Prayer Lesson 3: Various Forms of Prayer

The OT & NT terminology related to prayer

Let’s review what prayer is: Prayer is one way we worship God. For when we pray, we recognize that God is the all-wise, all-powerful, all-worthy One to use our prayers. Since He decreed all things and knows all things, we are able to freely pray, honestly bearing our soul to Him. Therefore, we pray, expressing to Him our reverence, love for his divine perfection, and gratitude for all his mercies. Genuine prayer is consistent with God’s revealed and desired will. Prayer involves repentance for our sins, our hope in his forgiving love, our submission to his authority, our confidence in his care, our desires for his favor, and for the providential and spiritual blessings needed for others and ourselves.


Biblically, God is the focus of our prayers. We pray because God uses our prayers.

Old Testament terminology related to prayer

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 expanded 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.”

Various OT prayers and their content

The prayer of Moses, Numbers 14.13–19

Moses sent Joshua and others as spies to explore Canaan. They reported that the land was very fertile (full of milk and honey). They also reported that the land was full of very strong people and well fortified cities. The Israelites, focused on the seeming impossibility of entering the Promised Land, their impending death in the desert, and became very disgruntled.

Moses prayed that God would deliver the Israelites. He was concerned that if the Israelites died in the desert without conquering Canaan, the Egyptians would have reason to further blaspheme God.

OT saints often prayed out of concern for God’s reputation.

The prayer of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2.10

Hannah was barren. However, God answered her prayers and gave her a son – Samuel.

Now, Hannah and her husband took Samuel to live and serve in the temple. Having left Samuel with Eli, Hannah prays to God. One of the most notable things about Hannah’s prayer is not what she prays, but for what she does not pray. She does not ask anything. She does not ask that the boy be returned soon. She does not pray for the boy and his success as a temple servant. Instead, the prayer is a “’descriptive praise of God,’ telling who God is, what he is like, and what he has done in the past.”[1]

 

The prayer of David, 2 Samuel 7.18–29

The prophet Nathan just revealed to David that the Lord wants to build a temple for Himself and David is the chosen one. This news surely excited David for God promised that he would be one of the greatest men to have ever lived and would do great things, especially related to building the temple.

David sat[2] before the Lord acknowledged God’s greatness and faithfulness in keeping His promises.

The OT terms and various prayers are full of praise to God, concern for His reputation, confession of sins, and acknowledgement of His faithfulness.

New Testament Terminology

Like the OT, the NT has a comprehensive term for “to pray” is proseuchomai. It simply means “to pray.”

However, since divine revelation has been made more full to the NT saint, we find many other words used for prayer. In 1 Timothy, we find a majority of these terms:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone (1Ti 2.1)

The words, requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving refer to the content of a person’s prayer. There are subtle differences between these words that should not be unduly pressed, but there are variations that should be found when you pray. One commentator states that the very reason that these words are used together point to the “richness of prayer” itself.

Prayers (dehvsei~): This is the more general term meaning to pray. This refers to the act of praying. That is, praying that God would listen to and regard our prayer.

Requests (proseucav~) The verb form of this word has the sense of “to ask” or “to seek” or “request.” The word is most often found with an object. One needs to pray for something. This word is used when Paul prayed for his missionary plans. This word is used when Jesus prayed for Peter. The object of the prayers here is supplied. “For everyone, kings, and authorities . . . salvation”

Intercession (ejnteuvxei~) This word is often understood as a person who approaches a king or an authority and asks for something on behalf of another. In this context, we are to recognize that God, our ultimate authority, will do as He pleases. With that confidence in mind, ask our king to do something for someone else, and He is more than able to accomplish that task.

Thanksgiving: (eujxaristiva~) This last term describes the attitude in which we must pray. All of our requests, prayers, and intercessions must be with an attitude of thanksgiving.



[1] NIDOTT, “prayer”

[2] The posture of prayer is sometimes exaggerated. Some suggest that one must kneel before God when he prays. This example shows that kneeling is not the only God-ordained posture in prayer.

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