Hannah was childless and it caused her great sorrow. She petitioned YHVH for a son, and He gave her children. Adonijah petitioned Bathsheba for Abishag, she was beautiful and he wanted her to be his wife. However, he had ulterior motives…Esther risked her life to petition king Ahasuerus for the life of her people. Job, after suffering so much hardship that he could not bear it any more petitioned YHVH to take his life. Instead YHVH healed him and restored back to him what he lost. The Israelites petitioned YHVH for meat with devastating consequences. Zacharias petitioned YHVH for a child, and this child was a great prophet who prepared the way for the Messiah.
We can learn much from all these narratives. A petition is a form of prayer, but whereas prayer encompasses all communication with YHVH, petition is to make a specific request of YHVH. It can be compared to a formal request made to a sovereign.
The purpose of this study is to understand what it means to petition YHVH. We shall look at each of these narratives to see what we can learn.
First things first, let’s look at the meaning of the word petition as it was used in the Tanakh. We shall first look at the definition of the English word and then go to the lexicon for more insight into it’s contextual meaning.
What is a petition?
We know that petition is a form of prayer, but what is a petition and what makes it different from prayer?
a formally drawn request, often bearing the names of a number of those making the request, that is addressed to a person or group of persons in authority or power, soliciting some favor, right, mercy, or
a request made for something desired, especially a respectful or humble request, as to a superior or to one of those in authority; a
supplication or prayer:
something that is sought by request or entreaty:
Law. an application for a court order or for some judicial action.
to beg for or request (something).
to address a formal petition to (a sovereign, a legislative body, etc.):
He received everything for which he had petitioned the king.
to ask by petition for (something).2
Our modern understanding of a petition is that it is an official document, or a request written in a formal, respectful and humble manner. The word petition is the language of the court and is used when appeal is made to a ruler. The scriptural view is comparable to our modern view. It is also a formal, humble request made to a ruler or to YHVH.
PETITION [Heb. ṣeʾēlâ, šēlâ]; NEB PRAYER, PRAY, REQUEST, ASK; [mišʾālâ] (Ps. 20:5 [MT 6]); NEB ASK; [nāśāʾ pānîm—‘lift (someone’s) face’] (1 S. 25:35); AV “accept thy person”; NEB “grant your request”; [Aram beʿâ, beʿāʾ—‘request, ask, pray’ (Dnl. 6:7, 11–13 [MT 8, 12–14]), bāʿû—‘petition, prayer’ (6:7, 13 [MT 8, 14])]; AV also PRAY; NEB also PRAYER; [Gk. entynchánō] (Acts 25:24); AV DEAL; NEB APPEAL. A request or appeal made to a powerful ruler or to God.
“Petition” is the language of the court.
Queen Esther approaches King Ahasuerus on behalf of her people using a Persian ceremonial formula of making a petition (ṣeʾēlâ; cf. šāʾal, “ask”) and a request (baqqāšâ; Est. 5:6–8; 7:2f.; 9:12). In 1 S. 25:23–31 Abigail prostrates herself before David and intercedes with him for the life of her husband Nabal. David responds with kingly FAVOR, “I have hearkened to your voice, and I have granted your petition [lit “raised your face”]” (v 35; see also PARTIALITY). The concept of appealing to a ruler is present also in Acts 25:24, where Festus tells King Agrippa that “the whole Jewish people petitioned me” concerning the apostle Paul (see TDNT, VIII, s.v. τυγχάνω κτλ.: ντυγχάνω [O. Bauernfeind]).
Elsewhere “petition” occurs in the sense of PRAYER. King Darius issued a decree prohibiting anyone from making “petition to any god or man for thirty days,” except to Darius himself (Dnl. 6:7). Thus, for one month the king alone was to be the god to whom all religious petitions were directed (see comms, e.g., IB, VI, 440f). Because Daniel rejected this idolatry and was found “making petition and supplication before his God” (v 11 [MT 12]) three times daily (vv 12f [MT 13f]), he was thrown into the den of lions as the interdict prescribed (v 16 [MT 17]). In 1 S. 1:10f Hannah, old and barren, prayed that God would give her a child. Eli the priest blessed her, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition [Heb. šēlâ] which you have made to him” (v 17). When Hannah brought the young Samuel to Eli, she proclaimed God’s faithfulness, “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition [ṣeʾālâ]” (v 27). In the same spirit the community intercedes on behalf of the king, “May the Lord fulfil all your petitions!” (Ps. 20:5 [MT 6]). Interestingly, the only other passage that uses mišʾālâ (Ps. 37:4; RSV “desire”) also speaks of the Lord fulfilling the prayerful desires of one who trusts in Him during times of trouble (see TWOT, II, 892). D. K. McKim3
Another word that is often used especially in the King James version is beseech. To beseech YHVH is to implore Him, entreat Him or plead with Him. It is also translated as making supplication. To “beseech” is to earnestly request.
Before we go into each of the mentioned narratives, let’s look at petitions from the Apostolic scripture view.
A petition is a form of prayer
Paul makes a distinction between entreaties, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings in 1 Timothy.
1 Timothy 2:1
1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,
David Stern translated it as follows:
1 Timothy 2:1–3
1 First of all, then, I counsel that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all human beings, 2 including kings and all in positions of prominence; so that we may lead quiet and peaceful lives, being godly and upright in everything. 3 This is what Elohim, our Deliverer, regards as good; this is what meets his approval.
David Stern’s translation is a more literal one. Here is each word’s meaning from the Louw Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
Entreaty or petition
33.171 δέησις, εως f: (derivative of δέομαι ‘to plead, to beg,’ 33.170) that which is asked with urgency based on presumed need—‘request, plea, prayer.’ μὴ φοβοῦ, Ζαχαρία, διότι εἰσηκούσθη ἡ δέησίς σου ‘do not be afraid, Zechariah! (God) has heard your prayer’ Lk 1:13.4
33.178 εὔχομαιa; προσεύχομαι; εὐχήa, ῆς f; προσευχήa, ῆς f: to speak to or to make requests of God—‘to pray, to speak to God, to ask God for, prayer.’34
εὔχομαιa: εὐχόμεθα δὲ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν μὴ ποιῆσαι ὑμᾶς κακὸν μηδέν ‘we pray to God that you will do no wrong’ 2 Cor 13:7.
προσεύχομαι: ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος κατ’ ἰδίαν προσεύξασθαι ‘he went up a hill by himself to pray’ Mt 14:23.
εὐχήa: ἡ εὐχὴ τῆς πίστεως σώσει τὸν κάμνοντα ‘the prayer made in faith will save the sick person’ Jas 5:15.
προσευχήa: ἔσται ὁ οἶκός μου οἶκος προσευχῆς ‘my house will be a house of prayer’ Lk 19:46.
In some languages there are a number of different terms used for prayer depending upon the nature of the content, for example, requests for material blessing, pleas for spiritual help, intercession for others, thanksgiving, and praise. There may also be important distinctions on the basis of urgency and need. The most generic expression for prayer may simply be ‘to speak to God.’4
Petition or intercession
3.347 ἐντυγχάνωb; ἔντευξις, εως f: to speak to someone on behalf of someone else—‘to intercede, intercession.’
ἐντυγχάνωb: ὃς καὶ ἐντυγχάνει ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ‘who also intercedes on our behalf’ Ro 8:34.
ἔντευξις: ἁγιάζεται γὰρ διὰ λόγου θεοῦ καὶ ἐντεύξεως ‘for it is made acceptable to God through his word (literally ‘God’s word’) and through your intercession’ 1 Tm 4:5.4
3.349 εὐχαριστέωa; εὐχαριστία, ας f: to express gratitude for benefits or blessings—‘to thank, thanksgiving, thankfulness.’
εὐχαριστέωa: τί βλασφημοῦμαι ὑπὲρ οὗ ἐγὼ εὐχαριστῶ; ‘why should anyone revile me about that for which I thank God?’ 1 Cor 10:30.
εὐχαριστία: μετὰ εὐχαριστίας τὰ αἰτήματα ὑμῶν γνωριζέσθω πρὸς τὸν θεόν ‘let your requests be made known to God with thanksgiving’ Php 4:6.
Thanks is often expressed in highly idiomatic ways. For example, in some languages one says thank you by saying ‘may God pay you.’ Such a phrase may be so standardized as to even be used in expressing thankfulness to God himself. In other instances, thankfulness may be expressed as ‘you have made my heart warm.’4
Paul also distinguishes between prayer and petition in Ephesians and Philippians
18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to Elohim.
“Supplication” can be translated as “petition”
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
The word “prayer” can here also be translated as plea or petition
We shall now look at a few of the narratives we mentioned in the beginning, starting with Hannah’s petition for a child.
Hannah’s petition, pouring out her soul
1 Samuel 1:9–11
9 Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of YHVH. 10 She, greatly distressed, prayed to YHVH and wept bitterly. 11 She made a vow and said, “O YHVH of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to YHVH all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”
Hannah was greatly distressed. She wanted a child, but YHVH closed her womb. She wept bitterly and made a vow that she would give the son YHVH gave her to Him. Eli, the priest thought she was drunk as he only saw her crying and her lips moving. She explained that she was pouring out her soul to YHVH.
