The soil had turned to dust. The children’s mouths were parched. The drought had gone on too long, meaning there was no water for the crowds arriving in Jerusalem for Passover. In desperation, the people turned to Honi, a man whose prayers were known to be effective.
Honi prayed, but no rain fell. Honi then traced a circle in the dust and stepped inside. “I will not move from this place until you have compassion on your children!”
One might feel too distant from God to speak to him. This is self-fulfilling, of course. Even if you feel utterly rejected by God, you have to fight back. You have to demand that your Father take you back. And keep doing so no matter how long it takes. He wants you to do this. Prayer, from a Jewish perspective, is a struggle. It is a struggle within ourselves, and it is a struggle with God.
Moses did exactly this when God threatened to reject Israel. He struggled with God and actually won.
After the incident of the golden calf, God told Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:10). But when Moses refused God’s order, “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:14).
How was it possible for Moses to win against the Creator of the universe? It is precisely because God wanted him to win. Because Moses was willing to take up the challenge, God gave him the tools to do so.
Ponder this for a moment. Why would God tell Moses to “let him alone” in order to destroy the people? Wasn’t God powerful enough to carry out his will regardless of what Moses did?
But read between the lines. In essence, God was hinting to Moses, “If you do not let me alone, my wrath will not burn against them.” In other words, “I have granted you the power to intervene and prevent me from carrying out my wrath.”
If you are a disciple of Yeshua, then you can use your connection to him to your advantage. It can become your ultimatum, your trump card, your checkmate. That’s what it is for. “I may not be worthy to serve you and experience your love and favor. But I put my trust in your Son, and I cling to him. That means you cannot reject me, you cannot be distant from me without rejecting him! Now take me back and draw me close to you!”
It sounds audacious. It sounds demanding. In Yiddish, we might say it sounds chutzpadik. Welcome to the world of Jewish prayer.
Is praying in such a manner really appropriate, or even permitted? In a sense, standing uninvited before the all-powerful King of all kings should not be permitted at all, let alone to set before him a list of demands! But we should see ourselves to be like Queen Esther, who barged in before her husband to plead for her life. It is permitted precisely because we have no other choice. Prayer is our lifeline.
This is how Yeshua prayed and how he taught us to pray. He instructed us to cry to God day and night, like a widow demanding justice before an unjust judge, practically harassing him until he relents and grants her request (Luke 18:1-8).
As for Honi in his circle, eventually a faint drizzle began to fall. “I did not ask for this, but for water to fill the cisterns!”
The sky broke open and a destructive rainstorm threatened the land. “I did not ask for this, but for rain of favor and blessing!” A gentle, steady rain began to water the land, just as he had asked.
The other Jewish scholars at the time did not approve of Honi’s tactics, but what could they say? “You are like a child who throws a tantrum before his father, and his father does whatever he asks.”