By William Jackson
“Does God answer prayers?”, this is a key question that has been kicked around theological circles for millenniums. We do know when reading the Torah, God answers the prayers of the Patriarchs (Isaac Genesis 25:21, Jacob Genesis 35:3) and Matriarchs (Leah Genesis 30:17, Racheal Genesis 30:22). As we read further into the Tanakh (Old Testament) we also see Adonai responding to the prayers of both Kings (David; 2 Samuel 24:25, 1 Chronicles 21:28, Solomon; 1 Kings 9:3, 2 Chronicles 7:12, Jehoahaz; 2 Kings 13:4, Hizkiyahu; 2 Kings 19:20, 20:5, Isaiah 38:5) and Prophets (Elijah; 1 Kings 17:22, Ezra; Ezra 8:23, Nehemiah; Nehemiah 2:4-6), but what about us, the common person? We will delve into the Tanakh and bring forward three components that appear to be critical when answering prayers. Also, we will talk about the prayers of the common person.
First off, in scripture the Hebrew words used for prayer are “hitpallel”, “siach” and “tefilah”. Interestingly, each has its own meaning. Hitpallel1 means to judge yourself, siach2 means to meditate and finally tefilah3 means to beg, beseech or implore. Thus, a prayer to our Maker should combine these elements; offering praise, repentance and requesting. As for tefilah, the requesting aspect, we have examples of these in God’s Word. Some of these are prayers were answered and others were not. We will determine the “why”. Here are three factors that appear to impact on a prayer request (tefilah).
God has actual closed Himself off to certain people’s prayers (Lamentations 3:8, 44). Isaiah 29:13 tells us He will not listen to prayers that are “lip service” and “empty words”. Another way of saying this is that he does not entertain “rote” prayers. Rote means mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition4. If we read Psalm 55:17-21 we have an excellent blueprint that expresses the passion desired in God’s prayer.
A major part of earnestness is sincerity. With the Prophets, we have several cases of sincerity in prayer. In Jonah 3:6-10, Ezra 8:23 and Daniel 9:3 we see fasting and sitting in ashes with sack cloth. This definitely showed the earnestness of these people, consequently their prayers were answered. In Isaiah 38 Yesha‘yahu the prophet told King Hizkiyahu that God told him to get his affairs in order because he was going to die. In response, the King turned to the wall and prayed to God through bitter tears to live. In reply God said “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; therefore I will add fifteen years to your life.” (Isaiah 38:5). Contrariwise, in 1 Samuel 15 we have a King Saul whose prayers were irrelevant because he lacked sincerity. Prayers should be sincere and fervent to be heard.
Proverbs 28:9 sum it up nicely by saying “If a person will not listen to Torah, even his prayer is an abomination.” Psalm 66:18, 109:7, Isaiah 1:15 and Zechariah 7:11-13 echo the same sediments. On the other hand, Proverbs 15:8, 29 tells us God does listen to the prayers of those who are righteous. There is one thing to remember here, righteousness does not mean perfection5.
There is a saving hope for the non-righteous in prayer. Although Adonai may not hear the prayers of those that broke His commandments, we see in Zechariah 1:12-16, 12:10 that after the sentence has been served He will listen. We know this because He is an honorable and just God (Deuteronomy 32:4, Isaiah 30:18, 61:8)
Moses pleads with God to pardon Israel’s sins, and God responded, “I have pardoned, just as you say” (Numbers 14:20). Also in Exodus 32:9-14 Moses beseeched God and “The Lord reconsidered the evil He had said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:14). This was Moses, no wonder God granted his requests. Yet, in Exodus 32:30-35 and Deuteronomy 3:23-27 God did not honor Moses requests. In the first request, Moses wanted to intercede for Israel’s sins. Conversely, God wanted to hold the accountable parties responsible. The second example was Moses’ plead to enter into the promise land. Sadly, God stood firm on His previous sentencing, and did not concede to Moses’ request. Although we can empathize with Moses in both instances, we can also see the big picture, God’s point of view.
God thinks “Macro” (Big Picture), we think “micro”. We see this in Proverbs 20:24, 16:9 and Jeremiah 10:23 where God says that He is in control not humans. Think in terms of our relationship with God as being that of a child to a parent. Could you imagine if your child got everything they wanted? You would have all the animals in the neighborhood as your family pets and Junior probably wouldn’t have to do much work for his $1,000 weekly allowance. Importantly, there would be no reason for maturing, there would be no consequences. None the less, like you, I have been bothered by bad things happening to good people. Some things are beyond our realm of understanding. This is best answered by Isaiah 57:1 “The righteous person perishes, and nobody gives it a thought. Godly men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous person is taken away from the evil yet to come.”
Conclusion: We started by talking about how God answered the prayers of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, Kings and Prophets but what about us? Well we know that he answered the prayers of the some of the tribes of Israel (1 Chronicles 5:20), and all of Israel (Joshua 10:14, Hosea 14:8). We even know He answered the prayers common people (Genesis 24:42, Judges 13:9, 1 Samuel 1:11,19-20, Job 42:9) but most importantly to us, He answers our prayers both then and now (1 Kings 8:38, Isaiah 56:7).
Additional Articles on Prayer:
- Non-Jewish Prayer
- Components of Our Prayers
- Prayer, the Spiritual Aspect
- Prayer, The Physical Aspect
- 57 Weeks Past the Cross – Strength
- “Jewish Treats: Inside Prayer.” Jewish Treats: Inside Prayer. September 22, 2009. Accessed June 12, 2016. http://www.jewishtreats.org/2012/09/inside-prayer.html.
- “Strong’s Hebrew: 7878. שִׂ֫יחַ (siach) — to Muse, Complain, Talk (of).” Accessed June 12, 2016. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7878.htm.
- Mindel, Nissan, Dr. “The Meaning of Prayer.” – Prayer. Accessed June 12, 2016. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682090/jewish/The-Meaning-of-Prayer.htm.
- Merriam-Webster. Accessed June 12, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rote.
- Jackson, William, Righteousness – Straight from Tanakh, Center for Tanakh Based Studies, January 26, 2016