The Theology of Prayer (Part 2)

Prayers reflect what we believe about God. What do you believe? How do you address God? What is your posture? What is your attitude? How do you approach God? What do you say when you pray?

Three kinds of prayers emerge in the early pages of Scripture distinguished by three different Hebrew words: Intercessory prayer (indicated by the Hebrew word “pa-lal”); Request (or petition) prayer (indicated by the Hebrew word “a-tara”); and, Conversational prayer (indicated by the Hebrew word “a-mar”). Prayers set down in Scripture help solidify and, thus, help us articulate our beliefs about God.

After studying Hannah’s prayer (I Samuel; 2:1-10), I concluded (1) Hannah prayed directly to God though she had access to a priest (2) At a time when a woman was not qualified to be a priest, Hannah’s prayer was recorded and re-recorded (3) Prophets, priests, and kings born after Hannah repeated her theology in their prayers and prophesies and sometimes used her exact words (see The Theology of Prayer Part 1).

No one is certain how much Hannah contributed to Samuel’s knowledge about God. Yet, her influence might have been more than scholars realize. Female influence continued into the Christian era (Matthew 1; Luke 1-2; Romans 16).

Why did Samuel record the fact that his mother hand delivered a handmade robe to him every year (I Samuel 2:18-21)? Perhaps Hannah not only provided a new robe but also provided additional education. Perhaps she wove theological instruction into the actual robe for Israel’s future priest and prophet. Paradoxically, Eli questioned Hannah’s integrity even though his own sons had no regard for the LORD (2:12, 22-25). In contrast, her son was eager to please the LORD (3:1-21).

In I Samuel 2:22-25, Eli explained that the purpose of a priestly prayer was to intercede for others before God. Why did Eli separate what God (Elohim) would do from what the LORD (Jehovah) would do, yet use the same verb (palal) to describe the action of each? This Hebrew verb (palal) means to mediate, arbitrate, help two divergent parties come to an agreement, or intercede. If one person sins against another, God may mediate (pa-lal) for the offender; but if anyone sins against the LORD, who will intercede (pa-lal) for them? (2:25 NIV). Eli says both God (Elohim) and the LORD (Yahweh) intercede (pa-lal). Though the NIV, ESV, and NASB use “mediator” and “intercessor” respectively, the King James Version translated Elohim and the verb pa-lal as: the judge shall judge him. The New Revised Standard Version used LORD for both Elohim and Yahweh: If one person sins against another, someone can intercede for the sinner with the LORD; but if someone sins against the LORD, who can make intercession? Regardless of how his words are translated, does Eli believe God is one in essence and two in persons?

The childhood story of Samuel is summarized with these words: And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people (I Samuel 2:26). Luke described Jesus in a way that recalled the boyhood of the prophet Samuel: And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:53). The first validated the wisdom and integrity of the bearer of God’s words, while the second validated the wisdom and integrity of the actual Word of God in the flesh (John 1:1-4).

Samuel recorded his conversation with God at a time when God seemed to be silent (I Samuel 3:1-14). The LORD called the young Samuel three times. Samuel assumed Eli was calling because Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him (3:7). The LORD continued to speak to Samuel: The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word (3:19-20).

Does God speak to you? You may read Scripture or hear a small still voice. You may dream or have a vision. You may be touched by a word of the LORD from another person or the word of the LORD in a song. Regardless of the way God reveals himself, Samuel’s childhood story shows the need to be ready and willing to listen constantly for that still small voice of God. In doing so, you pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).

Samuel continued to intercede for God’s people. Even when Israel followed after other gods, they begged Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him (I Samuel 7:8-9).

Samuel appointed his own sons as judges, but they did not follow the LORD. Instead, they accepted bribes and perverted justice (I Samuel 8:1-3). Samuel’s sons were corrupt like Eli’s sons. Were both fathers so wrapped up in ecclesiastical duties and responsibilities that they did not spend time with their own sons? Was each father is so certain about his own faith, he expected his sons to believe likewise?

Suddenly Samuel has a word from the LORD. Up until now, Israel was a theocracy ruled by God. Now Israel wanted a king to rule instead of God. Notice what God warns will happen if they chose a king:

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day” (I Samuel 8:10-19).

Samuel interceded for Israel the first time, because they turned from foreign gods to worship the LORD. Samuel interceded for them this time with a prediction that the LORD will not answer you in that day (I Samuel 2:18). Yet, the LORD submitted to their request: Listen to them and give them a king (8:22).

What kind of king would rule Israel? Saul was said to be head and shoulders above all others and handsome (I Samuel 9:2). These were typical attributes to look for in leaders of that day. A tall man could rally the soldiers during war because they could be seen above the rest. Being handsome meant they were a model of perfect manhood. Samuel heard God say that Saul would be ruler over Israel and deliver Israel from the Philistines (9:15). Years later, the people of Israel realized they had disobeyed by asking their God for a king (12:19). The Spirit of the LORD that came upon Saul when he became king (10:10; 11:6) now left Saul and an evil spirit from the LORD tortured Saul (16:14).

The demise of Saul and the rise of David had a godly purpose. God wanted his people to learn faithfulness as opposed to unfaithfulness; trust as opposed to distrust; and, belief as opposed to betrayal. When King David prayed, he compared the sovereignty of the LORD to his lowly position (2 Samuel 7:18-28). David declared God as the creator of all things (Psalm 8) or as omnipresent (Psalm 139). David became the one leader who perfected the art of prayer. His prayers were prolific and memorable (Psalms). One of his prayers was recorded by Samuel:

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:
“Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign LORD, is for a mere human! What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign LORD. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.”

“How great you are, Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, LORD, have become their God.”

“And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.”

“LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you. So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever” (2 Samuel 7:18-29).

Today most people petition God when they are in need. Only a few practice intercessory prayer. Fewer still hear from God. Rare are the prayers like the ones by Hannah and David that teach others about God. When you pray, be faithful to the tradition that many have practice for millennium.

What is your understanding of God? How do you pray and why? Are your prayers only prayers of request or complaint or do your prayers indicate you have a relationship with God? Do you desire to love the God who loves you? A relationship requires conversation. If you do not pray, you are missing out on the most precious gift God gave to you, the ability to speak and listen to your creator.


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