Christadelphians - Bible Believing People

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by Phil Edmonds


This study falls into 6 sections:

Prayers and Blessing
Praise and Giving Thanks
Intercession and Mediation
Loose Ends
Appendix 1 - Our Posture When Praying
Appendix 2 - Incense




Shav'ah (St 7775 Heb) cry
Techinnah (St 8467 Heb) supplication
Deomai   (St 1189 Gk)  to pray, beseech
Deesis   (St 1162 Gk)  prayer, supplication

Deesis is used in 1 Peter 3 v 12

"For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication (gk deesis)"

This passage quotes Psalm 34 v 15, where the equivalent hebrew word for deesis is shav`ah  (St 7775 Heb).

Shav`ah is derived from shava` (St 7768 Heb) which means "to cry/call out".

The expression "prayer and supplication (gk deesis)" in the New Testament (e.g. Ephesians  6 v 18) has its parallel in the Old Testament (e.g. 1 Kings 8 v 54). In these instances, the hebrew equivalent of the greek word "deesis" is "techinnah" (St 8467 Heb) or a related word.

Techinnah is derived from chanan (St 2603 Heb) which means "to be gracious".

The relationship between "supplication" and "to be gracious" is shown in  Psalm 86 v 3 - 6:

"... BE GRACIOUS (heb chanan) unto me Lord ... attend unto the voice of my SUPPLICATIONS (heb tachanunoth)".


The greek word deesis expresses meanings contained in hebrew words like shav`ah (crying out) and techinnah (a request for God to be gracious).  Offering supplication involves calling out to God and asking him to be gracious. Making supplication also seems to be related to a recognition of having "sinned, done perversely and committed wickedness" (1 Kings 8 v 47, Daniel 9 v 3, 5).

The ideas of calling out and asking for grace/favour, represented by the hebrew words shava' and chanan, which lie behind the New Testament words deomai/deesis come together in Psalm 31 v 22:

"For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before your eyes: nevertheless, you heard the voice of my SUPPLICATIONS (heb tachanunim) when I CRIED (or called) (heb shava') to you."



Proseuche     (St 4335 Gk)  prayer
Proseuchomai  (St 4334 Gk)  to pray

Tephillah     (St 8605 Hb)  prayer
Palal (St 6419 Hb - hithpa`el form)  to pray

The meaning of proseuche/proseuchomai - praying to

The greek words proseuche (prayer) and proseuchomai (to pray) are made up of two parts, pros (towards) and euch- (wish/request). This is shown by 2 Corinthians 13 v 7, which uses the two parts separately:

"Now I pray (gk euchomai) to (gk pros) God ....."

The greek word euchomai, which is a part of the greek word translated "to pray", has the idea of requesting or wishing associated with it. For example, in Acts 27 v 29 the sailors "wished (gk euchomai) for the day".  More of this later on when vows are considered.


The greek "proseuch..." means to pray towards. It is equivalent to the hebrew phrase made up of the word "palal" (St 6419 Heb - to pray) and the preposition "el" (unto).

For example, Abraham "prayed unto" (heb palal el) God (Genesis 20 v 17), an idea which is captured by the single greek word "proseuchomai".

(There are a few instances where the verb proseuchomai is only used to convey the "pray" part of the expression "pray to God", with the "to" part being expressed by the use of the dative form of the word translated "God". It is possible that these instances are equivalent to the hebrew "palal l" or "pray to" (as opposed to "palal el"), which is an uncommon expression in the Old Testament (e.g. one use is when Daniel prayed to Yahweh in Daniel 9 v 4).

Praying upon

The Old Testament refers to people praying "upon" the Lord, for example Hannah prayed in this way (1 Samuel 2 v 10). It may be that a similar sentiment is expressed in 1 Peter 5 v 7, which speaks of "Casting all your care UPON him, for he careth for you".

The meaning of palal/tephillah

The form of the hebrew verb palal translated "to pray" in our bibles is the hithpa`el form. This form of hebrew verbs is used to describe actions that people do to themselves. The other forms of the verb palal have the idea of judgement associated with them , so the Hithpa`el form which is translated "to pray" should have the idea of "judging oneself" associated with it.
An example of a form of the verb palal having the idea of judgement is Psalm 106 v 30, where it says that Phinehas "executed judgement" (heb palal - but not the hithpa`el form of the verb). The idea of judgement also comes out of the related words palil (St 6414 Heb), pelilah (St 6415 Heb) and pelili (St 6416 Heb).

So how does the idea of self judgement fit in with instances in the Old Testament of people praying? It seems to describe the person who is praying making a judgement about how God perceives their circumstances, and speaking with God based on that judgement. For example, Psalm 102 is a "prayer of the afflicted", the psalmist judges himself to be suffering from what scripture calls "affliction" and this forms the basis for the prayer.

Any definition of the hithpa`el form of "palal" has to be wide enough to encompass the two main types of statements used in prayers in the Old Testament:

a)   Making requests to God;
b)   Making statements about who and what God is, and how the person offering the prayer relates to him.

It is important to recognise that a tephillah or prayer does not have to consist of requests, however it does have to consist of "self judgement".  In this respect it is useful to compare Hannah's two prayers (heb tephillah) in 1 Samuel 1 v 11 and 2 v 1 - 10. The prayer in 1 Samuel 1 includes requests to God whereas the prayer in 1 Samuel 2 does not.

Comparison of proseuche/proseuchomai and palal/tephillah

It has been seen that the euchomai part of the greek word proseuchomai has the idea of wishing associated with it. It has also been concluded that the form of the hebrew verb palal that is equivalent to proseuchomai has the idea of self judgement associated with it. The ideas represented by the two words can encompass similar forms of speaking, however they do not overlap exactly. Returning to Psalm 102 as an example of where the two ideas overlap, we see self judgement in that the psalmist recognises the fact that he is afflicted in God's eyes. This leads to wishes or requests like in verse 1, "Hear my prayer O Lord ..." and in verse 2 "Hide not thy face from me ...".


Although a definition of proseuchomai (the New Testament word translated "to pray"), with its idea of wishing picks up one consequence of the process of self judgement expressed by the hithpa`el form of palal, it does not pick up all that it encompasses. For example, Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2 contains no requests, but it does contain expressions of how Hannah relates to the purpose of God (e.g. v1 "My heart rejoiceth in the Lord"). It is likely that the greek word proseuchomai  only picks up some of the meaning of  the hithpa`el form of the hebrew word palal, and that other aspects are picked up by other greek words like eulogeo (to bless). More of this later on.

Praying for others

A problem with translating the hithpa`el form of the hebrew word palal as "to judge self", is understanding how this applies in instances where people pray for (heb be`ad) others. Instances of this are Abraham praying for Abimelech the king of Gerar (Gen 20 v 7), Moses praying for the people of Israel and for Aaron (Numbers 21 v 7, Deuteronomy 9 v 20), Samuel praying for the people of Israel (1 Samuel 7 v 5 : 12 v 19, 23), a man of God praying for Jeroboam king of Israel (1 Kings 13 v 6), Hezekiah praying for the people of Judah (2 Chronicles 30 v 18), Job praying for his friends (Job 42 v 10), Jeremiah praying for the people of Judah and disciples of Christ praying for kings and those in authority (1 Timothy 2 v 1).

