The Aramaic word most often translated “pray” in the Peshitta NT is tsela [LWM#2106, Strong’s #CH6739]. The corresponding noun is tselutha [#2107]. The word can also mean to incline to, bend, waver, turn aside, seek and intend. The verb is represented by the following pictographs:
The tsade letter is the side view of a man kneeling and means to follow a trail, to hunt. In the context of prayer, the meaning here is to seek. Seeking could also imply inclining toward. The lamed is the shepherd’s staff. The staff is used to direct the sheep by pushing or pulling them in a desired direction. It is also the sign of the shepherd’s authority and power as the leader of the flock. Thus this letter’s meeaning is all that is encompassed by shepherding. The aleph is an ox head and means strength, power, a leader, that which is chief or first. Thus the word picture for the verb pray is to seek the shepherding of the strong leader [God].
When we pray we are seeking the shepherding of God, i.e. His care and protection. Psalm 23 describes the ways God shepherds His people. The actions and blessings of God described are those that we can (and should) seek when we pray.
Psalm 23:1,2 [expanded translation from the Aramaic Peshitta by Janet Magiera]
The LORD will shepherd me and I will not be lacking in anything [perish, suffer damage, be needy, be injured or harmed]. He will settle me in meadows of strength [lush, rich] and He will guide me to quiet waters.
The shepherd supplies all that the sheep need: lush nourishing pasture to graze and quiet waters to drink from as the sheep will not drink from fast moving turbulent waters. When we seek God in prayer for the supply of our needs, His provision relieves us of the anxiety of lack and guides us to those quiet, peaceful waters.
Matthew 6:9a,11 [APNT]
Therefore pray [tsela] like this…Give us the bread of our need today.
Philippians 4:6,7 [APNT]
Do not be distressed about anything, but at all times, by prayer [tselutha] and by petition and with thanksgiving, your request should be known before God. And the peace of God that is greater than all knowledge will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.
He converts my soul [turns back, turns from error] and leads me on paths of truth [integrity, faithfulness].
The shepherd guides the sheep away from the wrong path and toward the right path, the path where he wants them to go. When we pray, God can guide us in the same way. An example of this is the guidance Peter received when he was praying while staying at Simon’s house in Joppa.
Acts 10:9-16 [APNT]
And on the next day, while they [Cornelius’ messengers] were traveling on the journey and approaching the city, Simon went up to the roof to pray [tsela] at the sixth hour. And he was hungry and wanted to eat. And while they were preparing for him, astonishment came on him and he saw heaven opened and a certain garment being held by four corners. And it was like a large linen cloth and it was coming down from heaven to the earth. And in it there were many four-footed animals and creeping things of the earth and birds of heaven. And a voice came to him that said, “Simon, rise up, kill and eat.” And Simon said, “Let it not be so, my Lord, because I have never eaten anything that is corrupt and unclean.” And again a second time, a voice came to him, “That which God has cleansed, do not regard as corrupt.”
While Simon prayed, God gave him a vision, guiding him away from the path of legalism and toward the path of grace, which would lead to the one body of Christ, in which there is neither Judean nor Gentile.
God had also given Cornelius, a Gentile, a vision while praying, directing him to send for Peter. When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, he realized the significance of the vision.
Acts 10:28 [APNT]
And he said to them, “You know that it is not lawful for a Judean man to associate with an alien man who is not of his race, yet God has showed me that I should not say about anyone that he is unclean or corrupt.
The Gentiles for the first time were born again by Peter’s preaching and made holy ones, saints, no longer unclean, but part of the household of God with the believing Judeans. Jesus himself alluded to this during his earthly ministry.
John 10:16 [APNT]
Now I also have other sheep, those that are not from this sheepfold, and it is also necessary for me to bring them. And they will hear my voice and all the flock will become one and have one shepherd.
Because of the guidance Peter received during prayer, he was instrumental in bringing “the other sheep” into the flock.
Because of your name [name meaning character and all the shepherd represents] even if I walk in shadowed valleys, I will not fear death from evil [or the Evil one] because you are with me.
