Steal a Prayer for Israel

“We covet your prayers” is an expression that spins the breaking of the tenth commandment into a righteous act when asking for spiritual support. An even better constructive commandment breach (two spots better, to be exact –breaking number eight) is stealing.

   In particular, I refer to the legend of Moses stealing a prayer from heaven.

   Yom Kippur is the only time when Jews recite the line: "Blessed is the name of His glorious majesty forever and ever" in the Shema (Hear ye, O Israel) prayer. Tradition says that when Moses was caught up in the cloud receiving the Tablets of the Covenant, he overheard the angels praising God with those words. Later, when he taught the Israelites that sentence of praise, he cautioned them, saying, "All the commandments I have given you I received openly, but this verse is something that I overheard the angels say when they praise the Holy One. I stole it from them; therefore say it in a whisper."

   I love this story because I must confess that I, too, have stolen a prayer.

   It’s the priestly blessing meant to be pronounced upon the children of Israel found in Numbers chapter six: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall put My name on the children of Israel.” I like it so much that I carefully committed it to memory in Hebrew (and I dabble: “Ye-barakheka Adonai…”) and use it to bless my three grandsons.

   After a while, remembering its original purpose, I decided that whenever I use this prayer, it would be only right to pray for Israel afterwards. But even after I began to do so, I had this nagging sense that something was still out of sync. So I asked myself: Is it beneath my revival-born DNA to use formulaic prayers? Is it a step backwards for Christians to invoke Old Testament blessings? Is it pretentious to pray in a language I don’t speak fluently?

   It finally hit me. When I prayed this prayer my focus was out of order. I am to pray for Israel before I pray for my own. For me it was one of those lights-on revelations from God’s Word: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God! In other words, praying for Israel’s wellbeing is a significant way of prioritizing Kingdom interests.

   This is not a stretch. The Bible states clearly that we should bless the Jewish people (the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), that we should bless the land of Israel (their inheritance from God), and that we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Why is blessing Israel and Jerusalem so important to Christians? For an answer, we don’t have to search any further than Jesus’ own view of the matter.

God’s City

   In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus matter-of-factly refers to Jerusalem as the City of the Great King. This is an astonishing claim. It’s relatively easy to embrace the idea that God has a "cyber domain" –that unseen place we direct our prayers to – but to wrap our minds around the thought that He actually maintains a physical address on planet earth? Wow. One obvious implication is that the Holy Land is, in the truest sense, holy to God.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

   Matthew 23 records one of the most emotional statements in the gospels. As Jesus laments over the backslidden condition of Jerusalem He reveals His broken heart for the city: "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing." Zechariah, prophesying of a day when God will once again "choose Jerusalem," elevates it to a place of the Lord's highest affection: "He who touches you touches the apple of His eye."

   To put it simply, God is devoted to Jerusalem, and our prayers for the Holy City reflect His heart and purpose.

The Mother Church

   Jesus mandated that the Gospel message, which was to be proclaimed to all nations, first be preached in Jerusalem. He attached to this city another great honor as well: the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. He told His disciples to hold on in days to come with the admonishment: "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

   All of this adds up to Jerusalem being the chosen birthplace of the church. Think of it this way: what Mary, the little handmaiden from Nazareth, is to Jesus Christ, Jerusalem is to the Bride of Christ.

   Finally, there are wonderful promises that accompany our commitment to pray for Israel and Jerusalem. Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, attributed a breakthrough in his personal ministry to the “secret” of embracing an active burden for the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. Secret maybe, but not hidden.

   In Genesis 12 God says to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you,” and again in Numbers 24: “Blessed is he who blesses you.” Psalm 122 says of Israel: “May they prosper who love you,” and of course, the last line of the priestly blessing (which I stole) in Numbers 6 says: "So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

   I agree. These are definitely blessings worth coveting.