Many people would find the notion of God praying nonsensical, but not the ancient rabbis who wrote the Talmud. Atheists often argue with Christians, saying, “If Jesus was divine, then why and to whom did he pray?” The ancient Jewish idea of prayer תְּפִלָּה (tefilah) is broader than the formal prayers most moderns envision between a worshiper and a deity. To the rabbis, a prayer (תְּפִלָּה; tefilah) is a posture of introspection or speaking within yourself–that is, not necessarily a prayer directly outward, but rather an inward meditation on one’s words and thoughts. Prayer is not a mechanism made up of only thanksgiving, praise, requests, or confessions; instead, it is an act of communal bonding and, therefore, God can join with people in prayer. This excerpt below is taken from the Babylonian Talmud, which was completed around the 6th century CE. The vast collection of Jewish writing contains the saying of earlier rabbis (from the 2nd century CE and before) followed by commentaries from the rabbinic students of later generations (up to the 6th century). This particular talmudic discussion offers a window into how ancient Jews understood God and the function of prayer.

“Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. (Isa 56:7) It is not said, ‘their prayer’, but ‘My prayer'(תְּפִלָּתִי); hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers. What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: ‘May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice.’

It was taught: Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw Akathriel Yah (אַכְתְּרִיאֵל יָהּ), the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me! I replied: May it be Your will that Your mercy may suppress Your anger and Your mercy may prevail over Your other attributes, so that You may deal with Your children according to the attribute of mercy and may, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice! And He nodded to me with His head. Here we learn [incidentally] that the blessing of an ordinary man must not be considered lightly in your eyes.

Johanan further said in the name of R. Jose: How do you know that we must not try to placate a man in the time of his anger? For it is written: “My face will go and I will give thee rest” (Exod 33:14). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Wait till My countenance of wrath shall have passed away and then I shall give thee rest. But is anger then a mood of the Holy One, blessed be He? — Yes. For it has been taught: “A God who has indignation every day (וְאֵל זֹעֵם בְּכָל־יוֹם)” (Ps 7:12). And how long does this indignation last? One moment. And how long is one moment? One fifty-eight thousand eight hundred and eighty-eighth part of an hour. And no creature has ever been able to fix precisely this moment except the wicked Balaam, of whom it is written: “He knows the knowledge of the Most High” (Num 24:16).”  Now, he did not even know the mind of his animal; how then could he know the mind of the Most High? The meaning is, therefore, only that he knew how to fix precisely this moment in which the Holy One, blessed be He, is angry. And this is just what the prophet said to Israel: “O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him … that ye may know the righteous acts of the Lord” (Mic 6:5). (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 7a – Soncino Translation with slight variation)

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15 COMMENTS

  1. You give depth understanding of the Holy Bible. im most grateful. Thanks for all the mails to enrich my understanding. Godbless you

  2. sir, I haven’t understand what’s the point in which context you are writing these and you haven’t concluded your point also at the end. Is there any book on this being a diety why he is praying to father. please could you help me with your reply asap.

    • It’s simple, I offer you an excerpt from an ancient text that points to a particular idea. The points I want to make or highlight all precede the quote. Learn from the ancient text. I do not need to express my ideas because everyone can judge the text for what it is themselves.

    • We are glad that you are finding our articles enlightening. You’ve already started your path into Scripture, but there’s so much more that awaits you! Consider enrolling in our immersive online courses: The Stories of Jewish Church I: Acts 1-5 or . We guarantee that they will deepen your understanding of Scripture and enrich your faith experience.

  3. I don’t understand what is meant where it says,”Johanan says in the name of R. Jose”. Would you explain this to me?

  4. Why are there several versions of the Bible? The story of Jesus of Nathereth as the God-send saviour of mankind makes no sense to me as l read the the King James Bible translation. Something wrong with me?

    • The versions of the Bible are translations of original texts from ancient languages. Translations are designed and adapted for various audiences for the text to make sense to them. I am sure there is a version of the Bible which is easier for you to read than King James out there.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Stories of Jewish Church I: Acts 1-5 or The Stories of Jewish Christ: Among the Rabbis. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  5. Shalod-dom/Salam
    I still cant comprehend that god prays!
    Prays to whom. A person prays to smething superior. Aperson prays to
    G-d. but G-d praying to whom?

    • Exactly because your understanding and definition of the concept of prayer is not the same as the rabbis who wrote this text. That is exactly what I am trying to illustrate. Unless you exand your definition what prayer is this text will make no sense.

  6. “My house of prayer” does not suggest to me who is doing the praying in my understanding of these words; only the ownership of the house in which the praying is to be done. Have I missed or misunderstood something here?

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The First Commandment: Deuteronomy in the Gospels or . You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

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