In these instances, the striking thing is that the people offering prayers are godly people and the people they are praying for have limited understanding of who God is. Praying for others seems to arise when godly people make judgements for people who are incapable, or who have shown themselves incapable of making judgements for themselves.

A different sort of "praying for" arises in Romans 15 v 30 where Paul asks the Romans to strive together with him in their prayers to God for him. In this instance, it is a case of disciples sharing the sufferings of brethren and praying alongside those who are in difficulty. This emphasizes the common spirit that should be shared between brethren, so that if "one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Corinthians 12 v 26).

Supplication and prayer in the Old Testament

Old Testament prayers (described by the verb palal and the related word tephillah) can include supplication, as Psalm 86 demonstrates. It is called a "prayer of David", yet includes supplications (v 6). On other occasions in the Old Testament however, the ideas of prayer and supplication are expressed separately, for example Daniel sought God by "prayer and supplications" (Daniel 9 v 3). In this instance, verses 4 - 15 consist of the prayer, which is a confession (v 4). This is followed in verses 16 - 19 by supplication (see verses 17, 18). This pattern of confession followed by supplication can be extended to include the giving of thanks once the supplication is answered (confession and giving thanks are represented by different forms of the same hebrew verb). This pattern is considered in more detail when giving thanks is considered.

Prayers and Blessing

Barak    (St 1288 Hb)  to bless
Eulogeo  (St 2127 Gk)  to bless

In the Old Testament, blessing God seems to specifically require the use of the verb barak and a blessing statement, e.g. 1 Chronicles 29 v 10 ("Blessed be thou, Yahweh, God of our fathers"). One cause of blessing God is answered prayer.
Psalm 66 v 20 is an example of this, which makes the statement, "Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me".

Similarly, Psalm 28 v 6 says,

"Blessed be the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplications".

[Note: Earlier it was seen that supplication is an aspect of prayer which involves asking God to be  gracious. One way of blessing God is to speak of his graciousness, e.g. Psalm 145 v 1,8:

"I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever ... The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy".]

Blessing also occurs at the conclusion of prayers. Verses 18 and 19 of Psalm 72 contain the statements "Blessed be the Lord God" and "Blessed be his glorious name" respectively, with v 20 adding "the prayers (heb tephillah) of David the son of Jesse are ended."

As was seen earlier, 1 Chronicles  29 v 10 - 19 is an example of a blessing (this is an occasion when David blessed Yahweh). From reading through the blessing it is clear that it also contains the elements of "self judgement" that we would expect to see from a tephillah. For example David makes the judgement that he is a "stranger and sojourner" in the sight of God (v 15). It is also clear that aspects of this blessing are  picked up in Jesus' prayer (v11 "thine is the kingdom", "thine is the power and the glory" - see Matthew 6 v 13).


It would seem that a similar relationship exists between prayer (heb tephillah) and blessing in the Old Testament, as that between prayer and supplication. The desire to bless God arises from the self judgement that is at the foundation of prayer, so blessing can be regarded as falling within the scope of the word translated "to pray" (heb palal) in the Old Testament. Blessing of God can result from God responding to requests made in earlier prayers.

It is concluded that blessing is another expression of feelings which can arise from  the process of "self judgement" that constitutes the basis of  a tephillah or prayer.
 Blessing God and Blessing People in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, people bless Yahweh by saying "Blessed be ...". This limited definition of blessing is not the same as the meaning of the word translated "to bless" in the New Testament (see the next section).

When people bless other people in the Old Testament, as opposed to blessing God, the means of speaking is different again. Examples of this form of blessing are Isaac's blessing for Jacob (Genesis 27 v 27 - 29), Jacob's blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48 v 16) and Solomon's blessing of the people (1 Kings 8 v 15 - 21 ; 56 - 61). In these instances, the blessing comprises a recognition that blessings come from God and the wish that he would be with the people concerned and care for them.

Blessing in the New Testament

In the New Testament, blessing is represented by the greek verb eulogeo (to bless) and the related words eulogetos (blessed) and eulogia (blessing). These words are made up of two parts, eu (well, good) and log-- (speaking), so blessing God in the New Testament has the meaning of "to speak well of". This is a wider meaning than blessings in the Old Testament, which always seems to contain the word "blessed". An example of this wider form of blessing in the New Testament occurs in Luke 2 v 29 - 32 where Simeon blesses God with these words:

"Lord, now you let (in the AV it is translated "lettest thou" which sounds a bit like a request, however this is a wrong impression) thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel".

This "blessing" consists of statements about God's purpose and how the person offering it relates to them. So, the New Testament word translated "to bless" (eulogeo) has the general meaning of "speaking well of" God's purpose.  It seems to encompass elements of Old Testament prayers (heb tephillah) which consider God's qualities and how the  person offering the prayer relates to them, such as those which occur in Hannah's tephillah in 1 Samuel 2 (e.g. "The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up" (v7)).

The preceding ideas are helpful when looking at the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6 v 9 - 13 (commonly known as the Lord's prayer). It has been seen that praying to God, represented by the greek words proseuche/proseuchomai, seems to relate primarily to the making of requests/wishes. Confirmation that the prayer in Matthew 6 relates to making requests comes from Matthew 6 v 8 - 9, where Jesus says that "your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye ...".

It is often assumed that this prayer of Jesus is a model for use when communicating with God. This is true, but only in the limited sense that the greek words proseuche/proseuchomai convey. It does not cover communication with God that doesn't include requests. This other way of speaking to God is called prayer (heb tephillah) in the Old Testament, but is termed blessing in the New Testament.


Blessing God in the New Testament has a broader meaning than blessing God in the Old Testament, which seems to be restricted to the use of the phrase "Blessed be ..". Some aspects of the greek word translated "to bless" in the New Testament are incorporated in the Old Testament meaning of prayer (i.e. statements about God and how the person speaking relates to them).
Whereas palal/tephillah in the Old Testament can incorporate many forms of communication with God which arise from "self judgement", the likelihood is that proseuchomai/proseuche (i.e.New Testament prayer) focuses primarly on one form of that communication, i.e. that which includes making certain kinds of requests. (So the "Lord's" prayer which primarily contains requests is a proseuche, even though it does contain "blessing" statements as well.)

A number of other New Testament words which cover communication with God are listed in 1 Timothy 2 v 1 where Paul says:

"I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications (gk deesis), prayers (gk proseuche), intercessions (gk enteuxis) and giving of thanks (gk eucharistia) be made for all men."

Supplications, intercessions, giving of thanks and blessings seem to describe different sorts of communication with  God in the New Testament, which are separate from the New Testament idea of prayer. It has been seen already that supplication involves asking God to be gracious, which is a specific sort of request, the other ideas contained in 1 Timothy 2 v 1 will be dealt with later on.


