John T. Willis

Monday, August 17, 2009

Intercessory Prayer

As we continue our journey through the Book of Exodus, we come to the central section of Exodus 32-34, namely Exodus 33. Here are three paragraphs in this narrative section. I hope your will read this chapter carefully. Here are a few comments.

1. Yahweh will not go among his people himself--Exodus 33:1-6.
a. Yahweh tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to leave Mount Horeb=Sinai and go to the promised land of Canaan. Yahweh says he will send "an angel" to lead the people. But Yahweh will not go among his people himself, because the Israelites are "a stiffnecked people." 33:1-3.
b. When the people of Israel hear Yahweh's "harsh words," they take off their "ornaments" from Mount Horeb=Sinai onward all the way to the land of Canaan, to symbolize Yahweh's rejection of their stiffnecked hearts. 33:4-6.
*Observation: HERE, Yahweh commands the Israelites to leaven Mount Horeb=Sinai to go the land of Canaan, BUT they do not leave Mount Horeb=Sinai until Numbers 10:11!

2. Yahweh meets Moses at the "Tent of Meeting" "outside the camp"--Exodus 33:7-11.
a. The biblical composer=narrator=author tells his hearers=readers that Moses regularly met Yahweh in behalf of the Israelites "outside the camp," "far from the camp." The people of Israel "watched" outside the "Tent of Meeting" as Moses and Joshua, Moses' assistant, went into the tent. 33:7-8.
b. Then, Yahweh would descend from heaven and a "pillar of cloud" would cover the tent. "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses FACE TO FACE, AS one speaks to a FRIEND." 33:9-11.
*Observation: Yahweh is a "mysterious" God. No one has ever seen God (John 1:17), NOT EVEN MOSES. The expression "face of face" does not mean that Moses ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY saw God's PHYSICAL FACE. You will see this in a few moments right here in Exodus 33. Yahweh wants to be human beings Yahweh's FRIEND. This seems amazing to us tiny, insignificant human beings. BUT this is God's desire. 2 Chronicles 20:7 and James 2:23 call Abraham a "FRIEND of God." Jesus said in John 15:13-14: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's FRIENDS. You are MY FRIENDS if you do what I command you." A favorite religious song is: "What a FRIEND we have in Jesus."

3. Moses' Intercession for the Israelites--Exodus 33:12-23.
a. Yahweh had just told Moses to instruct the Israelites to guide the Israelites to the land of Canaan (Exodus 33:11-3). NOW, Moses utters an "intercessory prayer" for HIMSELF AND FOR THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. Moses' prayer is twofold: "Show ME your ways," and "Consider too that THIS NATION IS YOUR PEOPLE." 33:12-13.
b. Yahweh responds and assures Moses that Yahweh's ["MY"] presence will go with you. Moses replies: If YOUR PRESENCE does not go, do not carry us up from here. 33:14-16.
c. Yahweh assures Moses that Yahweh will do what Moses asks. Then Moses prays: "Show me YOUR GLORY." Yahweh assures Moses that his "goodness" will pass before him, and will be "gracious" to whom he will be gracious, and will "show mercy" on whom he will shows mercy. BUT--Yahweh declares emphatically that "you [Moses] cannot see my face; for NO ONE shall SEE me and live." Then Yahweh puts Moses in a cleft of the rock, and Yahweh covers Moses with Yahweh's hand until Yahweh passes by, then Yahweh takes away Yahweh's hand, and Moses can see Yahweh's "back," not not his "face." 33:17-23.
*Observations: Intercessory prayer is powerful and very important. Our God is an OPEN GOD. Our God is a REAL PERSONALITY!!! Therefore, God CAN and sometimes DOES "change his mind." Hence, PRAYER. God makes a decision, BUT sometimes a human being begs God to does something different. And sometimes, God "changes his mind." There are some things that God FOREKNOWS. There are other things that God does NOT KNOW IN ADVANCE. HENCE, PRAYER. Hence, intercessory prayer. Moses prays in behalf of himself and the entire people of Israel to stay with God's "presence" through the forty years of wilderness wandering--and God agrees. Praying is a waste of time if God already knows what God is going to do in advance. Life is just too short to spend time praying if God "knows in advance" everything that human beings are going to decide and do. Biblical composers=narrators=authors=speakers urge the people of God to "pray in behalf of others." See, for example, 1 Timothy 2:1-4. I believe in intercessory prayer. What about YOU?

A CAVEAT: Frequently, the Bible "troubles" me. Here is an example in Exodus 32-33. In Exodus 32:11-14, 30-35; 33:1-16, the Bible records THREE "intercessory prayers" of Moses in behalf of the people of Israel. BUT, in Exodus 32:25-29, the biblical narrator reports that Moses commanded "the sons of Levi" to "kill" revelling Israelites, and they killed approximately 3000 people on that day. How can Moses instruct people to kill the people of Israel, and then turn around and beseech Yahweh to forgive and protect this same people? I am simply your friendly reporter and storyteller. I cannot figure all this out. Perhaps, many decades or centuries after my death, someone will solve this "problem." The Bible is full of "difficult problems." Solve this problem for me--for others--for the world.

Let me hear from you. Share your thoughts with others.

John Willis


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