Prayer – Genesis

There are hundreds and hundreds of prayers in the Bible. The Psalms comprise a prayer book of 150 prayers all on their own. Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26) and by nature looks to communicate with God. We see this communication in the opening chapters of Genesis through Adam’s dialogue with God. While there is no explicit prayer between Adam and God, we can infer that they likely conversed with one another in chapter 2 as Adam is tasked with naming the animals and then Eve is created. We also see Adam’s dialogue with God following his sin. The conversation between Adam and God in Genesis 3:8-13 seems to imply that God and Adam had had these conversations before. It seems likely that it was part of their daily routine to walk in the Garden and to talk. In shame Adam hid. But one of the first consequences of sin we see is that Adam is hesitant to communicate with God. Sin disrupts our communion with God.

After Adam and Eve are driven out of the Garden, we next see man conversing with God when Cain answers God’s question about the location of his brother Abel. Again, as with Adam, the conversation with God is very colloquial and informal. And also, as with Adam, the result of sin prompted Cain to be evasive and to obfuscate the truth in his speaking to God. Sin disrupts our communion with God.

After this, Seth was born to Adam and Eve. And Seth had a son called Enosh. Then Moses records that, “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen 4:26). This is the beginning of what we would consider formal prayer in the Bible. Now, it is unlikely that man had not worshiped God in prayer prior to this point. But it seems that with the growth in human population, men now began to corporately worship with a structure and formality that had previously been absent. God’s name was revered in a manner that was novel to man.[1]

Enoch and Noah both “walked with God” (Gen 5:22; 6:9, respectively). Though the Hebrew is not explicit, it does imply that they had an abiding communion and fellowship with God in their walking. But the next development in prayer recorded in Scripture is with Abraham. Abraham is called by God to enter into a covenant with him. God made covenantal promises to Abraham and Abraham responded by worshiping and calling upon the name of the LORD at the altar (Gen 12:7, 8; 13:4). We then see Abraham praying for an heir (Gen 15:2, 3). Abraham offers up to God the desires of his heart, for things agreeable to the will of God (WSC 98). Abraham believed God by faith, and this was counted to him as righteousness (15:6). Abraham was declared righteous on account of faith and his communion with God was strengthened. Sin disrupts communion but righteousness strengthens it.

Though there are several other examples of prayer in Genesis, we will look here at only two more. First, Abraham prays for Sodom in Genesis 18 & 19. God, in his righteous wrath, is going to level the wicked city. Abraham intercedes on behalf of the people of Sodom, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23). Abraham pleads, “if there are 50, will you spare it?” then “if there are 45…” and so on. Until finally Abraham sees that there are not ten who are righteous in that city. There came a point where Abraham’s intercession ceased. Why did Abraham stop asking for God’s mercy at this point? Matthew Henry answers, “Because Abraham [came to understand] that [Sodom] deserved to be destroyed if there were not so many as ten righteous.”[2] The barren tree must be cut down if it will never yield fruit (Luke 13:9). Abraham’s intercessory prayer was effective, but the effect was not to change God’s mind, but rather to change Abraham’s understanding and acceptance of God’s righteousness.

Last, we jump to the end of Genesis where Jacob prays a blessing for his sons (Gen 49). Jacob takes his final hours of life to offer up a prayer for his sons. Jacob was one who had personally wrestled with God (Gen. 32). He knew what it was to struggle in prayer. He knew what it was to see the mercy of God in prayer. So he lifts his eyes up and dies gazing heavenward while praying that others would find the fulfillment of the covenant promises of God. Jacob dies while praying that his people would experience sweet communion with God.

[1] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible: A Devotional and Expositional Classic (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 18.

[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 47.