Biblical Prayer

Spontaneity and creativity were hallmarks of prayer in the time of the Bible.

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The foremost way of worshipping God in ancient Israel, from antiquity through the year 70 C.E., was through sacrifice, primarily of animals. Alongside that worship, though, there existed another form of worship: prayer. Unlike sacrifices, biblical prayer was not an established, ritualized communal practice. Reprinted with permission from Jewish Worship, published by The Jewish Publication Society.

In addition to the sacrificial rites there was a collateral form of worship, unofficial but fully recognized--private prayer. The Bible records private prayers by almost every important personality with whose life and activity it deals. The religious men and women turned to God in prayer, and their prayers, as recorded in the Bible, touch the heart and stir deep religious sentiments. 

Solomon's Prayer

In general, the personal prayers in the Bible--exclusive of the Psalms--are very much like the prayers that we would utter today. Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple may serve as an example. It contains all the elements of prayer-praise and thanksgiving, confession and intercession:

jewish biblical prayer"0 Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like Thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath; who keepest covenant and mercy with Thy servants, that walk before Thee with all their heart; ... Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded! Yet have Thou respect unto the prayer of Thy servant, and to his supplication, 0 Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer which Thy servant prayeth before Thee this day; that Thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day.... And hearken Thou to the supplication of Thy servant, and of Thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place; yea, hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place; and when Thou hearest, forgive" [I Kings 8:23, 27-30].

Like all the prayers uttered by biblical personalities or ascribed to them, Solomon's prayer is addressed directly to God. There are no priests or other intermediaries, nor does Solomon offer any sacrifices to win God's favor. Solomon supplicates God with words that come from the heart, and his prayer is uttered in the utmost faith that if he is deserving his prayer will be heard and answered.

Primitive Elements

To be sure, some biblical prayers contain primitive elements, such as prayers that are conditional in content. The suppliant formulates his prayer in the framework of a vow to do something which he assumes is pleasing to God if his prayer is answered. The classic example of this type of prayer is Jephthah's vow before going to war against the Ammonites:

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Rabbi Abraham Ezra Millgram (1900-1998) served as a congregational rabbi, a Hillel director, and from 1945 to 1961, Educational Director of the Commission on Jewish Education of the United Synagogue of America. During several decades of active retirement in Jerusalem, he published a number of books, including Jerusalem Curiosities (Jewish Publication Society) and A Short History of Jerusalem (Jason Aronson).