the lord's prayer
What could possibly be wrong with us holding each other's hands and reciting the Lord's Prayer as we assemble around the grave of a recently deceased love one, or perhaps during some other calamity? Most all would agree that it was the perfectly proper thing to do. Yet we shall see that it was definitely not what Yeshua (Jesus) intended when He taught His disciples how to pray.
- MATTHEW 6:9-13 Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
We should note that just a few moments before this instruction on how to pray, Yeshua admonished His followers where it was they were to pray.
- NRSV MATTHEW 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The problem with the grand demonstrations of public prayer, is that even though they may make us feel like we are oh so religious and in sync with GOD, in reality, the prayer is completely out of sync with HIS will. The Lord did not intend for His followers to join hands and make public prayers. Evidently our prayers should be in private rather than a public demonstration of our piousness.
And beyond that, some of what Yeshua taught His disciples to pray for might not be at all what we today are to pray for. For example, He taught that they should pray for the coming of HIS kingdom. Yet, Yeshua taught elsewhere that His kingdom would come during the lifetime of some of His listeners (MATTHEW 16:28). There can be a good argument made that that kingdom did come around 70 A.D. (See the Study, Whatever Happened to Timothy?)
Then Yeshua further instructed them to ask in prayer for their daily bread, but then a few verses later He told them to "take no thought for your life, what you shall eat" (6:25). How can they routinely ask GOD for daily bread but at the same time take no thought of it? Perhaps the key too understanding this is with the unique Greek word epiousios, here translated as daily.
Curiously, the word is only used twice in scripture, here and in the similar passage in LUKE 11:3 where evidently on a different occasion Yeshua is teaching another disciple on how to pray. What is most interesting about the word epiousios is its peculiar meaning. Quoting Dr. E. W. Bullinger in his massive work, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, page 73;
- . . . . "The word means, therefore, coming upon or going upon, and would refer either to bread for our going or journeying upon, or to the bread coming or descending upon us from heaven, as the manna descended and came down upon Israel."
Then he referenced JOHN 6:32-33 where Yeshua, in answering a question about the manna being bread from heaven, likened it to the true bread from heaven. Further on in this discourse Yeshua explicitly stated what this true living bread from heaven was.
- JOHN 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
The evangelist had already told us that the word was made flesh in GOD's Son (JOHN 1:14), so when these passages are considered together, it is only natural for us to surmise that in His instruction on prayer, Yeshua was very likely intimating that the daily bread was a regular dose of heavenly bread, the word of GOD. "One thing is needful", He told Martha, that is the word of GOD, and her sister had chosen it (LUKE 10:42). The focus of His teaching and instruction was not usually on fleshly or earthly things, but rather on heavenly aspirations.
On page 121 in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey has this interesting rendering of the text, "Give to us today the bread that doesn't run out". Earthly bread can run out but the bread from heaven, living bread, the words of GOD never run out.
It should be further recognized that when the Israelites daily gathered the manna in the wilderness, it was for their physical sustenance, so that they could then continue their journey towards the Promised Land. But the daily sustenance which Yeshua's followers needed to sustain them through their wilderness journey, towards another Promised Land, was the word of GOD.
Is this not what Yeshua was saying, that they needed intermittent nourishment for their own spiritual journey? Therefore they should ask the Father for consistent spiritual nourishment, not so much to feed their bodies but more to feed their spirit.
In this Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua was continually endeavoring to lift His followers eyes heavenward, away from earthly things. He began by declaring, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (5:3). He was not so much teaching them on how to obtain earthly riches but heavenly. Again, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (5:10). And then in the next passage, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. . . .for great is your reward in heaven".
He warned them, "That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (5:20). He also instructed them to love their enemies so that they might be the children of their Father, who is in heaven (5:44-45).
Then in the sixth chapter Yeshua further warned them not to do their alms before men for then they have no reward of their Father, again in heaven (6:1). And He explicitly warned them not to focus on laying up for themselves treasures upon earth but rather in heaven (6:19-20).
