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In 1 Sam 1, Hannah, being bitter and sorrowful, prayed to the Lord. It adds that she made a vow to the Lord. Her words are as follows: “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head” (NIV). In the context of the chapter, she made both a request and a vow. It seems that prayer and vows are close associates at the very least. Indeed, at the end of the chapter, she summarizes what she had done, she had prayed to God and asked him for a child, and, since her prayer was answered, she made good on her vow. Additionally, prayer is not limited to times of happiness. Hannah pried while she was filled with bitter sorrow because she was barren. Note also that Hannah was moving her lips but her prayer was in her mouth (1 Sam 1:13). Prayer, again, can be done in silence.
In 1 Sam 2, we first see prayer as a way of praising God. Hannah, after having been given a son and then giving him over for service to the Lord, prays to God, saying, “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. . . .” (2:1-10, NIV). Prayer can be a request or a praise.
In 1 Sam 8, when Samuel was old, the Hebrews wanted a king in his place, so Samuel prayed. Here is the first instance in which God says something about the situation and instructs someone in prayer. Prayer here is seen as communication or instruction. God is able to instruct and communicate with us in prayer.
In 1 Sam 12, Samuel called upon the Lord for rain and the Lord caused it to rain. Here the word “prayer” is not used, but Samuel does make a request. This request, however, was to make a sign for the people, so that they would see and recognize their wickedness. If we are to understand “called on the Lord” as “prayer,” then one of the intentions or agendas of prayer is not only to receive a response to a request, but also, at times, to create a response to a sign. Indeed, the rain came and the people then asked Samuel to pray for the Lord to make it stop raining. Using a sort of inclusio, we can legitimately conclude that they were asking Samuel to reverse his original prayer. From this conclusion we can infer that “called on the Lord” is the same as “prayer.” Indeed, Samuel relents, saying that he should not sin by failing to pray for them. Here is an element yet seen: to fail to pray on behalf of someone can be a sin. In this case, the people are not praying to God directly. They are relying on Samuel as the prophet to speak to God. As prophet, the divinely appointed messenger between the Lord and his people, Samuel had a responsibility to pray to the Lord on the people’s behalf, much like Moses did in Numbers, for example.
In 1 Sam 14, Saul prayed to the Lord on a couple of occasions. First, he wanted to know if he was going to have success, so he made an inquiry. The Lord did not answer him on that day. Second, he asked the Lord for the right answer through the casting of lots. Through the lots, the correct answer was revealed. The answer: Jonathan is the sinner deserving death. The men around them then pleaded Saul not to harm his son, Jonathan, because he had fought mightily against the Philistines with the Lord’s strength. Saul took very seriously his oath. Through prayer with lots he found the sinner. But he made an inquiry and God did not answer him on that day. Interesting, we might make an inquiry, but God may not answer at the time that we ask. God is not required to answer in a timely fashion.
In 2 Sam 7 (compare 1 Chr 17), David prays to the Lord. It is a lengthy prayer. It comes in response to the covenant that God reveals to him regarding the prosperity of his household. It refers to the Lord as the Sovereign Lord. It requests for God to stay true to his promise. But it also makes declarations out of praise. Here we see that a prayer can involve both requests and praises. Prayer can also plead for God to be true to his word.
In 2 Sam 15:31, David prays to the Lord, requesting that his enemy’s advisor may provide foolish advice. In 2 Sam 17:14, it seems that his request is granted, for it is determined that the advisor’s advice was not pleasing. Here we see that the prayer was offered, and though it was answered it was also delayed. But this may be only as a result of the narrative. In any case, David made a request. Again, we see that prayer is a request.
In 2 Sam 21, after David recovers the bones of Saul and Jonathan and puts them with Saul’s father’s bones, God answered prayer on behalf of the land. Prayer concerning the land is not off limits. The people were having a famine. David “sought the face of the Lord.” Here we see that prayer is an inquiry. But at the end of this narrative, it says that God answered the prayer on behalf of the land. We must infer that David’s prayer was both inquiry and request. Yet it is interesting that prayer can also be inquiry.
In 2 Sam 24, David decides to take a census of his army, which then results in the discipline of the Lord. David was given three discipline options, and he chose to have three days of plague in the land. As the angel was carrying out the Lord’s instructions, the Lord grieved for the people and told the angel to stop. David then said to the Lord that the issue is David, not the land, so deal with him instead. David then built an altar at the location where the angel stopped. As a result of the altar, the Lord answered the prayer in behalf of the land and stopped the plague. Here we do not see the word “prayer” in association with what David said to the Lord. But in connection with the end of the chapter, we must understand his words as a prayer. In this instance, his prayer is a request, a plea, really, but also confession. Here he confesses that the issue is him, not the land or people. Prayer can be requests but also confession.
