Prayer Lesson 10: Old Testament Prayers

An Introduction

Before, when we considered the OT and NT terminology used for prayer, we saw that the OT has several different expressions and words for prayer. You will not find one generic word for prayer. Unlike the NT, which has one overall word for prayer, the OT believer used several words and concepts to speak of prayer. Why is this the case?


It seems that progressive revelation provides the answer. We know that the OT believer did not have the same amount of divine revelation as the NT believer. So, throughout the OT, the terminology for prayer begins with a very generic verb “to call” and later becomes a more specific noun “prayer” hL;piT]. The OT terminology related to prayer expand as divine revelation increased.

The conceptual OT term for prayer

The very first mention of a prayer is found in Genesis 4.26:

“… at that time men began to call on the name of the LORD”

The word “call” (ar`oq]li) simply means “to call out.” It should be noted that there is some question whether this is the first prayer mentioned. The word ar`oq]li may mean to “call out for help” or “to proclaim.” So, we must turn to the context to determine whether this “call” was a prayer to God for help or “a statement that men began to proclaim the Lord to others.”

This verse is in the context of the evil events when Cain murdered Abel. The narrator followed the lineage of Cain, showing that another savage was born in the Cainite family. Lamech, the great-great-great grandson of Cain murdered a man himself.

As the narrator concludes his description of the wicked Cainite lineage, he states that some good had developed. Adam and Eve bore another child, Seth. And Seth bore Enosh. And concludes with the statement “at that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.”

It seems then that the narrator contrasts the Cainite lineage with that of the Sethites. The Godless Cainite family relied on their own wickedness to cope in the world, but the Sethite family depended upon the Lord (YHWH). Therefore, the context suggests that the “calling out” is an expression of dependence upon the Lord, the background idea in prayer.

Other passages make it clear that “calling out” was an expression used for prayer:

Genesis 12:8 From there he (Abram) went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

1 Kings 18:24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

The specialized OT term for prayer

As man understood more of his relationship to God via divine revelation, so the concept of praying became a noun – pray. This is essentially the only OT word for “prayer.” It’s verb form means, “to intercede.”

The various OT terms for prayer

Hebrew Word
(w/ phonetic pronounciation)

Translation

Palal pray, prayer, make intercession
Tephillah pray, prayer
Chanan beseech, prayer, prayer, make supplication
Athar Pray, prayer
Paga Pray, prayer, make intercession
Siach Pray, prayer
Darash Seek the face of God
Chalah Pray, prayer, beseech, entreat
Qara Call to the Lord
Baqash Seek the face of God
Shaal Ask, enquire

 

Prayer of Moses: Deuteronomy 3.23–29

23 At that time I pleaded with the LORD: 24 “O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? 25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

26 But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. 28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” 29 So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor.

 

Prayer of Jabez: 1 Chronicles 4.9–10

9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, s saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

 

Prayer of Solomon: 1 Kings 3.7–14

7 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

Prayer of Nebuchadnezzar: Daniel 4.34–37

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”

36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

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