By William Jackson
Many of us who are trying to live a Tanakh based life measure everything we do against His word. We have adhered to erroneous teachings from our past religions. In an effort to purify our current journey, we have chosen to refine our walk with the Tanakh, burning away anything tainted (Zechariah 13:9 and Malachi 3:3). As we get rid of the New Testament, crosses, and Messianic tzitzits, we must also flush out the old tenets from our mind and adopt those precepts that are only acceptable by the Father. Prayer is one of the cornerstones of our faith, but it needs to be refined. We will address here how non-Jews can pray while remaining loyal exclusively to Tanakh, His written word.
Where does the word prayer come from? The English root word for prayer means to beg or plead. Conversely, the Hebrew word for prayer is Tefilah. This is derived from the Hebrew root word Pe-Lamed-Lamed and the word l’hitpalel, meaning to judge oneself 1. Since the original language of God’s written word is Hebrew, we should gravitate back to those original meanings before they became Anglicized in thought. Just remember, God wants our repented heart (Psalm 34:19 and Psalm 51:19), so we should first go to Him in prayer of repentance, asking Him to help make us righteous before asking for supplications.
In reading the Tanakh, it feels like the predominance of those who prayed to God and received His blessing were Jewish. Interestingly, there were many non-Jews that spoke to the Master. In the millennium before the first Jewish Patriarch (Abraham) there are several recorded relationships with God and humanity: Adam (Genesis 3:10), Eve (Genesis 3:13), Cain (Genesis 4:6-15), Enoch (Genesis 5:24), and Noah (Genesis 6:9). Even after Abraham, one of the more significant prayers came from Abraham’s servant, and the prayer was for a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:12-15). After Judaism was established through Jacob, we see strong Jewish and non-Jewish affiliation with prayer. For example, did you know that Moses prayed for Pharaoh (Exodus 8:4-26) or that the King of Persia prayed for a Jewish Prophet (Nehemiah 2:4)? Of course, then we have Jonah, who God sent to Nineveh and told him to tell the people to pray and repent (Jonah 3:8). Consequently, Nineveh’s prayers saved 120,000 non-Jewish souls (Genesis 3:10). As we can see, speaking prayers in the life of non-Jews is laced throughout scripture, historically speaking.
It wasn’t just a historical matter – non-Jews’ act of praying to Israel’s God was mandated. King David’s Psalm 65 states twice that “all people should pray to God” (Verses 3 and 6). These Psalms were probably written before the first Temple in 966 BCE. That being said, with the first Temple dedication comes further confirmation that the non-Jews were supposed to pray to the God of Israel. In his dedication of the Temple, King Solomon addresses that foreign nations will be welcomed to pray to God by praying at or towards the Temple (2 Chronicles 6:32-33 and 1 Kings 8:41-43). God responded to this idea in 2 Chronicles 7:15 with: “My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place.” Over 200 years later, Isaiah 56:7 serves as an affirmation, confirming the previous statement. Here God says about the Temple “…My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This is yet again echoed about another 200 years after Isaiah in Zechariah 8:20-22. So now we have it from four separate sources within the Tanakh that the Temple is for all God’s people, Jews and non-Jews alike. God hears everyone’s prayers as long as that person is righteous Proverbs 15:8, 15:29, 28:9, Isaiah 1:15.
So how are we to pray? Well, the Tanakh gives numerous examples of prayers. We should, however, first look towards the Psalms. The word Psalm is derived from the Greek translation psalmoi, meaning “instrumental music”2. The actual Hebrew word for this is “tehillim,” which is plural. The singular is “tehillah” = “song of praise.”3. A majority of the biblical Psalms or Tehillim are devoted to expressing praise or thanksgiving to God. There are also other prayers in Tanakh. Here are some examples:
Anxiety: Psalm 34:5, 46:2-3, 91:9-11
Guidance: Genesis 24:12-15, Jeremiah 42:3, 1 Samuel 14:41, 23:10-11
Happiness: Psalm 86:4
Repentance: Psalm 41:5, 65:3-4, Daniel 9:20
Sickness: Psalm 41:4, Isaiah 38:2-8, Jonah 2:8
Strength: Judges 16:28, Isaiah 41:10–11
Thanksgiving and Praise: Genesis 32:0-11, 1 Samuel 2:1, 2 Samuel 7:18-29, Psalm 42:9, Psalm 63:1-7, Psalm 66:17, Psalm 72:15, Psalm 118:21, Jeremiah 32:17-22, Daniel 9:4, Jonah 2:10, Habakkuk 3, Jude 1:24-25
Trouble with people gossiping about you: Psalm 41:5-10, Psalm 69, Psalm 109:4
Understanding: Daniel 10:12
A hot topic is non-Jews who will turn to Jewish prayer (Siddur) to supplement what they have lost from their previous walk. We should first ask ourselves where these Jewish prayers come from. It happened after the establishment of the first temple during the Babylonian captivity. Jewish leaders in Babylon codified a system of prayer that substituted the Temple service. They based this on the prophetic verse, “Our lips will substitute for sacrifices” (Hosea 14:3)4. Jewish prayers are uniquely for the Jewish people. Rabbi Eric Kotkin, an orthodox Rabbi, sums it up nicely by saying,
“Prayer is speaking to G-d. So when speaking to G-d, one should be speaking the truth. If a non-Jew were to use a prayer that represents themselves as Jewish, when they are not, it will not be a communication with G-d that is based in truth5”
If God explains everything through King David and other figures in the Tanakh provided prayers, do we really need to turn to other sources?
There is a lot to unlearn and learn with regards to all aspects of this journey. As you might have noticed, the theme of anything when we are to commit ourselves further to our walk with the Master is to simply listen to Him. For more understandings of prayer through the lens of God’s word, please look at these other articles:
- Murphy, Roland E. “Psalms”. In Coogan, Michael D.; Metzger, Bruce. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford University Press (Page 626), 1993
- Rabbi Eric Kotkin, Can a non-Jew pray using specifically Jewish prayers like the Shema and the Amidah if they are sincere in believing what the prayer states? Jewish Values On-Line, n.d.