Prayer in the time before Jesus


(M Schmidt) #1

Hi friends,
I’ve been having a hard time describing my question so what I’m going to do is describe the question, describe why I think the answer is no, and lastly why this question is relevant/important. I’d really appreciate your thoughts on whether this answer is plausible, wrong, already accepted (and I just didn’t know), misunderstood, etc…

Question: Were the Israelites able to pray to God, apart from at the temple, prior to Jesus’s Sacrifice?

Definition of Prayer: I understand prayer as a verbal or thought communication to God either to request/praise/talk/etc. (probably to the Father because we pray “in Jesus name”). This makes a lot of sense in the new testament because God has made us clean, worthy of his presence through Jesus’s sacrifice.

Old Testament: In the old testament, communication with God was a responsibility of the Levites and took place in the temple where God was spatially present to the Israelites.

  • Exodus 25:8 - “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst”
  • Exodus 25:22 - “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, … , I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”
  • In 1Samuel 1:10 Hannah is described as “Praying to the Lord” but this even occurs near Eli who is “Sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord”.

Conclusion So, if prayer is communication directly to God, and in the Old Testament (Exodus and later) God was locally present to the temple; then I find myself concluding that general, spatially unbound, universal prayer did not exist for them.

Caveat: I’m not saying God wasn’t able to hear our thoughts and speech before. He’s omniscient, so, no. The limitation would have to be a limitation of us approaching God/being granted a hearing.

Complications: I will add to this conclusion that I struggle with how to rectify this understand to all the instances God speaks to key figures in the Bible before and after God came to dwell with the Israelites in Exodus. My best attempt so far is that Jesus is the one that reaches out to these figures.

  • Genesis 18:1-3 “Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.”

Relevance: The reason I’m asking this question is that I’ve been working with some Mormon believers to understand Mormon beliefs. Their text regularly describes behaviors that make sense only after the Resurrection but date their events prior. This question is part of a train of thought on how Jewish people could never have practiced their faith while living separate from the temple. I want to make sure I correctly understand Christian beliefs before I ask them to help explain this contradiction (In a polite/loving way of course).


(Mitzi Witt) #2

Off the top of my head, I can think of Daniel , who was not at the temple, and he had regular prayer and was answered!! I’m sure others here have more than this however. Just a quick answer. Hope it helps.


(Andrew Bulin) #3

I’m with @mitwit. The rules He set forth in the Levitical law was not a limitation of how to connect with Him, but a way of setting the Israelites apart. David frequently prayed to God directly and he was quite favored.

I’m not sure if this is particularly helpful with discussions with Mormons, but maybe you need less legalistic claims and can speak to the general fallacies of their beliefs?


(M Schmidt) #4

Thanks Mitzi,
I hadn’t thought about the prayer of Daniel, that’s a great example of a person praying outside the temple. I’m still struggling then to figure out what the temple provided besides a place for sacrifice then. My mind keeps thinking of Moses who is described as talking to God on Mount Sinai and leaving with his face glowing (Exodus 34:29-35). Plus with Levitcal laws describing the extremely detailed processes of approaching and entering the Holy of Hollies, it describes a closeness to God that wasn’t available to the common people (just the high priest and even then once a year).

I guess I could rephrase my question then, what did we gain when the Veil tore from top to bottom This to me marks the end of the separation between man and God. (Matthew 27:50-51) But if you’re right and we could always pray and always have personal relationship with God, then God being able to live among us kinda feels like a non-change. What is this separation from God that is now gone?


(M Schmidt) #5

Andrew,
Before Jesus we were not worthy of the presence of God. This is the foundation of the atonement(the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ). If we were worthy of God’s presence, we wouldn’t need a sacrifice. The whole concept of intercession is based upon an idea that we ourselves cannot approach our target recipient on our own. You say “Levitical law is not a limitation of how to connect with him.”. I agree fully. Sin is a limitation of how to connect with God, the Levitical law is a formal process by which our priests could overcome our limitation!

To ignore the separation we have from God completely trivializes the moment that the veil tore (Matthew 27:50-51) when Jesus died on the cross. Something real happened that made it so that we are now able to exist within the holy of hollies but weren’t before. My questions was whether or not talking to God with prayer is something we lost in the fall and I think Mitzi may be right in saying its not but you must not go too far and completely forget that we did loose something when we fell.

The laws can’t solely be intended to make the Israelites set apart because we today are still supposed to be set apart like salt or “a city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14). If being set apart were the only purpose of the Levitical laws, then we should still be practicing them today.

Finally lagalism is an excessive adherence to law. That’s not what I’m trying to do here. I’m trying to understand what the law says. Denying that there is a law given to us by God is not a viable alternative. We must not trivialize God’s law; there is nothing excessive in it.


(Mitzi Witt) #6

I think one thing is to remember that the soul that sins shall die. We still have bodily death, but because of Christ’s atoning death and by His resurrection, we believe that we also will be raised from the dead. A new creation.