More important and vital than seeking earthly things, such as food or drink or even clothing, they were to seek first the kingdom of GOD, and then, after that, and only after that, all of these trivial things would be added unto them (6:33).
In a most picturesque way Yeshua compared an earthly father giving nourishment to his children with the Heavenly Father giving nourishment to HIS children.
- MATTHEW 7:9-11 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
These "good things" are not new refrigerators or fancy cars. In harmony with the whole context of His sermon, they must be spiritual, heavenly things. Things that teach us how to be righteous. Things that guide us into the narrow way that lead unto eternal life, which exact point He then goes on to make.
- 7:13-14 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Few were finding it because they were seeking bread of a different kind. They were chasing after earthly pleasures and treasures rather than after the bread of life, the words of GOD. Thus, Yeshua was endeavoring to lift their eyes heavenward, away from things which were on a lower plane. He sought to teach them to lay treasures up in heaven and not only on earth.
Then He closed the Sermon with three dire warnings. Those who were not going to bring forth good fruit would be hewn down and cast into the fire, in other words destroyed as a fruitless tree (7:19). And instead of being welcomed into the kingdom of heaven they would be told by Yeshua, "depart from Me" (7:23). And finally, one of two choices lay before His listeners, they were to either build their life's work on shifting sand or on a solid rock. Those who obeyed His instruction, those who heeded His warnings, those who chose to do what He commanded would find life. The others would not (7:24-27).
Yeshua later warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the religious leaders (MATTHEW 16:6). They had mis-thought that He was speaking of physical bread, yet He sharply corrected them saying that the leaven represented the doctrine, the teaching and the instruction of the religious leaders. Indeed, the leaven was the words which either corrupted or edified, depending on their truth.
Thus we can surmise that when Yeshua encouraged them to pray for daily bread, it had little or nothing to do with sustaining their physical bodies. What they needed more, what they truly required from GOD was HIS word. As the manna from heaven we today likewise need this heavenly bread, the words of GOD.
The next thing Yeshua instructed them concerning their prayer to the Father, was that they should ask forgiveness for their debts (6:12). Of course He was not teaching them on how to become fiscally solvent. This had nothing whatever to do with gold and silver coin, just as daily bread had nothing or little to do with physical bread. He was speaking of debts as sins.
We owe allegiance to our Creator. We owe HIM our obedience. Thus, whenever we fail to obey HIS word, we are in HIS debt. When we fail to heed HIS will we are in HIS debt. Yeshua was not speaking here of earthly things like financial debts but rather of heavenly things, like sin and mercy and forgiveness. Thus, it is good for us to be constantly aware of HIS grace and mercy. Without HIM retrieving us from our failures and spiritually restoring us, we would be absolutely bankrupt. We would be so far over our heads, drowning in spiritual debt, that there would be no way out, no way forward.
Yeshua then wrapped up His instruction on prayer with this most unusual petition.
- MATTHEW 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
According to this and most other Bible versions of The Lord's Prayer, Yeshua was telling His followers to pray that the Father would not lead or bring them into temptation. Yet James wrote in his epistle that GOD does not tempt anyone (JAMES 1:13), and in all honesty we must admit that leading one into temptation is not all that much different than tempting them. We must account for this apparent disagreement.
It is generally accepted that when Yeshua was teaching His disciples that He usually spoke in their native language, either Hebrew or Aramaic. Howbeit, most of the Christian Writings (the New Testament) come to us from Greek originals. Unfortunately, some Greek words are not able to adequately reflect the full meaning of His original teaching in the Aramaic and Hebrew. Sometimes this causes apparent contradictions. But if we are able to look back into what the original words might have been, we are often given clues as to what He really intended in His discourse.
Kenneth E. Bailey in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes offered three possible solutions to this apparent contradiction. On page 129 he considered the one given by Joachim Jeremias in his own study of The Sermon on the Mount, page 29.
