It’s never fun to stand against current opinion. People laughed when Galileo insisted that gravity attracts all bodies with the same acceleration, regardless of weight. People derided Isaac Newton when he presented science that explained the laws of motion. People laughed at Moses when he said that God would bring the Hebrew people out from under the rule of Egypt.
Some three millennia ago, God’s people were on the edge of ancient Canaan. Twelve of their number reported on the prosperity of the land, but they were divided with respect to taking the land. Ten advised, ‘No!’ But two, Caleb and Joshua said, ‘yes’. ‘God is with us’.
The minority report was dismissed. Numbers 14:1-4 tells the sorry tale of Israel’s failure to trust God. We read: Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt!…
God had promised through Moses several times that they would inherit the land of Canaan. They had already experienced his miraculous interventions – in their release from Egyptian slavery and in his provision of food as they traveled. But now their hearts failed.
Absorbed with self-interest and self-pity, they spurned God’s love and compassion. Despite all he had done for them, they refused to listen and to trust him. They even wanted to stone their leaders – Moses and Aaron. We could understand if Moses had walked out. Instead, he prayed.
The Bible and Christian history is filled with scenes where a lack of true faith amongst professing believers can lead to vindictive acts. Acts 7 tells us that Stephen was stoned to death when he denounced the Jewish leadership for rejecting their Messiah.
Through the ages, faithful believers have encountered a similar vindictiveness from people who call themselves Christians but who lack a true faith in God. Lack of faith is more interested in what it thinks than in the truth. Human reason becomes the arbiter and determiner of truth.
God’s response in Moses’ day is chilling. He told Moses he would disinherit the people and start afresh – with Moses (Numbers 14:11-12). Moses might have found the offer attractive. Instead, he prayed a prayer that remains instructive for us today.
He reminded God that it was through his (God’s) initiative and power that the people had been freed from slavery (14:13). He spoke to God about his commitment to his promises (14:14). Furthermore, he pointed out that the Egyptians and the other nations would think that he (God) was incapable of fulfilling his promise. ‘ Lord, aren’t you a God of your word?’ he asked (Numb. 14:13-16).
At the heart of the prayer is Moses’ appeal to God’s unswerving love for his people. In 14:17 we read: “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,..
And in 14:19 we read: “Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.”
Humbly but boldly Moses speaks directly to God. He reminds him of what he has promised, of his nature to forgive, and of his steadfast love. Moses understood that he could beg for God’s mercy because he knew God keeps his promises. Above all, he understood the mercy of God.
When we consider this prayer and God’s compassionate response, we can understand why Blaise Pascal, the 17th C French philosopher wrote: “God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.”
We live under another, very different covenant from the one at the time of Moses. God doesn’t promise to give us land or material wealth, but he does hold out forgiveness and a future to the nations. We live in the age of God’s mercy. So, how should we pray?
Jesus now calls you and me to join him in his plan to reach people everywhere. At the heart of this is our prayer. If we don’t pray there is no reason for God to act in mercy – in our own lives or in the lives of people around us. If we don’t pray we can assume that God will simply leave people to their own devices and desires!
The prayers of each one of us can make a difference. Moses’ prayer made all the difference for his people. Jesus prayed, ‘Father forgive them,’ even as he gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And, because Jesus is who he is, he continues to intercede for us.
So, do you trust that God will listen to your prayers? Do you believe your prayers can make a difference? How will you act on this?
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com