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).