- Jeremiah's solution has to do with language rather than culture. At times it is helpful to try to catch the fine tuning of the Aramaic that lies behind the Greek of the New Testament. Jeremiah thinks that this is one of those occasions. His argument is that the Greek word for "lead us" that appears in this petition is eisphero. The Aramaic equivalent to this Greek word is nisyon, which has two shades of meaning. One is causative and the other is permissive. The causative means "Do not cause us to go into temptation" (that is: do not lead us). By endorsing the permissive the text would mean, "Do not permit us to go into temptations/trials." On our faith journey, the tendency is to turn aside into trials/temptations, and thus we are instructed to pray, as it were, "Oh, Lord, hold us back and do not let us take that path."
As James had explicitly written that temptations never come from GOD, this explanation makes good sense. GOD would never lead us into temptation, but HE could very well allow us to go our own way and so run into headaches and heartaches, if we are so determined to do so. The purpose of the prayer then was to ask GOD to help guide the disciple into the right way, that he might then be delivered from the evil way.
We should also note that temptation has two phases in the scriptures. We can be tempted, we can be faced with temptations, we can even be among temptations, but unless we have entered into temptation (MATTHEW 6:13; 26:41), we have not sinned. It is the entering into the temptation which causes our demise. Various temptations will come and go during our lives, but we have not faltered unless we enter into them. It is how we react to the temptation that determines the outcome. Still, the LORD can deliver the sinner out of temptation after he has entered into it (2 PETER 2:9).
Thus, even though temptations can't originate from HIM, GOD can still permit them. HE can still allow us to be faced with various temptations and then use those temptations for HIS own purposes. The world is a classroom for the instructing and training of HIS pupils, and GOD often uses our fleshly desires to teach us spiritual realities.
The Greek word in the passage which has been rendered by the translators as temptation (peirasmos) really has two very unique and different meanings. It can and often does have the sense of a strong impulse to do wrong, where one might be enticed to sin. But peirasmos can also mean a trial in the sense of a difficult and painful test (see Early Days of Christianity by F. W. Farrar, page 332). As we take the necessary time to go through the scriptures, we shall see these two senses displayed for us.
The first occurrence of this word in the Christian Scriptures was when Yeshua was led by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil (MATTHEW 4:1). MARK tells us that He was driven by the spirit into the wilderness, and while there He was tempted by Satan (1:13). Without much doubt Yeshua's adversary was working here to entice Him to sin.
This is a most intriguing record in that it shows Yeshua Himself being tempted. Can any right minded student really think that Satan could tempt GOD, if indeed Yeshua was GOD as most denominations teach? Of course not. Nevertheless, Yeshua was tempted. That must mean that the Devil was able to use Yeshua's own physical desires in an effort to entice Him to sin. But it didn't work because Yeshua set aside His own desires and anchored Himself to GOD's word. He didn't enter into the temptation
Matthew again used this word in describing Yeshua's warning to Peter, James and John during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (26:41). The prayer here was that they not enter into temptation after they had been faced with it. Howbeit, there is little to incline us to suppose that they were being enticed to sin here. More so they were being tested, the other sense of peirasmos. Would they fail the test to persevere or were they strong enough to rise above their fatigue? Note that in his book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, on page 83 F. F. Bruce has rendered the passage, "Keep awake, and pray not to fail the test".
In this same sense, peirasmos is used by Luke in Yeshua's parable of the sower and his seed. A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed some fell by the wayside, some upon a rock, some among thorns and some on good ground.
In His interpretation of the parable, Yeshua stated that the seed represented the word of GOD. That which fell on the rock were they which "when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation [peirasmos] fall away" (LUKE 8:13). Matthew intimates that this temptation was tribulation and persecution (MATTHEW 13:21). These are things which test or try the faith of new believers. Without being rooted and nourished in a good soil, when trying times come the novice is disposed to turn away from the word. Thus when put to the test they often fail to endure.