There is a tendency for people offering prayers to say Amen at the end, however the Bible indicates that it should only be used at the end of statements which bless or glorify God for establishing an everlasting covenant with mankind.

It has been seen that blessing statements can occur at the end of prayers, and as "Amen" sometimes comes at the end of these statements, it is easy to see why the impression has arisen that it comprises some sort of  verbal "full stop" to a prayer.

The significance of using Amen at the end of prayers can be shown by looking at two aspects of  its meaning, firstly its link with the everlasting nature of Yahweh, and secondly its use as a sign of agreement.

Amen - The link with Ever

It is important to realise that Amen is used at the end of  statements containing the words "ever" or something similar, for example

Matthew 6 v 13:

"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for EVER. Amen."

 1 Timothy 1 v 17:

"Now unto the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for EVER and EVER. Amen."

Ephesians 3 v 21:

"Unto (God) be glory in the ekklesia by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."

Psalm 41 v 13:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from EVERLASTING and to EVERLASTING. Amen and Amen."

The statement in Matthew comes from Jesus' prayer, and the statement in Psalm 41 comes at the end of the psalm. The statements in 1 Timothy and Ephesians come in the middle of the letters (however Ephesians 3 v 21 can be considered to be the end of a prayer - see the section on posture in prayer).

The fact that the use of Amen is linked to the everlasting nature of the Father in these passages gives an indication of its meaning. 1 Chronicles 17 v 23, 4 helps to explain its significance when it says:

"Therefore now, Lord, let the thing that thou hast spoken, concerning thy servant (David) and concerning his house be established (heb aman) for EVER, and do as thou hast said. Let it even be established (heb aman), and (AV that) thy name may be magnified for EVER, saying, The Lord of Hosts is the God of Israel, even a God to Israel: and let the house of David thy servant be established (heb aman) before thee".

This passage shows that Yahweh will be magnified for ever because his word concerning the promises made to David is sure or established or Amen. Those who receive salvation because of the establishment of his word and his promises will be able to bless him for ever.

So when prayers end with statements like "to God be the glory for ever, Amen", the use of Amen is emphasising that the time when God will be glorified and the circumstances that will make it come about are certain.

There is no direct evidence that "Amen" should be said by someone offering a prayer that only contains requests, but not blessings (like the one in Luke 11 v 2 - 4).

Amen - a sign of agreement

It has been seen that under some circumstances it is appropriate for a person offering a prayer to say "Amen" at the end of it. The next section considers why it may be appropriate for others to say "Amen" when hearing others speaking.

Jeremiah 11 v 1 - 5 records Yahweh's words to Jeremiah about the covenant that he made with Israel, and contains the curses and blessings associated with it. As a response, Jeremiah says "Amen (AV so be it), Yahweh".

In Nehemiah 8 v 6, it says that the people answered "Amen, Amen", after Ezra had blessed Yahweh.

In 1 Corinthians 14 v 16 it speaks of people saying "Amen" as a response to a blessing or giving of thanks spoken by another.

In these examples, "Amen" is said as a sign of assent by others to the words which have been spoken.


Amen can be considered to be a sign of agreement with the words spoken by others. However, its main use (as in Jesus' prayer in Matthew 6) is in association with the wish that God should be blessed for ever. On these occasions it is a statement of belief in the sureness of God's promises that will bring this about, and is said by the person offering the prayer.

There does not seem to be any evidence in scripture that a person offering a prayer should say Amen at the end of it, unless it ends with a statement referring to the everlasting qualities of God. There is evidence that people say "Amen" as a sign of agreement to statements made by others which bless Yahweh, or as a response to hearing the words of  God, and it could perhaps be spoken by people hearing a prayer as a sign of agreement to statements or requests made in it.

Praise and Giving Thanks

Halal    (St  1984 Hb)  to praise
Aineo    (St   134 Gk)  to praise
Yadah (St 3034 Hb)  to give thanks
Eucharisteo  (St 2168 Gk)  to give thanks

Before exploring this area further, it would be worthwhile clarifying what is covered by "praising" and "giving thanks". In hebrew, two verbs translated "to praise" are yadah (St 3034 heb) and halal (St 1984 heb). The greek equivalent of halal seems to be aineo (St 134 Gk), and this can be concluded from the fact that Psalm 117 v 1 ("Praise (heb halal) the Lord") is quoted in Romans 15 v 11. In this instance, the greek equivalent of halal is aineo.

Yadah is also translated "to give thanks" in the Old Testament and, by a process of elimination, the greek equivalent of it would seem to be eucharisteo (St 2168 Gk) (a link between the two words will be explored later on). Yadah also seems to be represented in the New Testament by homologeo (St 3670 Gk) and is usually translated "profess" or "confess".

Although halal is used in expressions like "Praise the Lord" and "I will praise you (if something  happens)", it does does not seem to be used in expressions like "I praise you because you ....". So praising does not seem to be directed at God in terms of expressions like "I praise you ...", but seems to be limited to statements spoken about what God is, or to promises to  praise God in the future. For example, Psalms 146 - 150 are psalms which contain many praise statements (heb halal), and say things about God and not things to him.

(Psalm 145 is called "David's psalm of praise". The hebrew word translated "praise" here is tehillah, which is related to halal. This psalm contains statements made to God, e.g. v1 "I will extol thee my God, O king", as well as statements about him, e.g. v 14 "The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down". The references to praising (heb halal) in the psalm are in verses 2 and 3 ("I will praise thy name for ever and ever" and "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised"). The expression in verse 3 "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised" is what previous observations have led us to expect from a "praise" statement (i.e. a statement about God). So the psalm  can be termed a tehillah because it contains praise statements, the fact that  it contains other expressions as well like the self judgements found in a tephillah does not invalidate this.)

Aineo, the greek equivalent of halal, is used in a similar way, i.e. in making statements about God (e.g. Luke 2 v 14 "Glory (gk aineo) to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men").

The verb yadah mostly seems to be used in a similar way to halal,  in that it is either used in statements which are spoken about God, e.g. "O give thanks unto Yahweh" (Psalm 105 v 1), or it is used in statements which promise to thank him, e.g. "I will greatly praise (heb yadah - give thanks) Yahweh with my mouth" (Psalm  109 v 30). However, there does seem to be one instance where the verb yadah is used in an expression of the form "I thank you Lord ...". Psalm 75 v 1 says

"We give thanks (heb yadah) to you God, we give thanks (heb yadah) and your name is near, your wonderful works declare" (suggested translation).

There are a couple of similar expressions to Psalm 75 in the New Testament, where "to thank" is represented in the greek by the verb eucharisteo. So in John 11 v 41 Jesus says, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me", and in  Revelation 11 v 17 the twenty four elders say "we give thee thanks , O Lord God Almighty ... because thou hast taken to thee thy great power and hast reigned".

 (Some uses of yadah, which are picked up in the New Testament by the word homologeo, seem to fall firmly into the "talk about" rather than the "talk to" category. See next section.)

