Book Review: Great Prayers of the Old Testament

Great Prayers of the Old Testament by Walter BrueggemannGreat Prayers of the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann

Presbyterian Publishing graciously sent me a review copy of this book.

Walter Brueggemann exposits twelve prayers of the Old Testament including those of Abraham, Moses, Hannah, David, Solomon, Jonah, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel and Job.

The substantive Introduction includes discussion on the origins of prayer including the first recorded prayer of the Israelites in Egypt.

Brueggemann often contrasts the primitive prayer of antiquity to those in the modern church, albeit a bit cynically:

It is evident in contemporary church practice, given rational assumptions and psychological sophistication, that much prayer in the church is reduced to an emotional exercise. This is evident in our propensity to ‘feel better’ when we pray, and in the readiness to water down petitions so as not to ask in bold ways, when our modernity assumes that in fact there is no one listening anyway.

Each chapter includes background information pertaining to history, culture, politics and context surrounding each prayer. The prayers are exposited as opposed to being devotional or pastoral in nature. Grammar and a bit of Hebrew are delved into, but not in a way that is cumbersome or not easily understandable to a wide audience. Although there is brief mention of application, this is left mainly for the reader to ponder through three Questions for Reflection and Discussion at the end of each chapter.

It’s obvious that the author has a firm grasp of the Old Testament, often providing references to other passages that are relevant to the discussion. Ties to the New Testament are also occasionally mentioned.

If I may use the terms liberal and conservative, Brueggemann is on the liberal side from my conservative perspective.

Some things that make you go hmmm…

  • The author says that, “Abraham and YHWH share confidences and are perhaps ‘best friends,'” although to be fair he mentions that Isaiah 41:8 has it, “Abraham, my friend.” Also regarding Abraham he says that “Abraham finds a ‘prayer partner'” who is competent and ready to be engaged.”
  • Regarding Moses, “It is evident in this exchange that Moses loves Israel more passionately than does YHWH, and it is this greater passion that sets the tone of urgency in the prayer.”
  • In the chapter on the prayer of Hezekiah which mentions the oppression of the Assyrian empire: “Those of us who belong to the United States as an imperial power may take note that the transformative prayer is on the lips of those who are under threat from empire.” I’m speechless on this one. Make of it what you may.

A brief Retrospect ties everything together very well.

The book is well organized and thought out, and is very efficient with words, leaving this reader feeling that it’s just the right length.

The author speaks with one bit of humor (pages 11-12 which I won’t spoil for you) and passion.

I assumed that anything coming from the book’s publisher, Westminster John Knox Press, would be in a similar vein to my conservative/reformed proclivities but apparently that isn’t always the case, thus I was a bit taken aback by some of the things I read. However, my preferences should in no way detract from the quality of the book for those who may be interested. I came away with not only a better understanding of the twelve prayers, but a better understanding of parts of the Old Testament.

Paperback: 142 pages
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (October 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0664231748

Buy it at:

4 Responses to “Book Review: Great Prayers of the Old Testament”

  1. 1 ElShaddai Edwards

    What?! No Jabez?

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    I think it’s a little too short. Maybe that’s why people liked it.



  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    I’m not sure what you’re asking.

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