1 Samuel 1:15
15 But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before YHVH.
1 Samuel 1:17
17 Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace; and may the Elohim of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.”
Eli called Hannah’s prayer a petition. She poured her soul out to YHVH, she expressed her deepest desire, weeping bitterly, and YHVH heard her. She kept her vow to YHVH and took the boy to Shiloh when he was weaned.
1 Samuel 1:27
27 “For this boy I prayed, and YHVH has given me my petition which I asked of Him.
From this petition of Hannah, we learn that a petition is done from the deepness of the soul. This phrase “pour out my soul” speaks of great distress. She was in a situation where she knew her only hope was YHVH. She even made a vow to give the boy to YHVH for service to Him.
Job also poured out his soul to YHVH.
16 “And now my soul is poured out within me; Days of affliction have seized me.
It is understandable that Job felt this way, considering his situation. He also requested YHVH to take his life.
8 “Oh that my request might come to pass, And that Elohim would grant my longing!
The word “request” here is the same word translated as “petition” in 1 Samuel.
So, from this, we can conclude that a petition is made when YHVH is the only hope. Neither ourselves or another person could help to alleviate the situation. The petitioner pours out his or her soul to YHVH and places all hope in Him. YHVH may or may not grant the petition. In Hannah’s case He did and in Job’s He didn’t.
Adonijah’s petition to have what was not destined to be his
Adonijah was by birth the rightful successor to David’s throne. However, YHVH destined Solomon to be king. Adonijah, who tried to take over the kingship once before, wanted to marry Abishag in order to get a claim to the kingdom.
In those days of royal harems, taking possession of a king’s concubines was a declaration of one’s right to the throne. This had been one of Absalom’s methods when he led a coup against David (2 Samuel 16:22). Since Abishag was considered part of David’s harem, her marriage to Adonijah would have strengthened the usurper’s claim to the throne.5
For this reason, he petitioned Batsheba to petition Solomon to have Abishag. Solomon saw through his plans and Adonijah was executed. The petition here was a formal request to a king via Solomon’s mother. He probably thought that it was more likely for his request to be granted if it was made through Batsheba.
YHVH’s will was for Solomon to be king, yet Adonijah, who knew this, continued to plot to usurp the kingship from Solomon. This petition to have Abishag as wife was such a plot and was against YHVH’s will. YHVH gave Solomon the wisdom to see this and act accordingly.
What can we learn from this? The lesson for us is that we cannot acquire through petition that which is not according to YHVH’s will. We will see in another narrative how YHVH may sometimes even grant such a petition, but how it will lead to destruction.
Esther’s petition, with fasting
In the case of Esther, as with Adonijah the petition was to the sovereign, however, she fasted from food and drink for three days and asked the people to do the same.
16 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”
Esther went to the court of the king and obtained favor with him.
6 As they drank their wine at the banquet, the king said to Esther, “What is your petition, for it shall be granted to you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done.”
It could have been different, for it was not allowed for her to go uninvited to the king, but she was willing to give her life. She said: “If I perish, I perish.” Esther prepared herself before she went to the king. She fasted for three days, completely submitted herself to the will of the king and she put on her royal robes. We are to prepare ourselves in the same way before we petition YHVH, our King. The fasting is linked to sincere repentance, the submission to YHVH’s will essential and the royal robes is the righteousness of Y’shua and obedience to YHVH. Repentance, submission and righteousness are essential for us to obtain favor with YHVH.
In Y’shua we can approach YHVH’s throne confidently.
16 Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne from which Elohim gives grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.
Be careful what you petition from YHVH
We have mentioned earlier how YHVH may give us our petition even if it is not according to His will in order to teach us. The Israelites craved meat other than their domesticated animals. They petitioned YHVH for it. This request was based on greed and discontentment. YHVH gave them their request (petition), but sent a wasting disease among them.
15 So He gave them their request, But sent a wasting disease among them.
31 Now there went forth a wind from YHVH and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground. 32 The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of YHVH was kindled against the people, and YHVH struck the people with a very severe plague. 34 So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy.
This is a lesson for us. We can petition YHVH, but are to make sure we are not doing it for our own greedy pleasures, but according to His will. He may grant us our petition, but we may have to pay dearly for it.
There is another good example in the apostolic writings.
Zachariah and Elizabeth were childless…
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of Elohim, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of YHVH. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.
They obviously petitioned YHVH for a child, for in verse 13 we read that their/his petition for a child has been heard.
12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.
