The expression “prayer and supplication” is found a number of times in the New Testament. Whereas prayer is the normal word for the act of speaking to God, supplication is a much more expressive word. As James Currie says,
The nuance of meaning in each of these … words is not without significance … ‘Prayer’ is the general term often used for this activity but [it also] carries with it the thought of praise or thanksgiving. To ‘supplicate’ is to give expression to entreaty when seeking help or assistance.1
Our word supplication comes originally from a Latin word meaning ‘to bend’ or ‘bow down’, hence our word ‘supple’. By extension, it then came to describe the action of those asking for something humbly, that is, on bended knees, emphasising their lowliness and need. Similarly, the Hebrew word tehinnah, usually translated ‘supplication’, carries the meaning of imploring a favour. Hence, in summary, we can say that while prayer emphasises the power of God, supplication underlines the powerlessness and poverty of the one asking.
Old Testament Background
The combined expression “prayer and supplication” arises solely from Solomon’s well-known prayer of dedication for the first temple, as recorded “for our learning” in the parallel passages of 1 Kings 8.23–53 and 2 Chronicles 6.14-42. Without doubt, this prayer is one of the longest public prayers in the Bible; indeed, William MacDonald,2 as well as other commentators, maintain that it is the longest. However, it can be read in about five minutes - remember Ecclesiastes 5.2! With respect to the actual Hebrew words used by Solomon for prayer and supplication, David, his father, had earlier used them in the same sentence in the Psalms in requesting “Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications” (86.6) and, similarly, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications” (143.1). Solomon addresses his prayer and supplication to the Lord while kneeling, and with his hands outstretched towards Heaven. How many suppliants had prostrated themselves before him as their king, looking for a favour, but now he himself is publicly bowing to God in his great need! In Psalm 95.6-7, David encouraged others to bow down and kneel “before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”
The Chronicles account of Solomon’s prayer has two important additions to that recorded in Kings. First, there is a fuller description of Solomon’s posture in prayer: “Solomon had made a platform of bronze … and upon it he stood, and he kneeled down on his knees before the whole congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward the heavens” (2 Chr 6.13, JND3).
Then, also in the Chronicles version, there is a longer ending to Solomon's prayer:
Now therefore arise, O Lord God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness. O Lord God, turn not away the face of thine anointed: remember the mercies of David thy servant (2 Chr 6.41-42).
However magnificent, Solomon’s temple was incomplete without God dwelling in it. Solomon’s plea was on the basis of the Lord’s earlier promises to his father David, reminding us that all our prayers are in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Father’s earlier promises to Him, for instance, in John 17.
In the actual dedicatory prayer, the “prayer and supplication” expression is found four times, with the fourth being virtually a repeat of the third. First, “Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee to-day” (1 Kgs 8.28; cf 2 Chr 6.19). The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, and both Young’s and Green’s literal Bible translations, suggest “Yet thou wilt have respect [regard]”, indicating Solomon’s faith that his prayer and supplication would certainly be answered!
Secondly, “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house” (1 Kgs 8.38; cf 2 Chr 6.29). If God acts in discipline towards His people to “teach them the good way wherein they should walk” (1 Kgs 8.36), when they cry to Him in prayer and supplication “Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest” (v 39).
Thirdly and fourthly, “Then hear thou in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause” (1 Kgs 8.45). This is repeated in verse 49, with the addition that Heaven is God’s dwelling place (cf 2 Chr 6.35, 39). However, the Chronicles’ fourth mention adds “and forgive thy people which have sinned against thee.” The plea here is that the Lord would hear their prayer and supplication, but also that He would “maintain their cause”, that is, continue to act on their behalf for justice and right.
Note that, when he concluded, it is described as “an end of praying all this prayer and supplication”. He then arose from his suppliant position; “he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven” (1 Kgs 8.54). This emphasises the fact that it was divinely accepted as prayer and supplication, and what is even more important is the Lord’s response: “I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually” (9.3).
The prayer and supplication directed to the Lord is followed by a benediction addressed to the people. He reminds them that the God who had promised His people rest (Deut 12.9-10), had fulfilled His promise, and given “rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant” (1 Kgs 8.56). The benediction continues, “The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us” (v 57). Although Solomon had asked that the Lord “may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers” (v 58), responsibility still remained with the people, so he could say “Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments” (v 61). Solomon looked then for the words of his supplication to be nigh unto the Lord our God day and night, that he maintain the cause of his servant, and the cause of his people Israel at all times, as the matter shall require: that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else (vv 59-60).
God’s honour was involved, as “a great King over all the earth” (Ps 47.2).
1 James B Currie, The Glory of Prayer, (An Assembly Testimony Publication, 2011).
2 William MacDonald, Believer's Bible Commentary.
3 J N Darby, The Holy Scriptures - A New Translation from the Original Languages.
(To be continued …)