rev 4:11; 5:9-14).


1For more discussion of the meaning of this prayer, see for example "The Jewish Background of the Lord's Prayer" by Brad H. Young, Gospel Research Foundation Inc., Tulsa, 1984.


2Commentator R. Dennis Cole estimates that the trip to Pethor in Mesopotamia would have taken 22 to 25 days in each direction. See Numbers, New American Commentary, Volume 3B, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, 2000, p. 380.


3See the article "Fragments from the Book of Balaam Found at Deir Alla" by André Lemaire, Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 1985.

Issue 30


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