I have to tell you, that the Lord really shaped this as I wrote it. I went into writing this post with a completely different theme and focus in mind, but during the course of it, it took on a different direction which produced an even better outcome—an outcome of praise through a story of an unassuming little phrase in the Torah in Numbers 21:7, which reads, “So Moses prayed for the people.”
I never appreciated those words until I got a broader understanding of where Moses was on this journey in the wilderness and what it might have taken to even make successful intercession for Israel at that time of their journey in the wilderness.
To explain it, I have to tell you a little about this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, which means “Decree of.” This portion consists of Numbers 19:1-22:1. However, this post bleeds into next week’s Torah portion, which means “Devastator.”
Just to give you a quick rundown, this portion starts off with Moses’s sin at the waters of Meribah. This is where he was supposed to speak to the rock instead of striking it. But instead, in front of the entire assembly of Israel, Moses strikes the rock twice and it costs him entering into the Promise Land.
But there are a few more consequences that seem to be tied to this sin. First, Miriam dies in the wilderness of Tsin. Second, Israel is denied passage through Edom. Then third, Israel comes to Mt. Hor, and this one is a pretty tough one to swallow; Aaron is going to die here because of Moses’ rebellion at the waters of Meribah, (Num. 20:24).
Moses is in a tough spot at this point. He just lost his sister, now Aaron is going to die and straight from God’s mouth, the Lord tells Moses, “He is now going to be gathered to his people because of your rebellion against My mouth at Meribah.”
If I were Moses right now, I can only imagine how I would feel. Knowing that my frustration at Israel’s constant complaining about food and water cost him not only entering the Promise Land, but cost him his brother’s life and quite possibly his sister, Miriam too.
I imagine I would be doing some pretty deep reflection at this point. But there is one detail that literally jumped out at me as I was writing this out. When I read a little further ahead in chapter 21 into next weeks Torah portion, after the death of Aaron at Mt. Hor, the Bible says, “the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water and our soul loathes this worthless bread.”
Here we go again—the children of Israel are complaining about food and water. This has got to remind Moses of the waters of Meribah. But this time, God tells Moses He’s going to send fiery serpents to bite them and those who get bitten, die.
But this is where there is a shift in Moses’s attitude toward the people.
This is interesting, because normally Moses and Aaron (when he was alive), start throwing themselves down and immediately begin to intercede and repent on behalf of the people without the people asking.
But this time, it’s different. The people have to start begging Moses to pray for them.
Moses sees the serpents. He’s not very pro-active at this point compared to past occurrences like this. Moses waits for the people to ask. It leads the reader to think that Moses might be thinking that that unless the people actually repent, his repentance on their behalf might be enabling their behavior. And this juncture almost seems like a point of maturing for the Israelites. They realize that no one is really interceding because of their grumbling. Moses just lost his siblings and the promise land. At this point, he seems to be only a spectator.
I can’t even imagine the weight of the burden of leadership at this point.
But the people come and they beg for intercession. Truly, this is tough. I’m sure Moses doesn’t feel like praying for a people that may be seen as contributing to so much personal loss.
Nevertheless, Moses prays for them.
That in my mind is a very heroic prayer. And I can only imagine what that prayer might sound like. I imagine there would be tons of forgiving toward children of Israel on Moses’s part. I can’t imagine this being a very easy prayer, yet the Bible makes no mention of the emotional cost of what it took for Moses to pray that prayer of intercession for Israel.
It only says, “So Moses prayed for the people.”
Intercession can be painful. It can bring the most good for a large amount of people, but intercessors know, we can’t go to the Father without having forgiven everyone. It puts intercessors in a deeply humble, lowly place before the Father. And this is why it makes sense that God’s heart is always for intercession.
I’ll never forget when my son was chronically ill due to severe food allergies–the burden his physical illness put not only his poor little body but on us as well. It was so heavy. But when a little six-year-old girl decided to make intercession for my son’s healing and begged the Father with tears in her eyes, weeping for my son’s healing, it moved us. All of us that were there wept with her. It was so moving, so powerful, it moved the Father’s heart to heal my son.
When I saw that happen, it made a deep impression on me for the power of intercession. And that’s why I really appreciate intercessors. I understand that somewhere in the spiritual realm, there is a real challenge to pick up that person’s burden and carry it with them before the throne of God. It’s not easy and it actually echoes the names of these two Torah portions, “Decree of” and “Devastator.” It makes me think that true intercession, being able to make decrees for someone in their life, comes through some devastation of our own.
If not, how could Jesus make successful intercession for us if He didn’t know the depths of pain that we go through here on earth?
I believe that this concept is aptly summarized in James 5:16,
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Before I started writing this, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me Psalm 98:4, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord . . . make a loud noise, rejoice, sing praise.” So, I urge you to take a moment today to deeply reflect on the cost of intercession and from there worship and sing praise to the One who makes constant intercession for us, before the throne of God.