When we think of prayer, we usually consider that that’s how we ask God for something. But is there more to prayer than that? Who needs and benefits from prayer? Since God loves us and already knows our needs, is prayer even really necessary? Can ancient Hebrew pictograms describe prayer for us in a more meaningful way? Does anything in the pictograms for Tefilah point us to Messiah?
David endured many trials on his road to becoming king in the nation of Israel. One thing he learned to do during those trials was to humble himself and pray to his God. In Psalm 69 starting in verses 1 through 5 he records the following lament:
"Save me O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away. O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee."
In verse 13 David pleads for God’s mercy:
"But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation."
The word prayer used here by David is the Hebrew word Tefilah which in conventional terms is usually translated prayer, but this is a bit misleading. We think of prayer being a supplication where one can beseech, implore, or even beg for favor from God. There are other Hebrew words that could be used for prayer that accurately contain these meanings. Why then does David use the word Tefilah?
Tefilah is actually quite different. This is a noun that comes from the root verb Pallel which means to intervene, to mediate, or to judge. For David this Tefilah, or prayer, was a time of self-reflection and self-judgement in his heart where he compares his life with the desires of God. During this, David confesses his sins are not hidden from God, and that he doesn’t really merit the blessings he is seeking.
Remember, the ancient Hebrew letters are pictograms which are pictures that are content driven. One can determine the meanings of most Hebrew words if the content of the letters is known and applied. What can an investigation of the pictograms for Tefilah reveal to us? Tefilah is spelled Tav Pey Lamed Hey.
Tav is the picture of crossed wooden sticks and means to seal, a sign, or to covenant.
Pey or Fey is the picture of the open mouth and means to open, to speak, or a word.
Lamed is the picture of the shepherd’s staff and means the tongue, to control, to have authority, or the voice of authority.
Hey is the picture of the man with outstretched hands to the heavens and means to behold, to reveal, to pay attention to what follows, or the Holy Spirit as the revelator.
A very interesting picture unfolds as we piece this content together. During the time David is praying, he is looking to the heavens and making his plea to the one in authority. As he speaks before God, his Tefilah is an appeal to the covenant God has made with David through his father Abraham. God will always have His people Israel and Israel will always have title to their land. The Holy Spirit, the revelator will not only reveal the heart of David during his prayer, He will remind David of the faithfulness of the covenant-making God who will be with David in his distress.
This is reflected in the final three verses of Psalm 69 where David concludes with this:
"Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein."
There is also a message for us that is contained in the numbers that each of these four letters represent.
Tav is the number 400 and stands for a divinely appointed period of time that will bring about spiritual renewal.
Pey is the number 80 which is 8 times 10 and refers to a time of new beginning or new birth ordained by God.
Lamed is the number 30 and points us to the blood of Christ.
Hey is the number 5 and is the picture of God’s grace and favor.
This is great news for those outside of the covenant God made with His people Israel. This reveals blessing in the Tefilah of the gentiles. Here we see that by the grace of God, at a time of His choosing, a new beginning or a new birth will be offered that will only come as a result of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Looking back on this event, the writer of Hebrews added this for us in Chapter 9 verse 15:
"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance."