When the Psalmist Said ‘I Am Prayer’

By Michael Brown Published on February 19, 2024

You won’t find this in our English translations, but it’s literally what the Hebrew says in a psalm ascribed to David: “In place of my love they hatefully accuse me, but I am prayer” (Psalm 109:4, my translation). What a profound statement, and what a lesson for us.

Other English versions, seeking to express the Hebrew idiom in workable English, translate with:

  • For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer (KJV).
  • In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer (ESV).
  • In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer (NIV).
  • In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer (NASB).
  • They repay my love with accusations, but I continue to pray (NET).

Similarly, the paraphrased Living Bible rendered, “I love them, but even while I am praying for them, they are trying to destroy me.” And ancient versions, like the Septuagint (in Greek) or the Targum (in Aramaic), offered similar translations, respectively, “Instead of loving me, they falsely accused me: but I continued to pray,” and, “Because I have loved, they opposed me; but I will pray.”

There is no real dispute, then, about the overall meaning of the words. But why such a stark expression in Hebrew: “but I am prayer” (or, “I am a prayer”)?

Forcibly Making the Point for Prayer

There is a actually a Hebrew parallel in Psalm 120:7 which sheds light on this discussion. Translated literally, it reads, “I am peace [shalom]. But when I speak, they are for war” (my translation). The vast majority of English translations render the first words with, “I am for peace,” which is certainly the general sense of the passage.

But again, why such a stark expression in Hebrew? In both cases (Psalm 109:4 and 120:7), the preposition le (meaning “to” or “for”) could have been added, making the meaning explicit: “I am for prayer; I am for peace.” But that preposition was not added.

This means that there was a reason this was left out in Hebrew, producing a more jarring idiom and making the point even more forcefully.

As explained by Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), “He did nothing else but pray. He became prayer as they became malice. This was his answer to his enemies, he appealed from men and their injustice to the Judge of all the earth, who must do right. True bravery alone can teach a man to leave his traducers unanswered, and carry the case unto the Lord.”

To say it again (since it bears repeating), “He did nothing else but pray. He became prayer as they became malice.” Leave it to Spurgeon to say it so well.

Becoming Absorbed in Prayer

Yes, David’s whole life became absorbed in prayer to the point that he could say “I am prayer” or “I am a prayer.” The division between petition and person disappeared. His very life was an expression of intercession.

The Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) wrote, “Persecuted saints are men of prayer, yea, they are as it were made up all of prayer. David prayed before; but, oh, when his enemies fell a persecuting of him, then he gave himself up wholly to prayer. Oh, then he was more earnest, more fervent, more frequent, more diligent, more constant, and more abundant in the work of prayer!”

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Applying this to Jesus, the Jewish Christian commentator Adolph Saphir (1831-1891) wrote, “The Messiah says in this prophetic Psalm, ‘I am prayer.’ During his pilgrimage on earth, his whole life was communion with God; and now in his glory he is constantly making intercession for us. But this does not exhaust the idea, ‘I am prayer.’ He not merely prayed and is now praying, he not merely teaches and influences us to pray, but he is prayer, the fountain and source of all prayer, as well as the foundation and basis of all answers to our petitions. He is the Word in this sense also. From all eternity his Father heard him, heard him as interceding for that world which, created through him, he represented, and in which, through him, divine glory was to be revealed. In the same sense, therefore, in which he is light and gives light, in which he is life and resurrection, and therefore quickens, Jesus is prayer.”

Prayer Near and Dear to the Heart of God

As lofty and seemingly unattainable as these concepts are, there is an aspect in which all of us can relate to this, especially during times of great pressure and pain.

Think of a time when someone very close to you was in great danger or distress, perhaps in physical or emotional agony, or was hanging between life and death. At such times, they are constantly in our thoughts, even to the point of us feeling the weight of their struggle in a tangible physical way. We literally hurt for them, and as the burden we carry is lifted up to our compassionate heavenly Father, sometimes even without words, it is then that our very life becomes a prayer.

It is a prayer that is near and dear to the heart of God.

 

Dr. Michael Brown is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He is the author of over 40 books, including Can You be Gay and Christian?; Our Hands Are Stained With Blood; and Seize the Moment: How to Fuel the Fires of Revival. You can connect with him on FacebookX or YouTube.

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