There is an enlightening occurrence of peirazo (the verb form of peirasmos) in a conversation which Yeshua had with the apostle Philip.
- JOHN 6:5-6 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove [peirazo] him: for he himself knew what he would do.
Of course Yeshua was in no way tempting Philip to sin with this question. He was simply testing him, examining him to see where his head was, to see how much he had learned from their previous experiences. Evidently then, if the sense of peirasmos is to test someone, to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie, to learn how they have grown or declined, then that trial or test can be informative and helpful. But if the sense of peirasmos is to tempt them in hopes of causing them to fall and turn away from the true way, then in that case the tempter is only interested in seeing them fail.
We should note that when GOD, who is all knowing, tests someone, it is not to show HIM where their head and heart is but rather it is to show them or others where their confidence lies. In HEBREWS we are thus reminded of Abraham being tested when he offered up Isaac.
- HEBREWS 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried [peirazo], offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.
We are told two verses later that Abraham had full confidence that GOD would raise his son from the dead if he did indeed offer him as a sacrifice (HEBREWS 11:19). Those who struggle with the apparent cruelty of Issac being almost slain are simply blind to GOD's purposes. This earthly life is for the express purpose of preparing us for that heavenly kingdom and as such, if we are destined to be raised to eternal life an earthly death is of little consequence. Dying is a real tragedy for the dead only if that is the end of one's existence. But if we can look forward to being awakened to eternal life, we should not fear an earthly death.
Abraham may or may not have been cognizant of eternal life, but he did fully expect that GOD could raise the dead. Thus, when Abraham told his servants that he and Isaac would go yonder and worship and come again (GENESIS 22:5), he was fully expecting that he and Isaac would return together.
James wrote in his epistle that his readers should count it joy when tempted, not because of the temptations but rather because of knowing that "the trying of your faith accomplishes patience" (JAMES 1:2-3). Temptations often have the unintended consequence of producing in us the fruit of the spirit. In his book The Catholic Epistle of James, Francis Bassett paraphrases the passage as such;
- When I wish you joy, I would have you regard even your temptations as conductive to joy, which they will prove to be, if you view them as permitted for the establishment of your faith and the refinement of your spiritual character.
The temptations can produce spiritual character by teaching the Christian the errors of his way, by re-directing him into the true and righteous way, by showing him the fruitlessness of his unrighteous acts.
Peter thoroughly recognized this aspect of temptations.
- 1 PETER 1:3-7 NEB Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us new birth into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! The inheritance to which we are born is one that nothing can destroy or spoil or wither. It is kept for you in heaven, and you, because you put your faith in God, are under the protection of his power until salvation comes- the salvation which is even now in readiness and will be revealed at the end of time.
- This is cause for great joy, even though now you smart for a little while, if need be, under trials [peirasmos] of many kinds. Even gold passes through the assayer's fire, and more precious than perishable gold is faith which has stood the test. These trials come so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
The manifold temptations were similar to gold being purified in a fire, burning off the impurities. As such, when the Christian discovers that his earthly desires have run contrary to the will of GOD, then he has the opportunity to pick himself up and return to the true way. Then he can start to receive the words of GOD in the good soil, thereby beginning to produce the fruit of the spirit. Afterwards, he will prove himself worthy of all praise in the kingdom of GOD. Peter continued this same theme in the fourth chapter.
- 1 PETER 4:12-13 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try [peirasmos] you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
Yeshua's sufferings were not the result of his own earthly physical desires, as are often ours. Yet, even so, our sufferings from our own sins can give us an idea of what He had to endure. As such, we shouldn't complain too bitterly for He suffered much more terribly than we ever will. And His suffering was not for His own sins, but rather for the sins of others (HEBREWS 9:14, 26, 28; 10:12-14 ROMANS 4:25; 5:15).
