By: William Jackson
Prayer is something we are to do several times a day (Psalm 55:18, Deuteronomy 8:10, Psalm 119:164); but has anybody taught us how? Funny, this being so instrumental to our faith, yet nobody seems to expound on it. Well HaShem has, in His word, the Tanakh. Here we will be addressing the 5 Ws and the How in prayer.
What: Paragraph, 1 below
When: Several times a day (1)
Where: Public or private, situational dependant (1)
Why: Paragraph 2, below
How: Paragraph 3, below
We will see how the Tanakh (Old Testament) explains the “what” “why” and “how” in prayer today.
- What is prayer
The Hebrew word Tefilah is generally translated into English as the word “prayer.” It comes from the verb “pallel” which is “to judge”. In this context it means “to judge oneself.” Thus, the time of prayer is the time of self-judgment and self-evaluation. This is not an inclusive translation, for to pray also means to beg, beseech and implore (2). But, prayer probably should start with a self evaluation.
As King David said, “My sacrifice to God is a broken spirit” other versions of Psalm 57:19 say, a “repented heart“ instead of “broken spirit.” Prayer replaces the temple sacrifice (Psalm 50:8-9, 14-15). HaShem desires our prayers in worship, through them He hear us (Jeremiah 29:12, 33:3, Psalm 141:2, Proverbs 15:8). Hosea crystallizes it in Hosea 14:3, “Forgive all guilt, and accept what is good; we will pay instead of bulls [the offerings of] our lips”. Shall we not forget another good reason “why” we pray is because it’s a sin not to (1 Samuel 12:23, Isaiah 59:2).
But how are we to pray? In Judaism, originally, prayer did not include any specific times, nor was there a defined text. After the destruction of the Holy Temple, we started to see prayer specifications being developed. By the 2nd century CE, the Jewish prayers, the way we know it today, were formulated (4) . But Isaiah 29:13 tells us not to give rote prayers, these are prayers that are memorized and given without feeling. HaShem wants us to pray from the heart (Genesis 24:45, 1 Kings 8:48, Job 11:13, Psalm 119:145), not from memory.
An example that reveals either side of the spectrum are two Kings; King Hizkiyahu and King Saul. HaShem had a prophet tell King Hizkiyahu he was going to die. So upset was Hizkiyahu, that he cried and pleaded with Adonai. Adonai reprieved his death sentence by giving him an extra 15 years to live, and as a bonus He rescued the city. Conversely, King Saul was disingenuous in commitment and prayer to HaShem. This caused him to loss his kingdom (1 Sam 15:10-11, 24-26), and his life (1 Chronicles 10:13).
Above, under paragraph 2 (the “Why“), scriptures portrays that prayers have taken over for the Temple sacrifice. If we use the idea of sacrifice as a model for prayer, we would atone first before praising Him and/or pleading a request. If you remember in Leviticus 1, an atonement sacrifice is offered before the grain offering (Leviticus 2). What was a grain offering? It was a voluntary act of worship; recognition of YHVH’s goodness and provisions; devotion to YHVH (3). Additionally; the peace/ thanksgiving offering was given after the grain offering (Leviticus 3).
As for the format of our prayers, many righteous men, who prayed to HaShem, have came before us. Their words are penned in the sacred pages of the Tanakh.
Repentance: Psalm 51:12-15
Justice: Habakkuk 1:2-4
Mercy: Jeremiah 14:7
Guidance: Psalm 25
Protection: Psalm 91
Strength: Nehemiah 1:11
Prayer is calling on the Father, YHVH. Without a personal relationship with our heavenly Father we would still live; but it would not be a life worth living. We reach out to Him not only through the rough patches; but to praise Him for the good things and for life in general. The goal is to have Him work with us to make us a better person for tomorrow. In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?”
“Thank you for searching with me in Tanakh for references on this topic, Yoshiyahu Ben Asher!!”