HEBREW – Prayer


pālal [and] śiyach [and] šā’al
Prayer is, of course, a recurring theme in the Psalms. While the verb pālal (H6419) appears only four times (Psa_5:2; Psa_32:6; Psa_72:15; Psa_106:30, “to judge”), we find the noun tepillāh (H8605) some thirty-two times. In its first occurrence, for example, David prays, “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer” (Psa_4:1). There is a man who is dependent upon God.
Another Hebrew word translated prayer, however, is śiyach (H7879), which appears fourteen times in the OT, five of which are in the Psalms, and speaks of contemplation and meditation. Its primary meaning, however, is actually “complaint,” which might seem odd at first. The idea, however, is not complaining in the sense of blaming God, rather deep meditation brought on by distress and urgent need. Job, for example, used this very word in the midst of his suffering (Job_7:13; Job_9:27; Job_10:1; Job_21:4; Job_23:2), as did David in his distress when he hid in a cave from Saul (Psa_142:2; cf. Psa_64:1; Psa_102:1). Prayer is David’s “battleaxe and weapon of war,” writes Charles Spurgeon; “he uses it under every pressure, whether of inward sin or outward wrath, foreign invasion or domestic rebellion. We shall act wisely if we make prayer to God our first and best trusted resource in every hour of need.”
Still another word for prayer in the OT is šā’al (H7592), which appears about 170 times and is also found in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and even “in the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra (Dan_2:10-11; Dan_2:27; Ezr_5:9-10; Ezr_7:21).” It simply means “to ask something of someone,” whether one is just asking a question (Gen_32:17), making a simple request (Jdg_5:25), or even begging (Pro_20:4).
An integral part of prayer, then, is inquiring of and asking God, not just for things, but for guidance, strength, and all else. While we no longer ask the Urim and Thummim (Exo_28:30) for guidance, let us be like David who often “enquired of the LORD” (1Sa_23:2; 1Sa_30:8; 2Sa_2:1; 2Sa_5:19; 2Sa_5:23; 1Ch_14:10; 1Ch_14:14). We never demand anything in prayer; rather we “ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (Jas_4:15).
Scriptures for Study: What wonderful thing does the psalmist ask for in Psa_27:4-9 (“desired” in Psa_27:4 is šā’al)? Note how Mat_6:31-33 is illustrated in Psa_105:40 (“asked” is šā’al).

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