The shepherd protected the sheep from deadly predators. In our prayers, we can seek the protection of God from evil.
Matthew 6:9a,13 [APNT]
Therefore pray [tsela] like this…do not let us enter into trial, but deliver us from the Evil one, because the kingdom and the power and the glory is yours, forever and ever.
We can delivered from the Evil one, because we are in His kingdom.
Colossians 1:13 [APNT]
And [God] has delivered us from the authority of darkness and has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son
We can claim this deliverance for ourselves and others by prayer.
II Thessalonians 3:1-3 [APNT]
For now, our brothers, pray [tsela] for us that the word of our Lord may run its course and be glorified in every place as it is with you and that we may be delivered from evil and dishonest men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will keep you and rescue you from the Evil one.
An example of this is Peter’s deliverance from Herod’s imprisonment.
Acts 12:5-12 [APNT]
And while Simon was kept in prison, steadfast prayer [tselutha] was offered to God by the church on his behalf. And in that night toward daybreak when he was going to deliver him up, while Simon was asleep between two soldiers and was bound by two chains and others were keeping the doors of the prison, an angel of the Lord stood above him and a light shown in all the building. And he hit him on his side and woke him and said to him, “Rise up quickly.” And the chains fell from his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird up your loins and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And again he said to him, “Wrap yourself in your outer garment and follow me.” And he went out and followed him, not knowing that what was occurring by way of the angel was true, for he supposed that he was seeing a vision. And after they had passed the first watch and the second, they came up to the gate of iron and it opened to them of its own accord. And after they had gone out and passed one street, the angel left him. Then Simon realized what happened and said, “Now I know with truthfulness that the Lord sent his angel and delivered me from the hand of Herod the king and from what the Judeans had planned against me.” And when he understood, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was called Mark, because many brothers were gathered and praying [tsela] there.
Your rod and your staff encourage me.
The shepherd’s rod is a club used to defend himself and his sheep against predators. In A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller notes another use of the rod: “Another interesting use of the rod in the shepherd’s hand was to examine and count the sheep. In the terminology of the Old Testament this was referred to as passing ‘under the rod’: And I will cause you to pass under the rod and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant (Ezek. 20:37). This meant not only coming under the owner’s… authority, but also to be subject to his most careful, intimate and firsthand examination. A sheep that passed ‘under the rod’ was one which had been counted and looked over with great care. In caring for his sheep, the good shepherd… will from time to time make a careful examination of each individual sheep. As each animal comes out of the corral and through the gate, it is stopped by the shepherd’s outstretched rod. He opens the fleece with the rod; he runs his skillful hands over the body; he feels for any sign of trouble; he examines the sheep with care to see that all is well. This is a most searching process entailing every intimate detail. It is, too, a comfort to the sheep for only in this way can its hidden problems be laid bare before the shepherd.”
Romans 8:26,27 [APNT]
So also, the spirit aids our weakness, for we do not know what is right to pray for. But the spirit prays [tsela] on our behalf with groans that are not describable. Now he who searches the hearts knows what is the thinking of the spirit that prays [tsela] on behalf of the holy ones according to the will of God.
Like the good shepherd carefully examining the sheep, God searches our hearts. When we pray in tongues, the spirit prays on our behalf (I Cor. 14:14). Like the rod in the hand of the shepherd, the spirit’s prayer makes known our hidden needs to God.
The staff of the shepherd is used to gently guide the sheep in the way the shepherd wants them to go. We can pray for guidance so that we may know the way He would have us go. For example, Jesus spent all night in prayer to God before choosing the twelve apostles.
Luke 6:12,13 [APNT]
And it happened in those days Jesus went out to a mountain to pray [tsela]. And there he spent the night in prayer [tselutha] to God. And when the day dawned, he called the disciples and chose twelve of them, those whom he called apostles.
Paul prayed that the Colossian saints would know God’s will.
Colossians 1:9 [APNT]
Because of this, we also, from the day that we heard, do not cease to pray [tsela] for you and to ask that you may be filled with knowledge of the will of God in all wisdom and with all spiritual understanding.
