When God Said “Do Not Pray”

     There are two instances in Scripture—that I’m aware of—when God told someone not to pray, for He would not hear their prayer. Moses is the first example, for though he’d been faithful to God most of his life, he was told by the Lord he’d not enter the land promised to Israel because of his disobedience as a leader when he struck the rock (Num. 20:8-12). Moses pleaded with the Lord, saying, “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon. But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter’” (Deut. 3:25-26). God’s decision concerning Moses was final. Moses would not enter the Promised Land, for the Lord said, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan” (Deut. 3:25-27; cf. Deut. 1:37; 31:1-2). God explained to Moses why He would not hear his prayer, saying, “because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:51). No amount of prayer would change God’s mind, so He told Moses to stop praying about it.

     Do not pray-2The second example is the prophet Jeremiah. God told him not to pray for his fellow Israelites. Three times God told Jeremiah, “do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you” (Jer. 7:16; cf. 11:14; 14:11). The reason behind God’s command was that He had decided to judge and punish His people (Jer. 7:20) because they’d repeatedly broken their covenant with Him by disobeying His commands and pursuing other gods, which He had forbidden (Ex. 20:2-4; cf. Ezek. 20:4-24).[1] Israel’s idolatry was terrible in Jeremiah’s day and included human sacrifice, as many caused their children to be burned alive (Jer. 19:4-5; cf. Ezek. 16:20-21; 20:25-26, 31). Over and over again, Israel disobeyed God’s commands and would not change their behavior (Jer. 7:21-26; 11:1-13).[2] Though Jeremiah had repeatedly spoken God’s Word to them for over two decades (Jer. 25:3), the people openly defied His message, telling him, “As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we are not going to listen to you!” (Jer. 44:16). Their hearts were hardened to God’s Word. If Israel had listened to God and turned back to Him from their idolatry, God would have reversed His discipline and provided blessing instead (Jer. 7:3-7). Until they changed their ways, no amount of prayer was going to change their situation. God would not be moved by their pleas, or the petitions of His prophets.

     The New Testament teaches that God will discipline His disobedient people (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19; 1 Cor. 11:32), even to the point of death (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:27-30, 1 John 5:16-17). However, there are no examples in the New Testament of God telling anyone not to pray. Instead, we are commanded to be “devoted to prayer” (Rom. 12:12; cf. Col. 4:2), to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17; cf. Luke 18:1). This means the believer is to look to God always for wisdom and strength to do His will, lifting others before His throne of grace, requesting He will intervene as we ask, for His glory and their benefit.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] God had formed a covenant (בְּרִית berith) with the nation of Israel after He’d delivered them from Egyptian captivity (Ex. Chapters 3-14). The nation of Israel became a theocracy, and God gave them a total of 613 commands that were to guide their relationship with Him and others. God promised to bless Israel if they abided by the stipulations of the covenant (Deut. 28:1-14), and He promised to curse them if they did not (Deut. 28:15-68). God was being faithful to His word.

[2] The sin of idolatry was widespread in Jeremiah’s day, including Israel’s king, princes, and elders (Jer. 44:17), down to the basic unit of society, the family (Jer. 7:18). It’s an evil thing when parents lead their children away from righteousness and into gross immorality.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, non-charismatic, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas.
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10 Responses to When God Said “Do Not Pray”

  1. Yoha says:

    If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16).

    New Testament 🙂

  2. Kathy says:

    I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. John 17:9.

  3. Salvation says:

    You said there is no instance in the new testament where we are asked not to pray. But in 1 John 5:16, we are given a scenario in which we should not pray: sinning unto death.

  4. Douglas C. Butterworth says:

    I would say more than ever there is a direction of prayer for individuals be saved, rather than the corporate setting of old testament Israel/Judah. Considering the basis of worship being centered on the tabernacle and temple as a nation, and the rejection of God’s laws- it is correct for that time. Now the Savior, Jesus Christ meets us where we are, as the High Priest and sacrifice, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, rich, poor, young and old. I’m thinking salvation is for those who are chosen and accept as individuals, it doesn’t matter if they have a nation that is pro or anti Jesus. Sure, if the majority of people in a defined set of borders are Christian, you could for ease of conversation call it a “Christian nation” but the path to God the father is through Jesus Christ, not an old system or rules, regulations, and sacrifices which could could never cleanse sin. Thank God, we don’t have to go to Jerusalem or Washington D.C, or some other physical location to worship Him. Nations come and go, God remains the same. Anyway thank you for addressing these portions of scripture!

  5. Judith Hall says:

    Do you believe that the New Testament changes where God says Do Not Pray for those people

    • Hi Judith. Thanks for your question. I do not find a NT passage that tells us not to pray. The two examples I found in the OT seem to be isolated occasions based on special circumstances. The NT tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). Hope this helps.

      • annaraichert says:

        I thought of this more as a suggestion. He says he doesn’t say that we should or should not pray in 1John 5:16. As to someone’s comment about God changing between old and new testament God does not change but the covenant does change. There are far more verses about praying for people that are straying and struggling then there are about not praying.

      • Thanks for your comment. There are a few commands in the OT where God tells His prophet not to pray. These are rare. The passage in 1 john 5:16 is not a command, as the apostle states, “There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this” (1 John 5:16). The word “request” translates the Greek verb erotao, which is in the subjunctive mood, expressing hypothetical action. Hope this helps. 🙂

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