Confession and Giving Thanks

Looking closer at the hebrew word yadah, it is clear that we need to be a bit more specific about what form of the verb we are considering. Just like the verb palal, we need to make a distinction between the Hithpa`el form of the verb and the other forms.

The Hithpa`el form of the verb (the "I do something to myself" form) is used in prayers and describes the confession of sins (for example Daniel's prayer in chapter 9 includes this sort of confession (v 4)). The other form of the verb which we are interested in (the Hiph`il form) has the idea of confessing God's works or thanking him.

The uses of the Hithpa`el and Hiph`il forms of the verb are instructive. When we confess ourselves (Hithpa`el form) we have nothing to commend ourselves with, but we are only able to relate our sins. However when we confess God, there is nothing bad to be said about him, just good things. One reason why we confess/give thanks to God is because "he is good, for his mercy is for ever" (e.g. Psalm 107 v 1 and other places).

From an examination of the use of the hebrew word yadah  (to give thanks), palal/tephillah (to pray/prayer) and their related words, the possibility emerges that prayer and thanksgiving are separate, i.e. it may not be possible in scriptural terms to offer "a prayer (tephillah) of thanks". Where there is some overlap, like when the psalmist refers to giving thanks in Psalm 86 v 12 (Psalm 86 is a  tephillah or prayer - title), it seems to be more in the context of what the Psalmist would do if his prayer was answered. In other passages where giving thanks/confessing is used in the same context as prayer, it is likely that giving thanks is something separate to  prayer (for example in 1 Kings 8 v 33 it speaks of people "Confessing (or giving thanks - heb yadah - Hiph`il form), praying and making supplication").

If giving thanks to Yahweh is not prayer in the sense of a tephillah, how does this fit in with what has been discovered about the meaning of prayer? The likelihood is that scripture separates between the two to emphasize the "before and after" relationship that can exist between them.

It has been seen that prayer (heb tephillah) can contain supplication or requests for God to be gracious. The following quotations indicate that thanksgiving is a response to God being gracious, i.e. it is something that comes after prayer is offered to God and has been answered.

Psalm 6 v 2, 5:

"Have mercy upon me (lit "be gracious to me") Yahweh ... for in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?".

Psalm 30 v 4 - 12:

"Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness ... Hear O Lord and be gracious (AV have mercy) upon me ... O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever".

Psalm 111 v 1 - 4:

"I will give thanks to (AV praise) the Lord with my whole heart ... he hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion".

Psalm 145 v 8 - 10:

"The Lord is gracious and merciful (AV full of mercy - heb rachum) ... The Lord is good to all: and his mercies (AV tender mercies - heb rachamim) are over all his works. All thy works shall give thanks to (AV praise) thee, O Lord; and all thy saints shall bless thee".

The first 3 passages show that giving thanks results from remembering that Yahweh is gracious. In addition they indicate that, because God is gracious, his works involve showing grace. Psalm 145 then shows these works lead to the salvation of the saints, which means that the saints can be considered to be part of his works. In turn, the saints (his works) give thanks for the grace shown to them (see Psalm 145 v 10).

The foregoing raises the question of whether it is appropriate to offer thanks for things which we have not asked for. So it may be inappropriate to offer thanks for food at meal times, if we have not asked for it to be provided in the first place (see Matthew 6 v 11) and are not mindful of where it comes from.

Earlier, Psalm 111 v 1 - 4 was quoted, which contains the statements "I will give thanks to the Lord .... he hath made his wonderful works to be remembered". This shows that giving thanks arises from remembering Yahweh's wonderful works (heb niphle'oth). These wonderful works are referred to again in Psalm 26 v 7 which speaks of  the psalmist wishing to publish "with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell (heb saphar or count) all your wonderful works (heb niphle'oth)". These instances of giving thanks from remembering and counting Yahweh's works, suggest that giving thanks should be a result of recalling specific things.

The path from confession to thanks

The greek word translated "to give thanks" is made up of two parts, eu meaning "well" and "charisteo" meaning "to be gracious". The relationship between grace (greek "charis") and giving thanks (greek "eucharisteo") found in the Old Testament can be identified in the New Testament as well. 1 Corinthians 10 v 30, which deals with food sacrificed to idols, says:

"If I by GRACE be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I GIVE THANKS".

From this passage it is seen that those who are the recipients of God's grace give thanks (explaining why giving thanks in the New Testament contains the greek word for grace as well).

Earlier in these notes it was seen that the expression "prayer and supplication" can describe the confession of sin followed by supplication or asking God to be gracious. In this section it has been seen that confession and giving thanks are different forms of the same verb in the Old Testament and that thanksgiving is a response to God showing grace or hearing supplication. So we can now write this sequence:

Confession of self (sin)         -> Supplication (part of prayer) - >    God being gracious    - > Giving thanks.
(Hithpa`el form of Yadah)                                                                                                    (Hiph`il form of Yadah)
Hands and thanks
It is clear that there is a practice in scripture of taking hold of the things that we give thanks for. This is true for food, as indicated by the examples of the loaves and fishes (Matthew 15 v 36) and the passover meal that Jesus and his disciples shared (Matthew 26 v 27). In the last instance, it forms part of the practice that  was to be followed by disciples remembering their Lord (1 Corinthians 11 v 23 - 26). This association with the thing that we give thanks for, by taking hold of it, shows the principle that our thanks should not be of a cursory or of a general nature, but should be specific.  This example of taking things brings to mind the taking of things to sacrifice to Yahweh (e.g  Exodus 29 v 1). Giving thanks follows the taking of  things which Yahweh has given to us to enjoy, whereas offering sacrifice involves taking things which are to be offered to him. In the case of  sacrifices, people associated with their offerings, we should also try to be specific when we give thanks.

(The Old Testament words translated "hand" and "to give thanks" are similar to each other (hand = yad and to give thanks = yadah). Also in the New Testament, there may be a similarity between hands and giving thanks (hand = cheir and to give thanks = eucharisteo). The similarities may be due to the practice of holding the thing that thanks is given for.)


Apart from yadah, the other hebrew word translated "to praise" is halal (St 1984 - Heb). It has the idea of shining associated with it, and can describe making oneself shine or someone else. The Hithpa'el form of this verb is translated by words like "to glory" or "to boast". The quotation of Jeremiah 9 v 24 ("Let him that glorieth glory in this ...") in 1 Corinthians 1 v 31 indicates that the Hithpa'el or reflexive form of halal is represented in the New Testament by the greek word kauchomai (St 2744 - Gk). These passages show that the only acceptable form of self praising/boasting is in the fact that we are associated with the true God, there is no merit in boasting in our own achievements.

Praise, in the halal sense of the word, can be given by people or created things (e.g. sun and moon - Psalm 148 v 3). The principle in this latter case seems to be of God's creation giving testimony to his works and qualities.