You have arranged tables [a banquet] in front of me opposite before my enemies
The shepherd provides abundantly for his sheep even though surrounded by predators who would do them harm. The good shepherd Jesus Christ came so that we might have a life of abundance in the midst of a world ruled by him wishes to steal from, kill and destroy us.
John 10:9,10 [APNT]
I am the gate and if anyone should enter by me, he will live. And he will enter and he will go out and find pasture. A thief does not come, except to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they [the sheep] may have life and that they may have that which is abundant.
You anoint [enrich, cause to be fat] my head with oil [prosperity and the presence of the LORD]
The anointing with oil represents prosperity and the presence of God. It can also refer to healing. A mixture of olive oil, sulphur and spices was applied to sheep as a preventive treatment to protect them against nose flies in summer. This mixture is also used to treat sheep infected with scab, an irritating, highly contagious disease. Particular attention was given to the head. Thus the shepherd keeps the sheep healthy and heals those who fall prey to illness. God was present with Jesus Christ by way of the anointing of the spirit. This anointing enabled him to bring healing to those who were oppressed by the Devil.
Acts 10:37a,38 [APNT]
And you also know about the word…concerning Jesus, who was from Nazareth, whom God anointed with the holy spirit and with power. And this is he who traveled around and healed those who were oppressed by the Evil one, because God was with him.
We can seek in prayer the prosperity and health that God provides. John prayed for the health and prosperity of Gaius.
III John 2 [APNT]
Our beloved one, in everything I pray [tsela] for you that you would prosper and would be healthy, even as your life prospers.
We can seek healing for those who fall prey to sickness by believing prayer.
James 5:14,15 [APNT]
And if one is sick, he should call for the elders of the church and they should pray [tsela] for him and anoint him with oil in the name of our Lord. And the prayer [tselutha] of faith will heal him who is sick and our Lord will raise him and if any sins were committed by him, they will be forgiven.
and my cup is satiated [caused to drink, is intoxicated] with wine as living [pure, raw, alive, metaph. for never failing].
The word “wine” is supplied as part of the figure ellipsis, as it is implied by the verb. Wine represents joy and gladness and refreshing.
Psalm 104:15a [APNT]
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man…
This “wine” is pure and life-giving. The cup is a metaphor for life and what fills it. On the Day of Pentecost the apostles were filled with the holy spirit. Some of the onlookers who heard the apostles speak in tongues thought they had drunk new wine and were intoxicated.
Acts 2:13 [APNT]
And others were mocking them, saying, “These men have drunk new wine and are intoxicated.”
But Peter corrected them:
Acts 2:15,16a [APNT]
For these men are not intoxicated, as you suppose, for, behold, it is still only the third hour. But this is that which was spoken by Joel the prophet: It will be in the last days, said God, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…
The spirit is the living “wine” with which we are to be filled.
Ephesians 5:18,19 [APNT]
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the spirit and speak among yourselves with psalms and hymns. And sing in your hearts to the Lord with songs of the spirit.
Just as wine “makes glad the heart of man”, so being filled with the spirit causes us to sing in our hearts to the Lord. Paul prayed that we would be filled with His joy, peace, faith and abounding hope by the power of the spirit.
Romans 15:13 [APNT]
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith, so that you may abound in his hope by the power of the holy spirit.
We can also pray for our lives and those of others to be filled with all that God has to give.
Your grace and your mercies have followed [pursued] me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the LORD the length of days.
The house of the Lord was the temple. The temple was where God was to meet His people. He was said to dwell there in the holy of holies between the cherubim that adorned the ark of the covenant. However, David did not literally want to live in the temple. Rather he wanted to live in God’s presence and receive his grace and mercies. Through the anointing of the spirit, God dwells in us. All of our days, we can come into His presence in prayer and receive His mercies and grace.
Hebrews 4:16 [APNT]
Therefore, we should boldly come near the throne of his grace to receive mercies and to find grace for help in time of adversity.