How amazing is this! Their/his petition had been heard and YHVH, even sent an angel to tell him that. However, he didn’t believe the angel. He asked how he will know this for certain. He doubted the words spoken by the angel.
18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of Elohim, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Zachariah’s petition was granted, an angel was sent to tell him, but he did not believe. He doubted that such a thing could be true based on their age. He limited YHVH in his mind. As a result, he was unable to speak until it came to pass. From this we learn that we have to believe YHVH’s words, not doubt it. When we doubt, we limit YHVH in our minds and may cause others to doubt as well.
This same angel was sent to Mary with the news that she too will conceive. She also asked “how can this be?” She didn’t doubt, she inquired. We know this from the answer Gabriel gave her.
35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of Elohim. 36 “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 “For nothing will be impossible with Elohim.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of YHVH; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
37 “For nothing will be impossible with Elohim.”
If only we will believe like this…
I like writing down my prayers, not all, but the prayers I do during morning bible study, I write in a journal. It helps me to focus and I can refer back to it later. This journal serves as a record for me to refer back to when I experience feelings of condemnation or doubt. Satan can play mind tricks on us, by influencing our feelings, he can plant feelings of condemnation and thoughts of doubt in our minds. When this happens, I have this record to refer to. I also write down either references or verses that spoke to me during my bible reading. In this journal I basically record my spiritual journey for myself.
So, writing a petition makes sense to me as I can refer back to it later. It is a “legal” document, that can be used for future reference either to counter negative thoughts, like condemnation or to remind me of YHVH’s goodness as I record all our answered prayers. It strengthens our faith when we need it most.
In writing this petition, we need to apply what we have learned here.
- We are to put all our trust and hope in YHVH
- Repentance, submission to YHVH and righteousness are essential. This means we are to humble ourselves before YHVH. Fasting and repentance is a way to do this.
- We are to make our requests according to YHVH’s will. His will is found in His word, we are not to petition YHVH for anything contrary to His word.
- We are also not to petition YHVH based on greedy, fleshly desires
- We are to accept and believe that YHVH will help us with thanksgiving. It is faith to be able to praise YHVH for what He will do.
We need to prepare beforehand. It is good to pray about your situation beforehand and ask YHVH to reveal to you anything that may hinder, like unrepented sin or anything else.
We can fast as part of our preparation like Esther did. We have written an article about why and how to fast if you are interested in learning more about this practice.
Another part of our preparation is to ascertain if our request is in accordance to YHVH’s will. We will find that answer in scripture. We are to search our hearts to make sure our desires are not motivated by greed or our flesh. When we have done all this, we are ready to write the petition.
We can start the petition by addressing YHVH, acknowledging Him as the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Creator of the Heavens and earth, the King of the universe. Also, we know we can come into His presence through Y’shua.
14 Therefore, since we have a great cohen gadol who has passed through to the highest heaven, Yeshua, the Son of Elohim, let us hold firmly to what we acknowledge as true. 15 For we do not have a cohen gadol unable to empathize with our weaknesses; since in every respect he was tempted just as we are, the only difference being that he did not sin. 16 Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne from which Elohim gives grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need. (Complete Jewish Bible)
We are to put all our trust and hope in YHVH. We as YHVH’s children are in a covenant relationship with Him. Obedience to YHVH is required of us. We may and will fail, but can ask for forgiveness and will receive it.
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Y’shua.
We are to repent of any sin we know of or have been made aware of that may hinder YHVH’s deliverance from whatever we struggle with. Confession of sin is important, and in detail because satan is a legalist and will remind us of any unconfessed sins.
After confessing our sin, we can humbly put our request to YHVH and thank Him for giving or doing to us according to His will. YHVH knows best and will answer us according to what is best for us. You can add related quotes of scripture to your petition and proclaim the truth of it. It builds our faith and reaffirm YHVH’s truth in our minds.
Make sure you date the document and you can even sign it if you want. This is great to keep to refer back to later.
I have to add that this. This is not a formula. YHVH is not manipulated by us. We do this in order to structure our thoughts and as a record for ourselves. YHVH will do to us according to His will. Anyway, that is the best for us even if it is contrary to what we want. We are to delight ourselves in Him and He will give us the desires of our heart.
4 Delight yourself in YHVH; And He will give you the desires (petitions) of your heart.
If we delight ourselves in YHVH and seek first His kingdom, our desires will be according to His will and He will grant our petitions.
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD, and Y’shua for Jesus
- Harris, W. R. (1979–1988). Petition. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 3, p. 819). Wm. B. Eerdmans.
- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 407). New York: United Bible Societies.
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