It had been a long journey. They were tired and bone weary. None of them had travelled such a distance in decades. Tempers frayed as family members got on each other’s nerves. A baby was crying and wouldn’t stop regardless of anything the frazzled mother gave; the children were hungry and irritable; the elderly were trying to rub the stiffness out of their backs; and the men stood in groups grumbling about the lack of facilities.
That pretty much describes most family vacations I think. Of course, since we have hotels where we can stop for food or shops where we can buy water anytime we need, the mutterings generally tend to die down after a bath and clean change of clothes. This scene however occurred in 1440 B. C. somewhere in the middle of a desert! The extended family (numbering thousands of grand-uncles, grand-aunts, nephews, nieces, and various cousins twice and thrice removed, among others) were ex-slaves who had lived in enforced slavery their entire lives. This was their first taste of freedom and they were terrified! So they turned on the man who had taught them to hope – Moses.
The book of Exodus gives us an authentic account of the Israelites’ wanderings and God’s interactions with them. Among the various other things that it records, it also gives us a glimpse of Moses’ personal progress as an intercessor. These verses have taught me several lessons in learning to pray for those around me – especially those closest to me who also probably have the dubious distinction of being the ones who annoy me the most.
1.The Desperate Prayer: Exodus 17: 1- 4 sets the scene for one of Moses’ earliest prayers for his people. Verse 4 says – “So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!’” Have you been there – having to deal with a relative who misunderstands your every action, who takes offence at the smallest perceived insult, who stubbornly remains in your family circle despite “hating your guts” so to speak? Perhaps it’s a work colleague or a friend? These are folks who thought highly of you at one point but for whatever reason, the relationship has soured. And you have no clue how to deal with them. Which is pretty much what Moses felt I think. So he prayed candidly, truthfully, and desperately. There were no frills in this prayer. It wasn’t peppered with spiritual jargon, and he didn’t make any excuses – he baldly stated his incomprehension and asked for urgent aid. And I think God appreciates it when we pray such honest prayers. After all, He knows our situation much better than we do, and He knows exactly what we need. Instead of trying to spiritualise our feelings, we can go to our Father and tell him how we feel and ask for help. Which brings us to the second type of prayer.
2.The Dependent Prayer: Moses’ father-in-law gave him some practical advice on handling the various members of his vast family who wanted one-on-one time with him daily. In Exodus 18:19, Jethro says, “Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God.” That taught me a couple of things about interceding – i) “…for the people” which implies praying for people who probably are unable to pray for themselves, and ii) “…bring the difficulties to God” which indicates dependency on God, understanding that only He can transform people or situations. These may seem fairly simple things to do, but insert a motley group of annoying relatives, frenemies, and difficult co-workers, and suddenly we find our throats choking as we try to pray for them. The important thing to remember is that God is dependable; He is faithful and truthful. He can be trusted with all the complications in our relationships. However knotty they may be, He can untangle them. Prayers such as these require humility—to acknowledge that we do not have the answers and that we might be the problems ourselves sometimes—and love. Which brings us to the third type of prayer.
3.The Unselfish Prayer: I find these the most beautiful prayers of intercession that Moses prayed throughout his lifetime. I’m sure there are others that are not recorded—private between him and God—but I’m glad these were, because they show us how far Moses came since that early cry of desperation. Most of his prayers in the latter part of Exodus reflect this same tenor. It begins with the incident of the golden calf or as I like to think of it – “The Deadly Consequences of Impatience” recorded in Exodus 32. When God tells Moses about the sin they have committed, He also states that He will destroy the people but promote Moses (v. 10). In essence, He was saying, I’ll get rid of these annoying folks who’ve been plaguing you for all these years, and I’ll give you everything you want. Sounds suspiciously like something that a person avowing the prosperity gospel would praise God for as the answer to all their prayers! Moses, instead, did not praise God for pledging to remove the “thorns in his flesh” but rather made this startling prayer – “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? …Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self …So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” Exodus 32: 11- 14. What a display of unselfishness! Instead of patting himself on the back for having endured this long, he reminded God of His character and nature, of His love for the patriarchs, and he begged God for mercy. Would you or I ever pray such a prayer? Especially for someone who we might consider doesn’t really “deserve” God’s grace? Someone who’s harmed us intentionally or who’s addicted to a sin and doesn’t seem to want to change? Perhaps we are afraid He just might answer our prayer! Later on, when God says He will not go with the people (Exodus 33: 1-3) – “…I will send My Angel before you… for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people…” Moses has the following conversation with God –
Moses: “…consider that this nation is Your people.” (Exodus 33:13)
God: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
Moses: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us?” (Exodus 33: 15, 16)
God: “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight…” (Exodus 33:17)
Moses: “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin…” (Exodus 34:9)
What an amazing interchange. Every time, God attempted to single out Moses, he would remind God of the rest of the people. He identified himself with those who were struggling, seeking God’s mercy for them. His prayers are filled with “us,” “we,” and “our”. It is never “them”. He identified with the people he was praying for, interceding for himself along with them; praying with an urgency and desperation because he took the weight of the problem upon himself. He stood in the gap between Israel’s sin and God’s wrath. Those are the kinds of prayers we ought to pray – prayers filled with love and unselfishness, which would confound anybody listening because they would not be self-serving in the least.
Moses’ prayers were answered in the best way possible for, apart from actually answering his prayers, this is what God says of him; Exodus 33:11 – “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend…”; Numbers 12: 7, 8 – “…My servant Moses; He is faithful…I speak to him face to face, even plainly and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord…”
What a commendation – to be called God’s friend and speak to Him face to face! May this become a reality in our lives today.
Photo Credit : Unsplash
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