Saturday, April 27, 2013

Royal Prayers

Alice C. Linsley

Royal prayers are found in extra-Biblical documents and throughout the Bible. The prayers of rulers reflect the burden of their responsibility. Rulers in the ancient world were responsible for the welfare of their people, the protection of their resources, and devotion to the Deity under whose authority they ruled. An aspect of this royal devotion was the building and maintenance of temples and shrines.

Prayers of Kushite rulers

Kushite rulers held a theology that Biblical Anthropologists recognize. This can be determined from artifacts such as the Sheba-qo Stone which describes the theology that held sway at Heliopolis (Biblical On) and Memphis. The Stone dates to the Nubian Dynasty or the Kushite Empire, but the theology is much older. According to this theology the Creator is the great Craftsman who gives wisdom and skill to the King and his craftsmen. This is expressed in Proverbs 25:2 - "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter."

The royal craftsmen worked with visible things such as tools of stone and metal. The Creator, on the other hand, works with what is concealed and mysterious like the wind or breath (ruach). The breath of the Creator went forth at the beginning of creation and things were created out of His mouth/word, and not from a pre-existing substance. He crafted the heavens above and the earth below, and separated the light from darkness. This theology is expressed in Genesis 1 and in the Wisdom Tradition that regards God as the architect whose wisdom is evident in the order of creation.

This prayer of the Kushite King Taharqa, dated to 675 BC., ascribes to God the necessity of the fulfillment of the Divine will.

“O, the one who will not abandon his work when it has only been half realized” (col. 5).

It appears that Taharqa had lost control of holdings in Syria-Palestine (Khor) which had paid him tribute. In his prayer he laments the loss of tribute (inw) from those lands.

“Let me do it with your tribute of Khor which has been turned aside from you” (col. 16).

Dan'el Kahn in his Taharqa, King of Kush and the Assyrians, writes, "This sort of personal prayer by the king during a setback in battle is known from Ramesses II’s 27 accounts of the battle of Kadesh. However in Ramesses’ case the god Amun heard his prayer and came to his aid. Cf. K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical and Biographical II (Oxford 1979) 34-42. For convenience see the translation in M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. II (Berkeley 1976) 65. For prayers in Ancient Egypt see H. Brunner, Gebet” LdÄ II, 452-9. This category of personal prayer is, however, better known from the Bible. The basic (although not always mandatory) components of the personal prayer are: Addressing god repeatedly, usually using epithets of the god as well. The worshiper expresses his relationship with god and his humility towards the greatness of his god. A complaint or a description of the distress is forwarded. Then, a request is made in the interrogative or in the imperative mode.The reason for the request is expressed as an identity of cause between the worshiper’s needs and god’s affairs. Sometimes a promise by god or earlier actions in favor of the worshiper are recalled. A request from god to show his true nature and potency is also very common. The supplicant then reminds god of a previous favor bestowed on him by god. A promise to continue worshiping god is mentioned at the end. See: M. Greenberg, “Prayer”, in: Encyclopaedia Biblica, vol. 8 (Jerusalem 1982) 898-904 (Hebrew). All these components of the personal prayer can be found in Taharqa’s prayer."

Abraham's prayers

In Genesis, Abraham complains to God about not having a proper heir. This was an extremely grave matter for a Horite ruler-priest.

"O Lord God, what can you give me seeing that I shall die accursed, and the steward of my household is Dam-Mesek Eliezer?" (Genesis 15:2)

Horite priest sacrificing a ram
He also intercedes for Sodom where his nephew Lot was living. The element that is most characteristic of ancient royal prayers is found in verse 25: "Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

We see a similar expression of the necessity to fulfill the divine will as appears in Taharqa's words: “O, the one who will not abandon his work when it has only been half realized.”

David's prayers

David was of Kushite ancestry and a descendant of Abraham the Horite. He was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem, a Horite shepherd-priest. The settlement had a shrine and was known for the sacrifice of sheep and rams. The meat was distributed to the poor, which is why the Bethlehem was called "House of Meat" as in the tradition still preserved by the Arabic: Bet Lahm.

The prayer of King David in 2 Samuel 7:18-29

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and prayed, "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And now, Sovereign Lord, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving me a lasting dynasty! Do you deal with everyone this way, O Sovereign Lord? What more can I say? You know what I am really like, Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your promise and according to your will, you have done all these great things and have shown them to me.

"How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you--there is no other God. We have never even heard of another god like you! What other nation on earth is like Israel? What other nation, O God, have you redeemed from slavery to be your own people? You made a great name for yourself when you rescued your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations and gods that stood in their way. You made Israel your people forever, and you, O Lord, became their God.

"And now, O Lord God, do as you have promised concerning me and my family. Confirm it as a promise that will last forever. And may your name be honored forever so that all the world will say, 'The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!' And may the dynasty of your servant David be established in your presence.

"O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, I have been bold enough to pray this prayer because you have revealed that you will build a house for me--an eternal dynasty! For you are God, O Sovereign Lord. Your words are truth, and you have promised these good things to me, your servant. And now, may it please you to bless me and my family so that our dynasty may continue forever before you. For when you grant a blessing to your servant, O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!"

Solomon's prayer

1 Kings 8:22-30

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; and he said: “Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts. You have kept what You promised Your servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand, as it is this day. Therefore, Lord God of Israel, now keep what You promised Your servant David my father, saying, 'You shall not fail to have a man sit before Me on the throne of Israel, only if your sons take heed to their way, that they walk before Me as you have walked before Me.' And now I pray, O God of Israel, let Your word come true, which You have spoken to Your servant David my father.

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, 'My name shall be there,' that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.

Hezekiah's prayers

King Hezekiah was a man of prayer. Two of his prayers are recorded in the Bible.

Isaiah 38:2-8

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed 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." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

2 Kings 19:15-19

And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord : "O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.

"It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God."

Note the common themes of these royal prayers. There is acknowledgement of the Deity's universal sovereignty and past favors to the king. There is a request that the ruler perceives to be aligned with the will of the Deity for his kingdom based on past experiences. Having been promised a kingdom, Abraham petitions God for a proper heir because without a son from Sarah, that kingdom cannot be realized.

Related reading: Kushite Kingdom BuildingThe Calling of Abraham; Kushite Kings and the Kingdom of God; No Kingdom by Deception; The Horite Ancestry of Jesus Christ

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