The Old Testament’s General Teaching on Prayer

Who prayed true prayers to the true God in the days of the Old Testament? Well, when we are dealing with that part of the Bible we must keep in mind that God didn’t reveal Himself in that era as fully as He would in the New Testament era. Therefore, the answer is: In Old Testament days, it was the people of Israel who got prayer right as they prayed exclusively to their one “LORD.”

This title “LORD” is the translation (more accurately, the substituting) for four Hebrew consonants, the English equivalent of which would be: Y-H-W-H. “YHWH” is given over 5,000 times in the Old Testament as the name of God. Unfortunately, how we got from the Hebrew name “YHWH” to the English name “LORD” is very confusing, but I will make an attempt to give you the basics of the process.

First, we must begin with the fact that ancient Hebrew writing didn’t use vowels. So, in the ancient Hebrew text of the Old Testament the simple consonants “YHWH” are all that are given for this particular name of God. Our modern English translations of the Old Testament indicate this particular name’s use by capitalizing all the letters in “LORD.” For example, the next time you read David’s opening line to Psalm 23 notice that the word “LORD” is in all caps. This is the way our English translations attempt to convey that the Hebrew name for God that is being used is the famous “YHWH.

Second, to further complicate matters concerning the Old Testament’s primary name for God, sometime around 300 B.C. the Jews stopped pronouncing the name out loud whenever they read from the Old Testament. Why did they do this? They did it because they considered the name too holy to even speak and didn’t want to run the risk of breaking the commandment about taking it in vain. So, whenever they came to “YHWH” in their reading, they spoke the name “Adonai” instead. In Hebrew, “Adonai” means “Lord.” This meant that when the last Jew who had actually heard the name “YHWH” pronounced aloud died, the correct way to pronounce it (complete with what written Hebrew vowels should be added to it to make it sound that way) was lost to history. This left the Jews, not to mention everybody else, to attempt to guess at not only the correct way to pronounce the name but also the correct vowels to add to its spelling in Hebrew to make the pronunciation sound as it should.

Third, eventually the Jewish scribes took the Hebrew vowels from “Adonai” and combined them with the consonants “YHWH,” and from this combining came the name in Hebrew “Yahweh.” Later on, the result of this combining was translated from Hebrew into German and English, and from this translating came the name “Jehovah.”

Now, I realize that this is all pretty confusing, but please don’t get bogged down in the translation minutia. The main point of this post is that during the days of the Old Testament the Jews were the people who prayed legitimate prayers to the legitimate God. They prayed to their “LORD” (“Yahweh,” “Jehovah”). Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the Jewish Shema, their ancient confession of faith. Even now devout Jews recite its words twice a day. And the heart of the passage is found in verse 4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!”

In light of the Shema, Old Testament believers prayed to the one “Lord” of Israel. Scripture’s examples of such prayers are far too numerous to list, but perhaps the most famous is the prayer King Solomon prayed to dedicate the Jewish temple (1 Kings 8:22-53). That prayer covers thirty-two verses! So, to sum up, if the question is, “How prayed true prayers to the true God in the days of the Old Testament?” the answer is, “The Jews and any Gentiles who had enough spiritual light to pray to Israel’s one true God.

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