It was noted earlier that the active sense of  halal and its greek equivalent aineo are used to describe the making of statements about God, and not making statements to him. So when Hebrews 13 v 15 tells us to "offer up the sacrifice of praise (gk ainesis - related to aineo) to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, confessing (AV giving thanks to - gk homologeo) his name", what does  it mean?

The expression "confess his name" in this passage seems to pick up similar expressions that use the Hiph`il form of the hebrew word yadah in the Old Testament (e.g. 1 Kings 8 v 33). This link between the hebrew yadah and the greek homologeo is further demonstrated by the fact that Psalm 18 v 49 is quoted in Romans 15 v 9. In the psalm, "to give thanks" is a translation of yadah,  and in Romans "to confess" is a  translation of homologeo. Uses of homologeo in the New Testament seem to describe the uttering of statements about God  and  his  son (e.g. Matthew 10 v 32),  which  matches with a  similar conclusion  arrived  at earlier  that praise (aineo/ainesis) describes a way of speaking about God and not to him. So when Hebrews 13 v 15 speaks about praising and confessing God, it describes a way of speaking about him and not to him. A question worth considering is whether praise and confession forms part of our discipleship, as Hebrews chapter 13 suggests is should, because they seem to describe a method of speaking which is not heard very often nowadays?


Nadar  (St 5087 Hb)   to vow
Neder     (St 5088 Hb)   vow
Euche  (St 2171 Gk)  vow/wish

In 1 Samuel 1 v 11 it records a vow that Hannah made when she was praying:

"O Lord of Hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head."

Instead of Hannah requesting that Yahweh gives her a child, she says that if he gives a child to her, she will give him to Yahweh.

This raises the question of whether all requests to God should be considered as vows? Does an answered prayer put obligations on the person who offered it to reciprocate in some way?

Consider Psalm 50 v 14, 15:

"Sacrifice (AV offer) unto God thanksgiving (heb todah - related to yadah): and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me".

We have already seen in these notes that thanksgiving follows prayer. If we make a request to God in the day of trouble and are delivered then we are expected to offer thanksgiving to the Lord.

In the New Testament, the greek word euche is used when describing vows made under the law (see Acts 18 v 18 and 21 v 23). This word is related to euchomai which in turn comprises a major part of the New Testament word translated "to pray" (proseuchomai).

The connection between vows and praying seen in the Old Testament explains the word link discovered in the New Testament. Praying to the Lord, in the sense described by the greek word proseuchomai, can be regarded as encompassing the obligation to respond by blessing and thanksgiving when a request is answered, as it is a vow.


Intercession and Mediation

Paga`       (St 6293 Hb)    to fall on, to make intercession
Entugchano  (St 1793 Gk)    to make intercession
Enteuxis    (St 1783 Gk)    intercession

The hebrew word translated "to make intercession" is paga` and has the idea of reaching to (e.g. Joshua 19 v 27), or meeting, often in a violent context (e.g. 1 Samuel 22 v 18 "(Doeg) fell (heb paga`) upon the priests").

In Jeremiah 7 v 16 and 27 v 18 meeting or reaching to Yahweh is spoken about (e.g. "Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession with me (AV "to me") : for I will not hear thee" (Jeremiah 7 v 16)).

The idea of meeting is applied to the Lord Jesus as well. In Isaiah 53 v 6 it says that Yahweh "caused to meet (heb paga` - AV "laid") with him (AV "on him") the iniquity of us all". This use of paga` helps to explain the statement in Isaiah 53 v 12 "and he bare the sin of many, and caused to meet (heb paga` - AV made intercession) for transgressions". Isaiah 53 v 6 indicates the nature of the things that Jesus met for transgressors, namely iniquity.

The greek word translated "to make intercession" in the New Testament is entugchano and is made up of en (in) and tugchano (to obtain). The greek words en and tugchano come together in 2 Timothy 2 v 10 and this verse helps to give an understanding of what entugchano means. It says:

"Therefore I (Paul) endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain (gk tugchano) the salvation which is in (gk en) Christ Jesus with eternal glory".

Hebrews 7 v 25 adds concerning Christ that he is able "to save (those) that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession (gk entugchano) for (gk huper) them".

The message of 2 Timothy 2 v 10 and Hebrews 7 v 25 are very similar. We OBTAIN salvation IN Christ, because of what Christ has done FOR us. Jesus' act of intercession for us was in offering himself as an acceptable sacrifice for sin. It is because he rose from the dead and "ever liveth" that salvation can be obtained in him. It is through the work of the Lord Jesus that we can enter into the holiest (Hebrews 10 v 19) and make our requests "known unto God" (Philippians 4 v 6), and that if they are "in Christ's name" (see next section) they will be granted. It is through the work of Jesus that we have the incredible privilege of being able to enter into the dwelling place of the Father and address him directly.

On the contrary, Elijah made intercession to God against (gk kata) Israel, saying

"Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life" (Romans 11 v 2, 3).

In this instance, Israel can be considered as being associated with or "in" Elijah and that he wishes them to "obtain" a recompence for their wickedness. So intercession can be either a positive thing if it is "for", or negative if it is "against".

Paul's supplication in Romans 10 v 1 may be considered to be the opposite sentiment to Elijah's intercession:

"Brethren, my heart's desire and supplication (gk deesis - AV prayer) to God for (gk huper) Israel is that they may be saved."

Here is supplication, but the fact that it is FOR others and relates to their salvation shows that it could be regarded as a form of intercession in this instance. The only difference between this sort of supplication and the intercession in Hebrews 7 v 25 is that Paul's supplication is for people who he does not represent. True, he is an Israelite, however he is different to them in that he is seeking salvation through grace and not dead works.

Intercession and Mediation

Intercession in the Old Testament has the idea of meeting, and in the case of Jeremiah 7 v 16 it can describe godly men meeting with Yahweh for the benefit of others who do not have this privelege. It is this last meaning of meeting with Yahweh to the benefit of others which seems to be reflected in the New Testament idea of intercession. In the case of the Lord Jesus, his work of intercession and mediation was through his obedient sacrifice, and this has permitted us to obtain salvation in him and to have "boldness to enter into the holiest" (Hebrews 10 v 19) and approach directly to the Father. Just as Jesus' work of intercession was when he offered an acceptable sacrifice for sin, so was his work of mediation. As 1 Timothy 2 v 5, 6 says,

"There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all".

His work of mediation is described further in Hebrews 9 v 15:

"(Jesus) is the mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament ...".

The work of intercession and mediation of the Lord Jesus can conjure up ideas of an ongoing role, of Jesus in some way presenting our prayers continually to his Father. However, scripture teaches that Jesus' act of intercession and mediation was "once" (Hebrews 7 v 27, 9 v 12, 10 v 10), as opposed to the repetitious actions undertaken as part of the law of Moses.


Loose Ends

  James 5

James 5 v 14 - 6 pulls together a number of ideas that have been explored already, like supplication and praying for others. It says:

"Is any sick (gk asthenes) among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray (gk proseuchomai) over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer (gk euche) of faith shall save the sick (gk kamno), and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess (gk exomologeomai) your faults one to another, and pray (gk euchomai) for one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent supplication (AV "prayer" - gk deesis) of a righteous man availeth much".

