The Prayer Life of Moses.
by J. R. Rollo
IT is unthinkable that Moses the man of God, could be otherwise than a man of prayer. It is equally true that his development as a man of God was paralleled by his growth as a man of prayer. Neither of these attainments in God's school happened by accident but were the result of discipline and inward enrichment whose source was in God.
It is a far cry from Exodus 2: 12, when Moses looked this way and that without looking up to Exodus 32: 32, when his face shone in the presence of God, and he prayed that absolutely selfless prayer, "Blot me out of Thy book." It was a chequered journey, but though crowded with toils, it was crowned with triumphs in the arena of prayer. Egypt, Midian and the wilderness all had their part to play. The prince and the pupil became the prophet. The scholar and the shepherd became the saviour. In all likelihood, Moses wrote Psalm 90 at the close of his sojourn in Midian and its verses are eloquent testimony to the lessons he learned.
His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky.
His career is not closing but opening, and it seems vital that Moses must be assured of the supreme reality of God. He must know God in a way that will forever after, stamp his life with a persistent sensitivity to the holiness and unshakeable purpose of Jehovah.
AT THE BUSH
Hence the historic interview at the bush that burned and was not consumed. God graciously reveals Himself in His holiness, disclosing His sympathy with the suffering people of Israel, and convincing Moses of His resolve to deliver the enslaved people. He replies to Moses' excuses as he protested: "Who am I?" "What shall I say?" "They will not hearken to my voice." "I am not eloquent." These shafts of light reveal the inward turmoil in Moses' soul. In part, he was right to doubt his own worthiness, but he was wrong to forget the sufficiency of God in all these circumstances. How patient and gracious God was—reasoning with him, meeting his wavering unbelief with firm assurance of His constant presence and His enabling strength!
However feeble was Moses' response, and it does appear feeble in light of the fact that he was finally willing to go, when assured of the company of Aaron, yet this interview was a landmark in his trafficking with God. One cannot fail to be struck in reading the book of Exodus or the book of Numbers by the fact that Moses in every kind of difficulty, made recourse to God and laid the matter before Him. This is prayer in its basic meaning—linking human weakness with Divine omnipotence. The simplicity and directness of his language reveal the man's utter sincerity. We do well to covet his robust trust which blossomed with the passing days. No empty jargon, no empty phraseology for its own sake, no pious platitudes, no hypocritical humbug, but unfettered sincerity of approach and expression of desire and need. This is not to say that Moses made no mistakes in his approach. In Exodus 5: 22, in a moment dark with mystery, he challenges God's justice, His wisdom and His truthfulness. Moses had forgotten Exodus 3: 19-20. It is for us in our day not to rush into God's presence when our spirits are hot or bitter. Some prayer may be very like blasphemy. We must never, never forget the greatness of God as we seek to draw near. The important matter here is that God understood Moses' exasperation, and in His reply, breathes out tenderness and understanding. He answered his shortsightedness with a vision and a restatement of His unshakeable purpose. Moses need not doubt. Though all else fail, God remains faithful. He does not hide from His servant that the contest will be severe and long, but He assures him of final victory. This had an abiding effect on Moses—the communicated message of God in this prayer nerved him for all that was to follow, and from then on, he never flagged.
And now the battle is joined; God and Pharaoh, with Moses as the human instrument, interpreting God's purposes, watching their fulfilment step by step, relentlessly overwhelming and steadily marching to the Divine consummation—and all the while Moses is in the school of experience as a man of prayer. One of the chief lessons he learned was that it is worse than useless to oppose God. Every lesson Moses had gleaned from his varied experiences up till then was put to the test in the wilderness. He was to see in the people of Israel a replica of his own earlier doubts and fears in an even intenser degree, and his leadership is nowhere greater than in his intercessions for the wayward and murmuring and, at times, rebellious host.
It is impossible in the confines of this paper to cover the prayers of this man of God. They are almost a dozen in number. Watch him evilly spoken of by Miriam. He committed his cause to the Lord who vindicated His servant, and when Aaron sought forgiveness, Moses cherished no bitterness, but entreated the Lord for her who had sinned against him. This is true spiritual greatness. Or turn to chapter 14 of Numbers when the people provoke God repeatedly and now determinedly rebel. Their murmuring has developed into mutiny. All along, they had nourished an evil heart of unbelief, and the undermining process was bound to reveal itself sooner or later. In this crisis when God had spoken to a people reduced to silence, outlining their punishment, Moses intercedes in a remarkable way. The proposed punishment is terrible. God will disinherit the sinners by destroying them, and He will make a new beginning.
What a moment for Moses! To become the head of a great nation and at God's request! But this great man intercedes. He has no selfish ambition, but instead pleads for pardon. He says, "O Lord, I plead Thy honour (vv.13-16), Thy promises (vv.17-18) and Thy former mercies" (v.19). Moses asks the Lord to forgive the people and goes so far as to ask God to visit on him the guilt of the people both in this world and the next. Amazing! This is more Pauline than Paul in Rom. 9: 1-3. The good of the people and the glory of God are his main concerns. Prayer as the practice of God's presence has educated his spirit and made his purpose resolute. In the moment of crisis, a man reveals his inner resources. Moses will not sacrifice a shred of the Glory of God for all of self-exaltation. This is the high water mark of a victorious prayer life.
When faced in Numbers 16 with Korah's rebellion, Moses listens to their unjustifiable taunts. As he heard these, he fell on his face. His refuge is not in angry rebuttal, not in word strife nor self-assertion, but in God. His calm assurance is born of communion with God. The Lord will shew who are holy, (16: 5). The man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy, (16: 7). There is spiritual maturity in prayer—the serene conviction inherent in committing his cause to a Righteous Judge. In Chapter 27 of Numbers, Moses is told he will not go over Jordan. See how he accepted the rebuke. There is no bitterness, no self-vindication. At this moment of deepest humiliation and disappointment, he rose in spiritual power and uttered a most unselfish prayer on behalf of Israel as sheep having no shepherd. His chief concern is not for himself but for the people he has led so long across the desert scene.
We have an echo of Moses' knowledge of God in his long dealings with Him in Deut. 32: 3. "Ascribe ye greatness to our God." The testimony of the Psalmist could be equally echoed by Moses, "Thy gentleness hath made me great." Moses had answered the challenge of the people by crying to God, and God answered him by making the bitter sweet. We do not know how much we are blessed by the prayers of others. Numbers 32: 11-14 is a challenge to those who say that prayer can make no difference. Prayer makes all the difference, releasing resources hitherto unknown to us and setting events in the perspective of the sanctuary. And the prayer life of Moses is eloquent testimony to this truth.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1960