Biblical Examples of Unanswered Prayers

[praying hands]

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This is for readers wanting only a brief overview. For a much more helpful, encouraging and insightful exploration of these Scriptures, see Many Instances of Bible Heroes’ Never-Answered Prayers.

Despite his nation being in dire need, the Lord specifically told Jeremiah that he would refuse to answer his prayers:

Jeremiah 7:16 Therefore don’t pray for this people, neither lift up a cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me; for I will not hear you. (Emphasis mine – Jeremiah 11:14 and 14:11-12 are similar.)

The Lord also said that the prayers of Moses and Samuel would likewise go unheeded:

    Jeremiah 15:1  . . . Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind would not be toward this people . . .

This principle is reiterated in Ezekiel:

    Ezekiel 14:13-16 Son of man, when a land sins against me by committing a trespass, and I stretch out my hand on it, and break the staff of its bread, and send famine on it, and cut off from it man and animal; though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, says the Lord. If I cause evil animals to pass through the land, and they ravage it, and it is made desolate, so that no man may pass through because of the animals; though these three men were in it, as I live, says the Lord, they should deliver neither sons nor daughters . . . (Emphasis mine.)

“The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11) in a way that he spoke to no other prophet (Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 34:10). David was so close to God that the Lord said he was “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). They each had such sway with God that their intercession halted God’s judgment on the entire nation (Deuteronomy 9:13-14,18-19; 2 Samuel 24:25). Nevertheless, both prayed passionately for something dear to their heart and were denied. Moses longed to enter the Promised Land. David pleaded desperately for the life of his baby.

    Deuteronomy 3:23-26 I begged the Lord at that time, saying, “Lord, you have begun to show your servant your greatness, and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or in earth that can do works like yours, and mighty acts like yours? Please let me go over and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that fine mountain, and Lebanon.” But the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, and didn’t listen to me. The Lord said to me, “Let this satisfy you. Speak no more to me of this matter. . . .”

    2 Samuel 12:16-18 David therefore begged God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his house arose beside him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, and he didn’t eat bread with them. On the seventh day, the child died. . . .

Both instances were marred by sin but despite their repentance and God’s forgiveness (from an eternal perspective) God refused to give them what they asked for.

King David had yet another longing that God denied. Although “it was in the heart of David” (2 Chronicles 6:7) to build the temple, the Lord said that this must be done by his son (1 Chronicles 17:1-4; 1 Chronicles 28:2-3). Scripture does not specify whether God intervened before David had time to formulate his longing into a prayer but regardless of the specifics it was certainly close to a prayer.

People repeatedly asked Jesus for a sign and received only a rebuke (Matthew 12:38-39; 16:1,4; John 6:30).

“Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” pleaded Philip and he, too, was rebuked instead of receiving what he had hoped for (John 14:8).

Among even the twelve apostles, Peter, James and John had a uniquely close relationship with Jesus (Mark 5:37; 9:2 13:3; 14:33; Galatians 2:9).

‘One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20), who reclined closest to Jesus’ heart during the last supper (John 13:23) is almost universally believed to be John. He, and his brother James, asked Jesus for a special place of privilege and power the age to come. Perhaps hoping to further pressure Jesus, their mother even added her voice to the request (Matthew 20:20-21). Their request was denied. “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “ . . .to sit at my right hand and at my left hand is not mine to give, but for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:38,40).

Another time, John and James approached Jesus about calling down fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that rejected them. Instead of responding positively, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:54-55).

All the disciples joined forces in asking him to send the Canaanite woman away but their Lord ended up doing the exact opposite (Matthew 15:23, 28).




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