This passage shows similarities to Romans 10 v 1 in that it speaks of offering supplication with the result that others are benefited, and also  this supplication is offered for others. In this instance the supplication is for brethren who are sick (gk kamno), and other uses of this word  (Hebrews 12 v 3, Revelation 2 v 3) show that this sickness is spiritual rather than physical.

When praise and giving thanks was considered, it was concluded that the greek word homologeo referred to making statements about God. In the passage in James 5, it uses the related word ex - omologeomai. The uses of this word show differences to homologeo in that it can describe the act of speaking to God and other people (e.g. Luke 10 v 21, James 5 v 16). It seems that the meaning of the greek word exomologeomai includes that represented by the hithpa`el form of the hebrew word yadah, so is used to express the confession of sins, whereas homologeo equates to the hiph`il form of yadah and is used when  confession is made of God's name (i.e. making statements about God as opposed to statements made to him). (Exomologeomai can also be used to confess God as well as confessing self, so can be viewed as representing both the hithpa'el and hiph'il forms of yadah).

Back to 1 Timothy 2 v 1

So returning to 1 Timothy 2 v 1 and the statement that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving thanks be made for all men, it should now be possible to understand what things would be covered by each sort of communication with God.

a)  Prayers

Covers requests relating primarily to self, although they can be offered by godly people for those incapable of praying themselves. In the context of 1 Timothy 2, praying would cover the fact that we wished to lead a quiet and peaceable life (v 2) (relating to self), but would also cover the offering of prayer for "all men", including ungodly ones like kings and those in authority.

b)  Supplications

Covers the request that God would be gracious to those praying and that he would be gracious to those around them. In the context of 1 Timothy 2 it could be equated to the wish that all men should be saved (v 4).

c)  Intercessions

Covers meeting with God for others, in this context it may be that it refers to the wish that others should be saved as above or perhaps that they should come unto the knowledge of the truth (v 4).

d)  Giving of thanks

A response to requests which have been answered.
Let us pray

It seems to be the practice to provide a warning of when a prayer or a giving of thanks is about to take place, by saying something like "let us pray". However, this does not seem to be something which has its basis in scripture.  It has been seen that giving of thanks is often accompanied by taking hold of the thing that thanks is being given for (e.g. Matthew 15 v 36), similarly prayer can result in the person praying adopting a distinctive posture (e.g. Ezra 9 v 5), which can indicate that someone is praying. However, the words spoken are an even clearer indication that someone is praying or giving thanks. Perhaps we should be more perceptive of others and recognise when they are praying or giving thanks, as opposed to needing to be told that someone is about to offer prayer or give thanks.

It is also the practice for brothers to offer prayers on behalf of other brothers and sisters who are present at the time. There are instances in scripture where it speaks of groups praying together, for example Acts 1 v 24 (where the disciples wanted to choose a replacement for Judas), Acts 4 v 24 - 30 and Acts 20 v 36 (Paul prays with the Ephesian elders). In the second example it says that "they lifted up their voice to God with one accord", and emphasizes the importance of people praying on behalf of  the ekklesia being sure that they are speaking in accordance with the wishes of the others present. Perhaps there is a need for members of an ekklesia to discuss the content of prayers offered on behalf of the ekklesia, to ensure that the words and requests do reflect the needs and wishes of the ekklesia.

Who does God hear?

There are many examples of people praying in scripture, but it not always clear whether their prayers are heard. In Isaiah 1 v 15, Yahweh says to Israel, "... when ye make many prayers, I will not hear : your hands are full of blood". Similarly, in Jeremiah 7 v 16 Jeremiah is told "pray not thou for this people ... for I will not hear thee" (see also 11 v 14). In these passages, Israel's evil doing stopped their prayers being heard, even though they were nominally God's people. However, Cornelius' prayer was heard (Acts 10 v 31), even though he did not believe the gospel but did fear God (Acts 10 v 2). God hears the prayer of those who fear him, but will not hear the prayer of evil doers. These principles seem to apply to those who have been baptised into Christ as well as those who are not yet baptised.

Jeremiah 7 v 16 shows that there are also limits to the practice of praying for others (see earlier section).

Praying (and singing) to Jesus?

It is the practice of many churches to pray to Jesus, however there seems little evidence from scripture to support this. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray "Our Father ..." (Matthew 6 v 9). There do not seem to be any exceptions to this, on occasions where people address Jesus directly after his death and resurrection (e.g. Stephen in Acts 7 v 59), they are not praying but instead are instances where people speak to Jesus who has appeared to them (Acts 7 v 56).

The section on mediation and intercession indicates that we have access to the Father, not through Jesus acting as a kind of post box for our prayers, but directly.

At first sight, Colossians 3 v 16 may suggest that singing to Jesus is appropriate when it tells us to sing "with grace in your hearts to the Lord". Jesus is often referred to as "Lord" in the New Testament, however the likelihood is that Colossians 3 v 16 is a reference to passages like Psalm 98 v 1, Psalm 149 v 1 and Isaiah 42 v 10, which speak of singing unto the Lord (Yahweh) a new song. This fits in with the context of Colossians, as the preceding verses speak of being renewed and the sort of behaviour that this should result in.


Appendix 1 - Our Posture when Praying


In 1 Timothy 2 v 8 Paul writes:

"I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting".

Should we lift hands in prayer, and what does it signify?

Lifting up hands is something which occurs in the Old Testament and a number of passages help us to understand its significance.

In passages which have "lifting hands" in the Old Testament, the hebrew "caph" is  more often than not translated "hand". Caph has the idea of a hollow or something curved and represents the palm in these instances. In addition to "lifting up" (heb nasa`) palms, the Old Testament has a number of references to "spreading" (heb parash) the palms. The following sections explore the significance of spreading and lifting up palms and hands to God.

"Lifting up palms"

In Psalm 119 v 48 the psalmist says "My palms (AV "hands") also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved". This indicates that God's things are high whereas we are low, and that lifting up our palms to him is a way of indicating that we are in subjection to him. It also shows that the attitude of the person offering the prayer is one of seeking to follow in God's ways. The fact that the psalmist lifts his palms to comandments that he already loves indicates that it is an attitude adopted by people who are already godly, as opposed to those who are ignorant of God's ways.

Lamentations 3 v 41 says "Let us lift up our heart to palms to God in heaven" (AV "Let us lift up our heart with our hands ...."). This indicates that in a sense the palms are bearing up the heart to God.

If it is remembered that they are "holy hands" that are lifted up in 1 Timothy 2 v 8, then our hearts need to be holy, for the hands are bearing up the heart.

In Psalm 141 v 2 it says:

"Let my prayer be set before thee as incense, the lifting up of my palms an evening offering (AV "my hands as the evening sacrifice").

