Part 4 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13
In our fourth post on the Lord’s Prayer we will begin our look into the three requests that Jesus asked us to make to “Our Father” on our own behalf. The first of these three “we petitions” is, “give us today (Luke says, “each day”) our daily bread” (in Hebrew, Et Lechem Chu’Keinu Tein Lanu Ha Yum). Let’s examine this phrase in detail in light of culture and history and see what we find.
First, we must note that the beginning of the phrase says to, “give us” not, “give me”. This continues the theme of “Our Father” that we discussed in our second post and suggests that we should not just focus on our own needs but our community as a whole. This concept of us vs. me continues through all of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer and conveys a mindset of not just thinking of ourselves but others as well.
Why does Jesus have us pray for bread and not some other foods as well? In Hebrew, the word for bread, ”Lechem”, can also mean food in general. When Jesus broke bread and blessed in Matthew 14:19, he was thanking His Father for the whole meal. Bread is the staple food of Middle Eastern people so bread symbolizes not only what we eat, but God’s provision for all our needs as well. In John 6:35, Jesus says, “ I am the bread of life”, suggesting that He is all we need and will provide all we need in this life.
What about the word, “daily”? The Greek word that is translated “daily” is “epiousios”, but this is the only place in the Bible or any other Greek literature where this one word is used. This causes tremendous hardships for the translator because there is no place else to compare what this word might mean. Kenneth Bailey in his book, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” (pp. 119-122) has a very interesting four page discussion on the different ways that scholars have wrestled with how to interpret this singular Greek word. For the purposes of this post we will attempt to simplify our discussion by looking back to the Old (Hebrew) Testament for some answers to the meaning of “daily” bread.
The words “daily bread” certainly brings to mind the manna in the desert. If you will remember the story, God miraculously provided the need of the Israelites each morning in the form of manna. He gave them strict orders just to pick up enough for their families needs for that day. If they tried to store and save it, it ruined and was not fit to eat. They had to trust God that He would provide again for them in the same way the next morning. The phrase, “give us today our daily bread” then certainly speaks of asking God to take care of our families today and trusting Him to do the same tomorrow and in the future. It has been said that the definition of worry is wondering if God will provide tomorrow’s bread today.
We have a tendency in the United States to be myopic and think that the Lord’s Prayer was just given to us. Praying for daily bread is a hard concept for Americans to grasp. We don’t worry if we are going to have food to eat, we are trying to decide what kind of food we’ll have, Chinese, Mexican or Italian! We don’t really think of God providing our daily bread, we’ve already got it covered. However, this is not the case in most of the world. An Ugandan pastor who came to America to study at a seminary for a year was asked what he would most remember about America when he went home. He replied, “I will never forget this one year when I did not need to worry about food”. Another quote from a foreigner who got to visit America exclaimed, “America is amazing, even the poor people are fat!” In light of the poverty throughout the ages and in the rest of the world today, and the anxiety that so many have just to get enough to eat each day, Jesus’ prayer for daily provision makes perfect sense. Americans however, have difficulty thinking about God being our daily provider and don’t often remember to give him credit.
There is also an Old Testament verse, with which Jesus would have been familiar, that may add some additional insight into the meaning of our daily bread. Paraphrased, Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “please don’t give me poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread (just enough).” The writer is implying that too much makes us forget God and think we are providing all this bounty by ourselves and too little turns us into being so desperate that we break God’s laws to get something to eat. This also supports the same thought as God providing just enough manna for today’s needs.
To summarize the phrase in English, “Give us today our daily bread”, we are asking God to give us just enough bread (today’s bread) for today. If we are hungry, deliver us from the fear of not having enough to eat and if we have plenty for today don’t let us forget where it came from. Give us confidence that tomorrow we will have enough and keep us from worrying about tomorrow’s bread today. Although this seems a simple concept, to master it brings the peace that only the author of the Lord’s Prayer can give to his followers.
In our next post we will look at the principles of forgiveness as set out in this ancient prayer.