In 1 Kgs 8 (compare 2 Chr 6), Solomon prays a dedication over the temple, in which he makes a request and praises God. It is a long prayer. It also, like David’s lengthy prayer, requests for God to stay true to his word, to the promises that he made to David.
In 1 Kgs 13, the man of God intercedes and prays for the king so that his hand would be restored to full health. Here prayer is a request, but the act of prayer is seen as an intercession. Or is it that prayer is both a request and an intercession? Or is it that prayer is intercession? At the very least, the man of God makes the request on behalf of the king. It is similar to how Moses interceded for Aaron as mentioned in Deuteronomy. Prayer on behalf of another is intercession.
In 1 Kgs 18, Elijah prays, asking God to answer him so that it will be revealed to the people that the Lord alone is God. While the altar had been drenched in water, Elijah was somehow supposed to ignite the offerings. He prayed, requesting God to send fire from heaven, causing the offerings to be consumed with the goal that all who see the fire will realize that the Lord is the one true God.
In 1 Kgs 19, Elijah prays, asking God that he might die. Exhausted from running, he sat down and gave up being seemingly defeated. Instead of answering this prayer, if he meant it literally, the angel of the Lord comes to Elijah in his distress and nourishes him with food. Perhaps Elijah was being sarcastic? Or maybe he was being honest? Maybe he wanted to die in the desert under the Lord’s hand rather than by the hand of Jezebel? Still, his prayer was a request.
In 2 Kgs 4, Elisha prays to the Lord, and then he laid on the boy and brought him back to life. The text does not tell us what he prayed. Prayer, however, is in association with the miracle.
In 2 Kgs 6, Elisha prays, requesting that the servant’s eyes may be opened so that he can see the host of angels. Then he prayed, requesting to blind his assailants’ eyes, only later to request for their eyes to be opened. The Lord granted these requests. Again, prayer is request is the element we see here.
In 2 Kgs 19, Isaiah is sought out by king Hezekiah to pray for the remnant that survives the onslaught of Assyria. Isaiah responds with a prophecy, a word from the Lord, that Hezekiah should not be afraid for the Lord will cause the Assyrians to flee. Hezekiah then hears more word from the Assyrians, and he becomes afraid, and he prays. In his prayer, he acknowledges God as the creator of the heavens and the earth, and he requests deliverance. Prayer is here a request.
In 2 Kgs 20 (compare 2 Chr 32), Hezekiah finds out that he is about to die. What does he do in response? He prays. He said to the Lord, “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes” (NIV). This request for the Lord to remember Hezekiah’s faithfulness was enough to cause God to add 15 additional years to his life. It was a request, but was it requesting additional years? It was a plea to remember his faithfulness, and based on the covenant the Lord created between him and his people, Hezekiah’s request is therefore the equivalent for God to stay true to his word and bless him for his faithfulness with long life. In any case, it is a request, even if only his request is to remember his faithfulness.
In 1 Chr 5, the Reubenites and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh went to war against the Hagrites. The text says that they were helped in fighting them “because they cried out to him in battle.” It says further that God answered their prayers because they trusted in him. It doesn’t say what they prayed or what they cried out. But here we see that prayer offered in trust is honored by God. Does this mean that when Saul prayed and God did not answer in 1 Sam 14 that it was because Saul didn’t trust in God? The text is not concerned with Saul. It is concerned only to describe the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh. In their case, God answered their prayers because they trusted in him. Trust is apparently a very important factor in prayer.
In 1 Chr 29, David gives another lengthy prayer, and this time it is in praise of God, but then it also includes a request to help his son, Solomon, stay true to the Lord’s commandments. Praise and request go together in this prayer.
In 2 Chr 7, the Lord comes to the temple and declares that he will be attentive to prayers in the temple. He also says that when the people stray from commitment to the Lord but then humble themselves and pray or seek his face while turning from their wicked ways, then he will listen to them. Prayer is a request here, but it is done in connection with turning from wickedness. Prayer is about seeking the face of God. There are no specific words listed here to pray, but the intent associated with the prayer is that of humility. Humility is an essential aspect of prayer. But so is righteousness.
In 2 Chr 30, Hezekiah interceded on behalf of the people, requesting that God spare them for eating of the passover meal while being unclean. The Lord granted his request.
In 2 Chr 32, both Isaiah and Hezekiah prayed to God because the Assyrians were insulting the Lord as they were laying siege to Jerusalem. The Lord answered their prayer, annihilating the Assyrians, causing the king of Assyria to flee, only to be killed by some of his sons. We don’t know the prayer they prayed, but we know they made a request. Again, prayer is request.
In 2 Chr 33, Manasseh, who did evil in the sight of the Lord, was exiled by God. But in his exile, Manasseh repented and prayed to God. The text says that the Lord was moved by Manasseh’s entreaty and took pity on his plea. His prayer was seen as an entreaty and a plea. It was a request, a humble plea. The Lord granted the request and Manasseh was able to return to Jerusalem.