Exodus 29 v 38 - 42 teaches that the morning and evening offering consisted of a lamb, together with flour, oil and wine. It was a "sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the Lord" (v 41). In scripture, the morning is associated with the accomplishment of God's purpose and light, whereas the evening is associated with a time of trial and struggling against spiritual darkness.

The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus is described as "a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour" (Ephesians 5 v 2), using the same language as the morning and evening offering. The sacrifice of Jesus occured at a time of darkness (Matthew 27 v 45, 6) and his body was laid in a tomb at evening (Matthew 27 v 57). However, his resurrection is associated with the beginning of the day (Matthew 28 v 1). This distinction between evening and morning is borne out by Psalm 30 v 5 which says:

"Weeping may endure for an evening (AV a night), but joy cometh in the morning".

The evening and morning sacrifice were made by fire, and this can be considered to symbolise a period of trial or proving. For example 1 Corinthians 3 v 13 says that "the fire shall try every man's work". If the evening and morning sacrifice are seen as a single entity, then they show that joy is only achieved after a time of trial.

How then is the lifting of palms an evening oblation?

First it needs to be recognised that hands carry out works in scripture (for example 1 Thessalonians 4 v 11, 1 Corinthians 4 v 12). As disciples, we are exhorted to "prove (or try) our own work" (Galatians 6 v 4), or prove what works our hands do. Once we have tried our works and assessed that they are acceptable when compared with God's commandments, then our hands which represent our works are an acceptable offering which can be lifted up to the Father.

Both now and when Paul wrote to Timothy the world is in darkness. The last time that there was a period of daylight was when Jesus was in the earth. Jesus  said

"I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9 v 4,5).

We offer up palms in a time of darkness because the Lord Jesus is absent from the earth, with the only light coming from the word of God. It is in this evening time of proving and testing that holy hands can be lifted up, hands that have withstood the trials of a dark world and which have worked God's commandments.

However, associated with the lifting up of hands is the hope of  a joyous morning when the time of trial is over and we have overcome the effects of sin and death.

Returning back to 1 Timothy 2 v 8, it says "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands". The expression "everywhere" is drawn from Malachi 1 v 11

"From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles and in EVERY PLACE incense shall be offered unto my name".

From Malachi, it is seen that the use of "everywhere" in 1 Timothy 2 v 8 is linked to the offering of incense. In 1 Timothy it is followed by a reference to lifting hands. This pattern of incense and lifting hands is the same as in Psalm 141 v 2 "incense .... lifting up of my palms" and confirms the appropriateness of using it to understand the meaning of 1 Timothy 2 v 8.

(Note  1 Timothy 2 v 8 is applicable to sisters as well as brothers, even though the emphasis is on men praying in the verse. 1 Timothy 2 v 9 has different advice, primarily for sisters. The two verses address different areas of weakness in  brothers and sisters. Men tend to be less willing to pray than women, whereas  women can be more concerned about the outward appearance than men. )

"Spreading of hands"

The meaning of spreading things before the Lord is demonstrated by Hezekiah who spread a letter from the Assyrians before Yahweh (Isaiah 37 v 14) and asked him in his prayer to "Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear, open thine eyes, O Lord, and see" (v 17). Similarly, in Isaiah 1 v 15 Yahweh says "And when ye spread forth (heb parash) your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood". It is seen that we spread hands before Yahweh to show a willingness for him to scrutinize our works, so that he can see them and hear that they are acceptable. The use of the expression "spreading ... hands" in 1 Kings 8 v 22, 54 confirms this conclusion. It says that Solomon spread his hands towards heaven, when offering the prayer and supplication recorded in verses 23 - 53. In his prayer he says "hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee today" (v 28) and "that thine eyes may be open toward this house" (v 29), along with other similar statements. He also speaks about a man "spreading forth his hands towards this house" (v 38) and asking God to hear him (v 39).

Standing, kneeling, sitting or bowing

Should we be standing, kneeling, sitting or bowing when praying to God?

The following passages describe what some people did when praying:

1 Sam 1 v 26 - Hannah stood
1 Ch 17 v 16 - David sat (heb yashab - possibly more the idea of dwelling)
Ezra 9 v 5 - Ezra fell on his knees and spread his hands
2 Ch 6 v 13 - Solomon kneeled down upon his knees and spread forth his hands   *
Dan 6 v 10  - Daniel kneeled upon his knees (note the chaldee words translated "to pray" are tsela (v 10) and be`ah (v 11))
Matt 6 v 5 - hypocrites stand
Matt 26 v 39, Lk 22 v 41 - Jesus knelt down/fell on face
Mark 11 v 25 - Stand praying
Luke 18 v 10 - 13   - The Pharisee and the publican stood
Acts 9 v 40 - Peter placed the knees
Acts 20 v 36 - Paul kneeled down and prayed
Acts 21 v 5 - "kneeling down ... we prayed"

(*  Another record of the same events occurs in 1 Kings 8 v 54. However in v 22 of the same chapter it says that Solomon stood. 2 Chronicles  6 v 13 explains this apparent anomoly by explaining that Solomon had made a brass scaffold, that he stood upon this and then kneeled down.)

From these passages it is clear that kneeling and standing are postures adopted when praying. However, it seems to be the case from the above that Jesus and his disciples knelt when praying. Why is kneeling appropriate for disciples of  Christ?

The passage in Ezra chapter 9 is instructive. As has been shown above, Ezra fell on his knees when he prayed, and in v 15 he says "we are before thee in our trespasses : for we cannot stand before thee because of this". Psalm 130 v 3 expresses similar sentiments when it says, "If thou, Yahweh, shouldest mark iniquities,  O Lord, who shall stand?". It can be concluded that kneeling while praying is associated with a recognition of sinfulness and the need for forgiveness.

Kneeling also seems to be an acknowledgement of the higher status of someone else, as the following examples demonstrate:

a)  In Philippians 2 v 10 it says that every knee should bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

b)  Romans 14 v 4 - 9 emphasizes the fact that we are all servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 4 says "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth". Verse 11 continues this theme of posture by quoting Isaiah 45 v 23, "Every knee shall bow to me". Kneeling can be considered to be an intermediate stage between standing or falling. It is the Lord Jesus who will condemn us to fall, or invite us to stand before him. As Luke 21 v 36 says, "Pray ... that ye may be accounted worthy  .... to stand before the Son of man".

c)   Psalm 95 v 6, 7 says "let us kneel before Yahweh our maker, for he is our God".

d)   The Egyptians were commanded to "bow the knee" before Joseph (Genesis 41 v 43).

e)   The captain  of Ahaziah's army fell on his knees before Elijah (2 Kings 1 v 13).

To these examples can be added Ephesians 3 v 14

"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".  The cause he speaks about here is the wish that the Ephesians receive "glory" (v 13). Paul then outlines the structure of a  prayer for the Ephesians, which ends with a "blessing" statement (vs 20 - 1).
Now to standing, which seems to have been a common posture when praying in the time of Jesus. Luke 18 v 11 records the instance of  the Pharisee who "stood and prayed .. with himself" (Luke 18 v 11). He then proceeds to justify himself before God without recognising his subjection to him. The publican stood afar off (Luke 18 v 13) and "would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner". In this instance, the publican adopts an attitude of subservience when praying, shown by not lifting his eyes to heaven. Luke 18 v 14 continues by saying "for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted".

