A simple prayer

When interpreting the Bible, both Judaism and Christianity have schools of thought that the text is an exact language

New Testament text_370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
New Testament text_370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
When interpreting the Bible, both Judaism and Christianity have schools of thought that the text is an exact language. Each letter, word and expression has a rhyme and reason. Nothing is superfluous! When a verse seems to be focusing on a theme or is written longer than it should be, there is a message to be learned.
Often, we are given snippets into a biblical character’s life and not the whole story. We are introduced to Abraham when he is 75 years old. What was his childhood like? How did he arrive at his belief in God? Scripture does not say.
Similarly, we know about Moses’ birth, his taking the life of an Egyptian taskmaster and rescuing Jethro’s daughters. However, we are not privy to what happened afterwards until Moses returns to Egypt to lead the Israelites from bondage. Sixty years in the life of one of the most important Jewish leaders has no canonical record.
Therefore, any highlights of our biblical ancestors in the written word must be analyzed in order to discover what God wants from us.
In Genesis 20, Abraham and Sarah move to Gerar; a place that has no fear of God. Going into survivor mode, Abraham asks Sarah to once again play the part of his sister. King Abimelech takes Sarah, and God has a lengthy conversation with him. The next morning, the king asks Abraham’s forgiveness. What is interesting in this story is that Abimelech’s entire household was plagued for the abduction of Sarah. It took the prayers of Abraham for the king’s family to have a full recovery.
Fast forward to the Book of Numbers, where both Miriam and Aaron speak ill of Moses for marrying a Cushite woman (chapter 12). Miriam is afflicted with the biblical disease of leprosy. Aaron begs Moses for forgiveness and help. In response, Moses screamed out to God: “Please God, please heal her” (12:13).
This prayer is the shortest in the Hebrew Bible, consisting of five onesyllable words with a total of 11 letters and repeating the word “please” twice – Kel, na, refa na la. Unlike the Genesis story where there is no written record of what Abraham prayed to heal Abimelech’s household, God decides to have Moses’s plea in our canon. What message can we learn from this prayer? While Moses’s prayer is indeed short, it could have been shorter – “Heal her now.” Why did he add the “pleases”? Scripture is teaching us an important lesson that we must humble ourselves and praise Him before making a request. The first “please” is Moses acknowledging God’s attribute of mercy and that He alone can heal. The second “please” is dealing with the urgency of the matter. The concept of praise and healing is echoed in Jeremiah 17:14 – “Heal me, O Lord, then shall I be healed; help me, then I shall be helped, for You are my praise!” There is a key word difference between Abraham and Moses when making their supplication before God; Abraham uses vayitpalel while Moses utilizes vayitzak. Both mean prayer, but the former comes from the root “palol” which means to litigate. Moses’s prayer comes from a deep emotional place and literally screams his plea.
“Vayitzak” had been used by Moses before, when asking God to remove the frogs from Egypt (Exodus 8:12), but Scripture does not record the actual prayer. Why does this situation demand that our canon record Moses’ prayer for Miriam? Taking his cue from Aaron from the previous verse – “Let her not be a corpse” – Moses realizes that his sister is facing a unique situation that only God can remedy.
The only person who can render a verdict of clean or unclean in regard to one having the biblical disease of leprosy is a priest (Leviticus 18:3).
However, a priest cannot be involved in determining the status of a leper when it is his relative; for it is a conflict of interest. Literally, Miriam is in purity limbo and faces excruciating pain.
Moses realizes he and Aaron cannot help their sister and echoes the word refa (heal) from Psalm 60:2 – heal her brokenness, for she totters. The breach Miriam made can only be repaired by the wisdom and grace of God.
Prayer is powerful. It can cause the sun to stand still and make the barren give birth. Ultimately, prayer is about submitting oneself to a greater power, a more omnipresent and omniscient authority. It directs our hearts and teaches us humbly to acknowledge our own limits.