Out of the remaining books in the Hebrew Bible, namely Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, only three say anything about prayer directly–Jonah, Micah, and Habakkuk.
In Jonah 1, the prophet Jonah is told to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. Jonah refuses and flees, thereupon the great storm ensued, distressing the ship he was on with its shipmates. Through lots, Jonah is found to be the culprit for causing the storm. To stop the storm, he would have to be thrown overboard. The shipmates, upon their first encounter with the God of the Hebrews it seems, pray to the Lord to save their lives and then throw Jonah overboard, which caused the storm to quell, causing the shipmates to fear the Lord. Jonah then gets swallowed by a great fish where Jonah remained for three days and nights. In the next chapter, Jonah prays, and it sounds very psalm-like: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:1). Jonah was making certain declarations, retelling of the events of God’s saving acts on his behalf. His prayer makes no request, but it is declarative.
Interestingly enough, in Jonah 3, due to the prophetic message Jonah delivered, the people of Nineveh fasted and called urgently on God. Here we see prayer and fasting to appease God. And it worked, for God turned his wrath away from Nineveh.
This forgiveness spurns Jonah to pray frankly: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:2-3).
The Lord replied with a simple question, asking, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). The Lord uses a plant to create a metaphor for Jonah, in the end saying that He cares for the people of Nineveh just as much as Jonah cared for the little plant that was seemingly miniscule.
After delivering prophetic messages all throughout the book telling of Israel’s plight, the book ends in chapter 7 with a prayer. It asks the Lord to shepherd the people of the inheritance, showing them his wonders, so that the nations will see and be ashamed and turn to fear the Lord. It asks who is like God, for he pardons sin and does not stay angry forever, because he delights to show mercy. He will be faithful to the people. This prayer is declarative but still makes a request of God to take action and be faithful and forgiving.
Habakkuk has several complaint prayers. First, Habakkuk complains to the Lord, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab 1:2). This complaint is frank speech, asking God questions. He declares, “Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Hab 1:4). Habakkuk mixes complaint–frank speech–with declaration in prayer.
After receiving a response from the Lord, Habakkuk makes another complaint with frank speech, saying, “Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment; . . . Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:12-13). Habakkuk is asking God questions with frank speech. But he is appealing to certain qualities and attributes of God in these prayers.
Then Habakkuk prays, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2). After opening with this declaration and request, Habakkuk speaks of various deeds the Lord had done before asking, “Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? Was your wrath against the streams? did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?” (Hab 3:8). Continuing, he declares, “You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. you crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot” (Hab 3:13). In the end, he declares, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab 3:17-18). Again, he states climactically, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Hab 3:19). Habakkuk mixes declaration and request in this prayer.