Many of us are concerned with the issues of justice and peace, divisions and conflict. Is there anything we can do that might make a difference in our world where daily the news seems to get worse?

Come with me to a prayer of Moses that we find in Numbers, chapter 14.

A little over three millennia ago, God’s people were on the southern border of ancient Canaan – a land peopled from different regions. Moses had sent twelve spies to bring a report on the land. And, in their report they were all were agreed on the prosperity of the land: they had grapes to prove it! (Numbers 13:25ff)

However, the report was divided: ten said the cities were well defended and that the legendary sons of Anak – the giant Nephilim – were in the Canaanite armies. But two of the group, Caleb and Joshua, provided a minority report: ‘Let’s act now,’ they said, ‘we can overcome it’ (13:30).

But no one listened. Rather, they raised a hue and cry about Moses and Aaron, saying that they would have preferred to have died in Egypt or in the wilderness (14:2). “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to die by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey… Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (14:3f).

In Numbers 14:11f we read God’s chilling words: “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them…”

God went on to make an offer to Moses: “I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

This must have seemed extraordinarily attractive to Moses. He would be rid of this fickle crowd. However, his response was to pray to the Lord: “Then the Egyptians will hear of it! (Numbers 14:13).

Moses didn’t make excuses for Israel, pleading mitigating circumstances. Rather, he appealed to the character of God: “In your might or power you brought these people from Egypt…” he said. Aren’t you a God of your word?’

‘What will the nations think?’ he continued. “If you kill this people all at one time, then the nations who have heard about you will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them that he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’”

Most of all, Moses appealed to God’s unchangeable love: “And now, therefore, let the power of the Lord be great in the way that you promised when you spoke, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty…”

What a moving prayer this is. Here is a single individual praying, and the fate of God’s people hinges on it. How can the prayer of any man or woman possibly have such significance?

Moses’ prayer shows us that it is because of God’s character we can be very confident when we pray. Moses knew that God is a God of his word. Furthermore, he knew that God is a God of mercy.

And the outcome of Moses’ prayer? God tempered his judgment with mercy. The people were forgiven. But they were destined to die without seeing the promise themselves.

So what can we learn from this today? With the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ we live under another, very different covenant. God’s promise now is not just to a specific race of people but to all people. Nor is it about a promised land, or material wealth.

In Matthew chapter 16, verse 18 we read Jesus’ words: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Furthermore, Mark records Jesus’ words, “For the Son of Man has not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). When he was dying on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And following his resurrection from the dead he commissioned his disciples with, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

It’s easy to forget in the busy-ness of life that God is committed to drawing men and women from all peoples and nations to himself through the Lord Jesus Christ.

And indeed, with influential voices opposing Christianity we can lose confidence in the power of prayer. Not that prayer of itself is powerful. Rather, the One to whom we pray is all-powerful.

In the light of Moses’ prayer, let’s ask God to have mercy on family and friends, colleagues and people in the wider community and world, for the honor of his Name and the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ! After all, Jesus himself taught us to pray, ‘Father, hallowed (or honored) be your name,… (Luke 11:2).

Let me ask: what if everyone who reads this Word on Wednesday were to commit to pray for three people? You may want to invite others to join you. Will our prayers make a difference? Moses knew that his prayer would, because of who God is and the honor of his Name.

Do you have this confidence? Do you pray earnestly and consistently that God will act with mercy today – opening blind eyes and softening hard hearts so that people will respond to and grow under the gospel – for the honor of his name?

Prayer. Preserve your people, Lord God, with your continual mercy, for without you we will fall because of our frailty; keep us always under your protection and lead us to everything that makes for our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, so that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in word and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may also want to listen to the song from Keith and Kristyn Getty, By Faith.

© John G. Mason