Growing up in a Catholic family and a Catholic country, it was expected that I would learn a number of prayers by heart. As children, my classmates and I even memorized the prayers in several languages. One of them is the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, which is found in Mat. 6:9-13. Recently, I read this prayer in Modern Hebrew. Suddenly, a few ideas that I had not reflected upon before popped out at me. None of these ideas are new or earth-shattering, but they provided me some new angles for looking at the text.
First, it became clear that this prayer is not an invocation, but rather an appellation: the prayer didn’t say “May our God, or our Father do this or that”, as for instance the priestly prayer reads (Num. 6:25-26). The prayer addresses God in a more direct manner “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Your name…”. Second, most of the verbs are imperatives of entreaty, where the supplicant is pleading with God, not as a command but as an urgent request “gives us today our daily bread….” Third, in the first part of the prayer, the pleas focus mainly on God: His position, His name, His kingdom, His will. Fourth, in the second part of the prayer, the focus is more on the world of the supplicants, their food, their sins and their temptations. Fifth, and the previous item already pointed to this, it is a communal prayer: it starts out with our Father (v. 9), and then it pleads for our bread, our sins, and ends with the plea that God would not lead us into temptation.
It is interesting that the one example Christ gave as a model for prayer is a communal prayer. This stands in stark contrast to much of the focus of prayer in the individualistic society in which we live. Even our faith is often a very personal, individual enterprise, yet, Christ clearly sees even ‘prayer’ as having a clear communal aspect. Reading it in Hebrew brought this out very strongly because of the uniformity of the ending ‘nu’ referring to the common plural (we, us or our) whether it was a verb, a suffix or a personal pronoun, as in abinu (v. 9), chuqenu (v. 11), lanu (2x; v. 11 and v. 12), choboteinu (v. 12), malachnu (v. 12), anachnu (v. 12), chayyabeinu (v. 12), tebi’einu (v. 13), techalletseinu (v. 13). (Delitzsch translation). As believers we are not islands, we are members of a community. In this prayer, the Lord invites us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the work of the kingdom, to seek His face together, and to bear our burdens together (Eccl. 4:9, 11, 12).
About Jan Verbruggen
Dr. Jan Verbruggen is a Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary. He originally came from Belgium, where he taught for 6 years at the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Heverlee and ministered as a pastor for 3 years. He has published a number of articles in Dutch at various magazines and journals in the Netherlands and Belgium. Jan Verbruggen serves as an elder at Hinson Memorial Baptist Church, Portland Oregon. His most recent publication is "Deuteronomium" (commentary on Deuteronomy in Dutch), Groen, Heerenveen, 2008.