Prayer, an Altar Sacrifice
The Most High communicates in numerous ways in scripture. Prayer is one of His favorites.
For the Hebrew people, prayer is the time-honored substitute for altar sacrifices. It is a sacrificial offering which comes from one’s heart and lips. “Please accept my mouth’s voluntary offerings, Adonai; and teach me your rulings” is the noble plea of Psalm 119:108. The best of the flocks and herds were still being offered on the Temple altar when the Psalmist penned these words.
The Prophet Hosea considered prayer as the calves of the lips (Hosea 14:2). The offering of thanksgiving and praise is zabach in Psalm 50:14. Zabach means to slaughter for sacrifice.
With scripture to guide them, Israel chose prayer as a replacement for altar sacrifices when the Temple ceased to be. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban. Korban means to give something up. But, it also means to draw near. Drawing near in prayer is the equivalent of approaching the altar.
Hebrew prayers today intentionally parallel the Temple services of long ago. On every Sabbath at the Temple, for instance, the priests offered an additional sacrifice. Based on this ancient practice, the modern Sabbath service includes extra prayers. And, the five Yom Kippur services at the Temple are reflected in the five modern synagogue services of Yom Kippur.
Our prayers are our altar offerings. The lifting up of our hands is like the evening sacrifice (Psalm 141:2). The Almighty looks with favor toward our prayers. He accepts our sacrifices, and responds. He is communicating with us when we pray, whether or not we perceive His answer.