Prayer in Genesis

Prayer in the first chapters of Genesis is a tricky concept, because all communication with God occurs on a conversaitonal level. In one way or another, God comes to the person and they talk directly with each other. The first hint that this might not be the norm is in chapter 4, whiich concludes

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. (Gen 4:26)

At the very least, this suggets that there were other people in the world who talked to God without a direct dialogue.

However, there is value in reflecting on the types of conversation that people had with God in these dialogue passages. The explicitness of the conversations in Genesis gives us a valuable window into the dynamic of our prayers and God’s words and plans. On the assumption that God is unchanging (or, at least, the dynamic of his relationship with humanity is reasonably consistent), we can learn a lot from these explicitly laid-out conversations. Perhaps that is why they are given so explicitly?

The first and most common form of communication is straight revelation – God appears to the person and tells them stuff (promises, commands etc). I might be jumping the gun a little here, but I think this kind of communication has been predominantly superceded by the revelation of Jesus in the Scriptures. This is where we learn of God’s promises and most of his commands.

The second is a human act of praise and worship to God. Many of these occur with sacrifices. In early Genesis, Melchizedek’s prayer in Genesis 14 is a rgeat example.

The third is an actual dialogue, where the human responds. (so far in my reading) every example of this in Genesis is of the human making a request to God. Cain asks for mercy, Abraham asks for alternate heirs (twice) etc. What is notable is that God does not automatically say yes. Abraham’s requests are denied because God has better plans.

The account of Sodom and Gomorrah, from chapter 18, is a particularly interesting example, because Abraham enters a nuanced negotiation with God where he seems to extract a change in God’s plan. This raises the question of whether a change actually did happen, or if this whole conversation was part of God’s original plan. The clear pattern up to now (see Providence in Genesis) has been of God achieving his purposes through and despite the actions of humanity (including his chosen people). There is little evidence that anything else is happening here. However, the conversation is real, and the effect that Abraham has is real. What would have happened had he not approached God? The Bible does not say, and we are not called to speculate. However, he is clearly commended for his boldness, and rewarded in human terms by God’s positive response. In this vignette, we see an intial template for intercessionary prayer. Abraham asks God for the improbable (nothing is impossible), and God responds according to his will and plan. Both people in the conversation are really engaging. Abraham is not going through the motions, but he is truly struggling with God – and doing so with the greatest of respect.

Genesis 20:7, God directs Abimelek to ask Moses to pray for him. This suggests a different meaning of prayer than just “talking to God” since Abimelek is having a conversation with God at the time! The meaning seems to be closer to “intercession”.

Also: 24:12, 25:21, 32:9, 11

 

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