It is concluded  that kneeling seems to be the posture adopted by Jesus and his disciples, as opposed to standing, which seemed to be a common posture when praying in Judaea at the time. It indicates subservience to God, and the recognition that we will have to be judged one day, which will determine whether we stand of fall.

Lifting the eyes

Continuing the theme introduced by the publican, it states in John 17 v 1 that Jesus "lifted up his eyes to heaven" and spoke to his Father. Jesus then asks his Father to glorify him (v 1) and recounts that he has finished the work that he had been given. Unlike the Pharisee, Jesus could truthfully speak to his Father without the need to confess his own sins. However Ezra, had to say  "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens" (Ezra 9 v 6).

Falling on the face

The hebrew word translated "to worship" (Shachah) in the Old Testament is also translated as "to bow". Worship in scripture does not have the meaning of  singing or attending a religous gathering, as it tends to have these days. It is also appropriate to adopt this position when praying and this is shown by Matthew 26 v 39 which says that Jesus  "fell on his face and prayed" when in anguish about his forthcoming death. The expression "falling on the face" can be shown to be the posture of worship in the following two instances:

a)  Ruth "fell on her face and bowed herself (heb shachah) to the ground" (Ruth 2 v 10).
b)  Abigail "fell on her face and bowed herself (heb shachah) to the ground" (1 Samuel 25 v 23).

It is seen that this posture is a sign of respect and subjection to another. When used in prayer, it indicates subjection to our Heavenly Father.

Blessing and Giving Thanks - clues to posture

The Old Testament ideas of blessing and kneeling are related, in fact they are represented by the same verb (Hb Barak - see 2 Chronicles 6 v 13 for a use of it translated "to kneel"). It is reasonable to conclude that blessing is something which is done when kneeling.

It was seen in the main text that the hebrew and greek words translated "hand" and "to give thanks" are related, and it was suggested there that we should consider holding the thing for which we are giving thanks.

Conclusion on posture

Our posture when praying is important, because it reflects what we are thinking. If we are conscious of our sinfulness and of our low status compared to the creator of all things, then submissive postures like kneeling, lowering the eyes or even bowing to the ground will come naturally as we pray.

If we are proud and exalt ourselves before God, then our posture when praying is likely to be very different.

It is concluded that posture in prayer should not be dictated by a president asking members of a gathering to stand and pray, because this will be forcing a posture on the person while praying. It would be far better to let individuals adopt whatever posture they want while praying, reflecting the feelings of their hearts. What is clear is that lifting of hands, bowing and kneeling are all acceptable postures to adopt while praying, and were adopted by Jesus and his disciples.


Appendix 1 - Incense

Could it be that the composition of incense reflects the ingredients of prayer in some way? This possibility arises from Psalm 141 v 2 which says,

"Let my prayer be set forth before thee (as) incense",

from Revelation 5 v 8,

"the four beasts and twenty four elders had golden vials full of incense (AV odours) which are the prayers of saints",

and from Revelation 8 v 3, 4,

"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the Saints, ascended up before God ...".

In these passages incense is described as having similar properties to prayer.

The incense spoken about in these passages could have as its background one of two things, either the sort of incense offered by the high priest, or the incense from burnt offerings. Both of these ideas will now be explored.

a) The incense in the tabernacle

The incense used in the tabernacle was made up of the following (Exodus 30 v 34):

stacte - hebrew nataph - meaning dropping
onycha - hebrew shecheleth - meaning fierce
galbanum - hebrew - chelbanah - meaning fat
frankincense - hebrew - lebonah - meaning white

On the face of it, the names of the spices describe their physical properties and teach us little about prayer. However these ingredients can perhaps teach us about the composition of some sorts of prayer as well. One possibility is that these properties point towards judgement and the establishment of the kingdom.

In Joel 3 v 18 it says about the kingdom:

"the mountains shall drop down (hebrew nataph) new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk (hebrew chalab)".

Here are ideas associated with stacte and galbanum, in a kingdom context.

In Genesis 49 v 12 it says of the descendent of Judah, who is Jesus,

"his eyes shall be red with wine, his teeth white (hebrew leben) with milk (hebrew chalab)".

Here are ideas associated with frankincense and galbanum, linked to Jesus and his role as judge and king.

The one spice not associated with the two previous passages is onycha. The related word shachal, translated lion, occurs in Hosea 5 v 14 and 13 v 7, and describes punishment on Ephraim for their transgressions.

Putting these ideas together, the ascending smell of the tabernacle's incense could represent a request for the kingdom to come, incorporating a wish for judgement on the wicked and the arrival of the blessings of Christ's reign.

What is the significance of the high priest burning this incense morning and evening (Exodus 30 v 7, 8)? It is seen in the appendix on posture that morning and evening are associated with Jesus' death and resurrection. If incense symbolises the wish that God's will should be done and that his kingdom should be established, then perhaps the evening incense foreshadows our Lord's words in his time of trial, "Father ... not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22 v 42), as he knew that it was through his sacrifice that his Father's purpose would be accomplished. The morning incense perhaps represents the desire of our Lord for the end of this age, the gathering of the elect and the start of the kingdom age.

b)  Burnt Offerings

The incense considered so far was offered by the high priest, and seems to represent Jesus' prayers. However there is other incense which was acceptably offered by others under the law. One of the hebrew words used to describe the burning of offerings (heb qatar) is related to the word translated "incense" (hebrew qetoreth), and this explains why Psalm 66 v 15 speaks of "the incense of rams". The incense which Malachi 1 v 11 says will be offered in every place seems to be contrasted with the unacceptable animal offerings of those who practised the law (see Malachi 1 v  13 - 14). In the appendix on posture it is seen that the incense of Malachi 1 v 11 that is offered in every place can be equated to praying (1 Timothy 2 v 8). The sort of incense offered up to God in burnt offerings was to do with firstfruits (Leviticus 2 v 16, burn = qatar - see v 14), with peace offerings (Leviticus 3 v 5, burn = qatar - see v 1), with offerings for sins of ignorance (Leviticus 4 v 10, burn = qatar - see v 2), with trespass/sin offerings (Leviticus 5 v 12, burn = qatar - see v 6). These things symbolise aspects of prayer and perhaps sheds light on the sort of incense we offer up. For example, Ezra's prayer acknowledges trespasses (see Ezra 9 v 6, 7, 13, 15), and the asking (heb sha'al) for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122 v 6) is a request for the kingdom to come and for the peace and reconciliation that is achieved in Jesus (the section on praise and thanks also considers Hebrews 13 v 15 and the offering up of the sacrifice of praise). 

In summary, our prayers seem to be represented in the law of Moses by the ascending savours of various burnt offerings.

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