It is remarkable that on an Erev Shabbat (Friday evening) or on Sabbath (Saturday morning), anywhere in the world where there are Jews, you are likely to find a congregation reciting Hebrew prayers that are several thousand years old. On the Sabbath, the Torah has been read in the Synagogue for well over 20 centuries.
We have written in other articles about the factual evidence concerning Yeshua Ha Mashiach (Jesus) living by the Torah, teaching the Torah and expounding upon it, as well as other Hebrew scriptures, prayers and customs. Yeshua, being a Jewish Rabbi or teacher, exhorted with Jewish interpretation and understanding. Yeshua himself lived a life of prayer. It is through prayer that man receives strength, comfort and spiritual direction. Yeshua’s disciples came to Him and asked Him “…teach us to pray…”(1). Again, the same instruction were given them in Matthew 6: 9-13.
If we are able to recognize the setting of these Jewish students (Disciples) as they were coming to this Rabbi for teaching and instructions, we will be much better prepared to understand the teachings of the Messiah. These men had been raised from their youths as Jews. They had studied the Torah. They knew the synagogue prayers, they had been looking for the Messianic Era, and now that Messiah had come they listened to His every word as birds in a nest being fed by a parent.
Yeshua was asked which was the greatest or first commandment, and His reply was Shema Israel “…Hear, O Israel: The L-rd our G-d is one L-rd:…”(2). This was a Jewish answer! Could you expect anything less? The Shema is recited in every synagogue and every day by the faithful, upon rising the morning and before retiring at night.
With this thought in mind, let us review the prayer that is sometimes called the Lord’s Prayer. Actually, it was His instructions on how to pray. He said, “After this mannertherefore pray ye:…” (3). What seems to be definite phases or stages to Yeshua’s instructions can be distinguished as six phases or stages of communication with G-d.
Yeshua’s instruction to approach unto G-d was
first to “worship or praise“,
second to “surrender“,
third to bring your “requests“,
fourth to be in the attitude of “repentance“,
fifth to pray for “guidance“, and
sixth would be to close with “worship and praise.”
Confer Matthew 6: 9-13.
In the light of Hebrew prayers, these instructions came from Jewish thought, just like the rest of Yeshua’s teaching. They are actually a shortened form of the Shemoneh Esreh, the Eighteen Blessings, or what is also known as the Amidah (meaning standing). Knowing how the pieces fit together helps to catch the interlocking theme.
Although Shemoneh Esreh means eighteen (8 + 10), there are actually nineteen. Number twelve, the prayer against informers, was added during the Roman occupation at the close of the 1st century C.E., yet the name of the prayer was not changed. The first three and the last three berakhot (Blessings) are stages of prayer as we approach G-d, and descend from our petitions. They contain blessings, praise and worship. The middle paragraphs plead for wisdom, repentance, forgiveness, etc.
Confer Eighteen Blessings
Quoting from the Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts, SHEMONEH ESREH:
“The Shemoneh Esreh prayer is on the central element in the three daily services: Shaharith, Minhah, and Ma’ariv. It is spoken of in the Talmud as Tefillah, the prayer par excellence, on account of its importance and its antiquity. According to tradition, it was composed by the members of the Great Assembly who flourished at the early period of the Second Temple.
“Originally, the Shemoneh Esreh, denoting eighteen, consisted of eighteen benedictions; in its present form, however, there are nineteen. The addition of the paragraph concerning the slanderers and enemies of the people was made toward the end of the 1st century at the direction of Rabban Gamaliel II, the head of the Sanhedrin at Yavneh.
“The Shemoneh Esreh is now generally referred to as the Amidah (standing), so called because it is recited in a standing posture.
“The middle paragraphs of the weekday Shemoneh Esreh contain petitions for the fulfillment of our needs. They plead for wisdom, repentance, forgiveness, deliverance, healing, prosperity, ingathering of the dispersed, restoration of justice, protection of the upright, rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Messianic era, and the acceptance of prayer. All of these petitions are on behalf of the entire community; petitions for personal needs may be inserted in their appropriate place, as when one reaches the eighth benediction which reads: “Heal us, O L-rd, and we shall be healed; save us and we shall be saved…”
After the Shemoneh Esreh, the following meditation is added: “My G-d, guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking falsehood…Open my heart to Thy Torah, that my soul may follow Thy command…Save with Thy right hand and answer me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy presence, O L-rd, my Redeemer.”
The following is a brief outline of the Shemoneh Esreh, taken from Back To The Sources by Barry W. Holtz, page 415. In addition, we have listed beside the appropriate Shemoneh Esreh berakhot, the corresponding theme and verse of the six stages of the “Lord’s Prayer”.
States of Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
|1. Worship (vs. 9)||1. G-d as the protector of the Forefathers.
2. G-d as the power that makes for salvation.
3. G-d as the source of holiness.
4. For knowledge.
|4. Repentance (vs. 12)||5. For the strength to repent.
6. For forgiveness.
|3. Requests (vs. 11)||7. For relief from affliction.
8. For healing.
9. For bounty of the land and material prosperity.
10. For the ingathering of the exiles into the Holy Land.
|2. Restoration (vs. 10)||11. For the establishment of the reign of true justice.
14. For the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
15. For the coming of the Messiah.
16. For the acceptance of our prayers.
17. For the restoration of the Jerusalem Sanctuary.
|5. Protection for righteous
(#12 was not in original eighteen)
|12. (Against slanderers and informers.)
13. For the support and protection of the righteous.
|6. Thanksgiving (Praise) vs. 13)||18. Gratitude as man’s response to G-d’s work in the world.
19. For peace.
Yeshua learned the Shemoneh Esreh as a young boy, and it was a part of his worship and prayer to His father, G-d. That is, only the original eighteen. Remember, number 12 was placed in the middle after His death at the close of the 1st century c.e. Some say it was inserted because of the Roman oppression, and there is also the thought that it was also in opposition to the sect of the Nazarenes, which had grown to over one million Jewish believers in the 1st century. For whatever the reason, #12 was not a part of the original eighteen.
So as we review the original eighteen (Shemoneh Esreh), we see it was from the Jewish prayers and Jewish thought that Yeshua again resounded in His teachings and answers. These original eighteen are beautiful prayers, and give a much fuller sense and meaning to what has been called The Lord’s Prayer.
These blessing are filled with Messianic hope and fulfillment for not only the righteous of Israel, but also for the true proselyte mentioned in #13, as they are part of G-d’s witnesses to the nations. This is being fulfilled in Messianic Judaism. Baruch Ha Shem!