John the Baptist taught that Yeshua would either baptize with the holy spirit or with fire (MATTHEW 3:11). Being baptized by the spirit is to be cleansed by the words of GOD (see Baptism). Howbeit, if one refuses to hear and obey those words, gently and softly spoken, then he might be cleansed in another way, perhaps by trials and tribulations. This is what it is to be baptized by fire.
When speaking of Lot, Abraham's nephew, and the evil community wherein he lived, Peter noted that the "Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 PETER 2:9). This passage does much to explain Yeshua's statement during his instruction concerning His followers praying not to be led into temptation.
Lot himself had chosen to live in Sodom, for he saw that the countryside was pleasant (GENESIS 13:10-11). Thus, Lot's decision did not come from GOD but rather from his own earthly desires, which ended up costing him dearly. He lost his wife, his home and evidently his business along with most all of his possessions. But those bad decisions did not hinder GOD from using Lot's choices, his environment, acquaintances and community so as to teach him the necessary lessons in life.
The lesson is clear. We should pray so as to avoid making those bed decisions which can end up costing us many headaches and heartaches. But even so, if we fail in our choices, and end up down a rabbit hole with no apparent way out, GOD is still able to deliver us from the evil within which we might find ourselves. As Peter wrote, the LORD knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations. Incidentally, this word deliver is the same Greek word Yeshua used in His instruction on prayer, "deliver us from evil".
GOD is able to deliver the godly out of his temptations, and this is the whole crux of Yeshua's instruction. If the follower seeks righteousness and strives to enter into the straight gate, he can and should pray to avoid many of the temptations which might cause him to sin. He can pray to be guided by the words of GOD so as to avoid the temptations such as Lot became entangled with.
But if that follower has not learned to be righteous, then GOD might deem the temptations to be a necessary teaching tool so as to give the disciple an opportunity to escape the Day of Judgment, even his eternal destruction. In that case GOD might allow the temptation to takes its course.
The apostle Paul said as much when writing to the Corinthian Church.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 10:13 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [endure, RSV] it.
Again, GOD did not send the temptations, but HE can still use and over-rule them to educate and train Christian believers. These are what are called life's experiences, those necessary lessons it seems that we all have to endure so as to become men and women of GOD.
In writing Timothy, Paul again set this forth.
- 2 TIMOTHY 3:10-11 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.
Paul was beset by many trials and temptations, but as he remained faithful he learned how to endure them. It was well said by F. F. Bruce in his book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, page 82, "When faith is tested, it is strengthened, and the outcome is reinforced stability and character".
So what have we learned about The Lord's Prayer? First, that contrary to Church Traditions He was not directing His followers to join hands and chant this prayer in unison. Rather, when praying it is best to find a private place where your heartfelt words can be just between you and your maker.
We also learned that some prayers which were appropriate for Yeshua's disciples might not be timely for us today. Every Christian writer of the scriptures warned of the near and immanent approach of Christ's return and the gathering together of His Church into heaven. Each and every one of them! Thus, for us to assume that they were all misled, just because Church Tradition says so, is a precarious position to take.
Next we learned that the forgiveness of debts and daily bread had little or nothing to do with earthly things. Yeshua's sermon dealt with heavenly things, with spiritual precepts. He was always trying to lead His followers out of the realm of the earthly and into the realm of the heavenly (JOHN 3:12).
Finally we learned that GOD never leads an individual into temptation. HE may very well permit them to go their own way, even if it is going to cause them great harm, but HE usually allows them that freedom of choice. Even so, GOD can still use a believer's bad choices to teach them what is necessary so as to bring them around and return them to the true way. The LORD knows how to deliver the godly out of evil situations.
It should lastly be noted that the rest of the passage is not in any of the trusted texts. Thus, in quoting Alfred Edersheim in a footnote from his book, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services, page 118,
- Thus the words in our Authorised Version, Matt. 6:13, 'For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,' which are wanting in all the most ancient MSS., are only the common Temple-formula of response, and as such may have found their way into the text. The word 'Amen' was in reality a solemn asseveration or a mode of oath.