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In the Old Testament particularly, a variety of sacrificial offerings and incense offerings were understood as prayer (and/or the right accompaniment of prayer) - prayers of repentance/confession, prayers for forgiveness/cleansing, and prayers of thanksgiving. This concept of sacrifice and offering as a form of prayer, and/or as a necessary companion of prayer, is directly related to the acknowledgement of our utter dependence on the mercy and goodness of God. As we read the Scripture we find:

No one is to appear before God empty-handed (Exodus 34:18-20).

All the sacrifices for sin and guilt offerings were prayers for atonement (Leviticus 1-7).

The fellowship (peace) offering was an expression of thankfulness (Leviticus 7:11-15).

Incense offerings had a role in gaining atonement (Numbers 16).

Prayer accompanied the offering of firstfruits (Deuteronomy 26: 5-15).

The people wept as they offered sacrifices to the Lord (Judges 2:4-5). They sat weeping before the Lord, fasted, presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and inquired of the Lord (Judges 20:26-28).

Saul offered burnt offerings to seek the Lord's favour (1Samuel 13:9,12).

David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered prayer (2Samuel 24:24,25). David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord and the Lord answered him (1Chronicles 21:16ff).

Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord (2Chronicles 11:16).

They offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy (Nehemiah 12:43).

Meaningless sacrifices, meaningless prayer (Isaiah 1:11-17). Also Jeremiah 6:20; Micah 6:6-8; Malachi 1:10-12

God told Jeremiah: Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them ... (Jeremiah 14:11ff).

The voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, "Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures for ever ... " (Jeremiah 33:11).

 Incense burned to false gods seen as prayer to, and dependence on, those gods (Read Jeremiah 44. Also Ezekiel 8:6-18).

Seven days of sacrifices and offerings were necessary before the Lord would accept the people (Ezekiel 43:18-27).

When the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside (Luke 1:9-10).

In symbolic imagery: An angel was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand (Revelation 8:3).

It is not possible for us to approach God or gain access to God on the basis of our own credentials. For this reason, in the Old Testament, sacrifice accompanied prayer, indeed it was a prerequisite for entering the presence of God. With the coming of Jesus Christ, and his offering of the one, real, ultimate sacrifice for sin, there is no longer any need for the individual supplicant to offer individual sacrifice for his/her own sin, but there is still the need of the mediating sacrifice, which is effective once-and-for-all for those who trust in him. He is the Mediator, he is the atonement. By him and by him alone do we have access to the Father in prayer. Hence we pray always and only in his name. Never do we come to God trusting in our own righteousness or our own sinlessness. In this way it is written that Christ 'ever lives to make intercession for us' (Hebrews 7:25).

© Rosemary Bardsley 2002, 2017