To what genre of scripture do you turn to learn about prayer? The Psalms include many prayers, and from them we learn much about prayer, about God, and about the faith of the writers/singers who penned those prayer-psalms. Prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Micah included passionate prayers filled with both faith and despair in their books. Paul told recipients of his letters why and what he prayed about and for them. The Sermon on the Mount and the sermon we call “Hebrews” include both prayers and teaching about prayer. The history of Acts records prayers and James, the brother of the Lord, writes in his letter about when prayer is both needed and effective. The prayers of Revelation praise and petition God and his Son.
But, what about genealogies? Many readers skim through the lists of generations, or skip them altogether. Sometimes, what seems an aberration commands the reader’s attention. Five somewhat scandalous women intrude into Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus? What similarities connect them? What distinguishes each? Why is each one included in a genealogy that concludes with the Messiah? Luke’s genealogy stresses that Jesus is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of Adam, but he is above all the Son of God. How or when, if ever does prayer, play a part in the writing or reading of genealogies?
One Old Testament genealogy includes two short passages about prayers – the long genealogy found in the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. You may have read a book about the better known of the two passages, the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Several years ago, I wrote a post about “Prayer and Integrity” that compared and contrasted that prayer with the prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30. The second reference to prayer in the Chronicler’s genealogy, found in 1 Chronicles 5:18-22, involves tribes about which we otherwise hear relatively little after Israel’s tribes conquer the territory God has promised them, the tribes of Reuben and Gad plus the half tribe of Manasseh that settled in the lands east of the Jordan River. The genealogy informs us that they occupied the land until the exile, referring to the conquest of Israel by Assyria.
The genealogy describes the military strength and skills of these tribes, then says,
“They waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur Naphish and Nodab. They were helped in fighting them, and God delivered the Hagrites and all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him” (1 Chronicles 5:19-20).
Their prayer was literally a call for fire. In desperate need for assistance in battle, they sent up a message to God requesting rescue. God heard the request and granted it. They won the battle, “because they trusted in him.” For those Israelites, as Christians too have proclaimed in song, faith was the victory. James alludes to this aspect of praying also with these words:
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:6-8).
The soldiers from Reuben, Manasseh, and Gad cried out to God because they believed that he could rescue them. They won the victory that day handily, the Chronicler writes, “because the battle was God’s” (1 Chronicles 5:22). Hundreds of years later, after a king of Judah prays during another desperate time, a Levite assures the king and the nation, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15b).
When we live with integrity and confident faith, pursuing the goals of God, God’s battles and our battles are the same. Our challenge is to overcome our pride, our selfishness, and our fear to follow God where he leads. An early sign of victory over pride is to ask for help, to admit humbly that we cannot win the battle we’re fighting on our own. Discernment is a critical part of faith, too – recognizing when we may be fighting against God by pursuing our own desires rather than his.
This reference to prayer in an unexpected context reminds us of the role of faith (and faithfulness) in prayer. We pray sometimes when faith flickers, when we wonder if God hears us or if anything can change our predicament. When we submit our will and our fears to God, when we seek what he seeks, the battle is no longer ours. The battle is God’s.
- Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
O God who seeks justice and truth, hear our prayer. Quiet our fears. Train us to discern rightly your will amidst the clamor of competing claims for our allegiance. May the armor we choose to wear be the armor that you wear into spiritual warfare: righteous, faith, and readiness from the gospel of peace. May we remember that it is our role to call for fire, to pray, and that it is your role, not ours, to avenge. May the causes for which we fight be your causes. May our goals align with yours. Remind us to seek truth and to be ministers of reconciliation to those who need so badly the gospel of peace. Strengthen our boldness when we need it. Increase our faith. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.