Monday, July 21, 2014

Lord Let a rebel live!

Numbers 14:13-20


But Moses said to the LORD, "Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people. For you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 'It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.' And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, 'The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.' Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now." Then the LORD said, "I have pardoned, according to your word.

Here we have a case of interceding for a rebel people. Have you ever sought to pray for a person who gloats at iniquity? I was faced with a situation of praying for a rebellious pastor for over a year. Every time I opened up my mouth to pray for his good, I found it so hard, yet I had no choice but to plead for his welfare. Over two years down the line – I still wait for an answer from God. He is still at large in his gloating in his obstinacy, and gloating about his divisiveness.
Do you pray for people who are openly rebellious to God (even more than to men?) This is the task that Moses is faced with in this passage. What are the lessons for us when we are interceding for such people in open rebellion against God? Since it is so difficult to know exactly what to pray for, why don’t you bear these three invaluable lessons in mind?
1.      Be wholly consumed with God’s glory
Why was God so enraged with these people? Because of their sins. They provoked or rejected and, reproached the Sovereign God. Their conduct despised God. They disbelieved God’s promises and so accused God of, not being good enough, not powerful enough, and not dependable enough – here is a display of disbelief of the faithfulness and benevolence of God. Yes, it was their unbelief that made this a day of great provocation in the wilderness, (Heb. 3:8).
But further on, we see here that the Lord’s wrath was kindled against them for their continuance in their terrible sin. The Lord asked Moses, "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (v.11) In these two things they marred the glory of God with their own iniquity.
Their intercessor has to come with a great priority on seeking to display the excellency of God’s glory. This is what Moses did for he knew that distrust is not only a great sin (1John 5:10), but even worse it is a root sin, (Heb. 3:12). Moses understood that the God of heaven keeps an account how long sinners persist in their provocations; and the longer they persist the more he is displeased.
So Moses’ priority is not just the pardon for the sins of the people, but to plead with God about His own glory and so he prayed – “No God, please do not annihilate them for the sake of your name and your glory. The heathen will hear and they will think that you became so powerless that you failed to deliver on your own promises. The onus is on you to deliver these people, as rebellious as they are to the land that you promised them.” (Moses’ prayer paraphrased)
Three things that show Moses’ priority is God’s glory:
Ø  He argues from what heathens like the Egyptians would say disdainfully of God - "Then the Egyptians will hear of it…”
Ø  He argues from what they Egyptians are to gossip to the inhabitants of the land, giving occasion to more sin for Egyptians – “…the Egyptians will hear of it … and they will tell the inhabitants of this land.”
Ø  He argues from the fact of God’s presence with His people – “… for you brought up this people in your might from among them … They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people…”
Ø  He argues from what the nations who have heard of him are likely to say (these are potential people for evangelism) – “Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say…”
Ø  He requests for God to display His power – “… And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised…”
Ø  He refused to have God propagate His name through Mosaic lineage – he did not even make reference to such a possibility. His primary concern was the glory of God.
Ø  He argued from God’s word – not experience. He quoted promise upon promise, precept upon precept!
Ø  He argued from the understanding of who God is, as He had revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 34 – “'The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.'”
The best prayers are those that seek God's glory and honour. Such prayers are in accordance with the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, Hallowed be thy name. God’s glory is our prime business on earth because God created us so that we may glorify and serve Him forever. Pleading with Him to display His glory is our priority. In fact believers are like the beautiful feather of a peacock displaying its beauty when they are upon their knees pleading with the Lord God to show His glory.
 We must therefore evaluate our intercessory prayers and find out whether our prayer for others is simply so that their welfare may come or God’s glory to be manifest, even in the midst of their obstinate rebellion and lawlessness. We are to understand that God being sovereignly in control of even the evil actions of men is capable of turning everything for His eternal glory and good of His people. While we are praying for them, we are seeking an occasion for God’s name to be glorified as He answers prayers and vindicates His purposes.


2.      Be completely saturated with God’s promises
From Moses’ intercession we see that he is standing on the promises of God as He has revealed them in His Word. He prayed, “And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying…” Moses in this is not asking God to do what He has not said. His prayers are advised and informed by the promises of God. There is no wisdom in asking God to do what He has not promised, if we are concerned to pray according to the will of God. Moses knew that God will do what He has promised and we so we would be wise to emulate this great example.
What is the specific promise that Moses had in mind? He quoted from God’s promise in a time of rebellion over the golden calf in Mt. Sinai… the Lord revealed Himself in this promise: 'The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.'
Moses in strengthening His arguments in prayer clings on three things God had solemnly promised:
Ø  The nature of God as good: God is slow to anger or patient – meaning that His person and nature is that He is not easily provoked; God abounds in great mercy; He is compassionate towards offenders. God is good and we can fully stand on the promise of His nature as a good God, dependable and absolutely trustworthy God.
Ø  His inclination, even eagerness to forgive sins: Forgiving iniquity and transgression, sins of all sorts to all who ask, not counting the sins of parents on their children. This is a specific promise to cling to when faced with lawlessness and wickedness of men.
Ø  His unwillingness to proceed to extremity: Of either clearing the guilty or punishing to annihilate. This is a promise anchored on God’s holiness and justice. He is God who will in His own wisdom and grace punish so as to correct and not to destroy. We must never think it is to a sinner’s good to go unpunished – as it is not in accordance to the character of an infinitely holy God. It is for their good, as a demonstration of God’s love to discipline those He loves (Heb.12:6)
In the 2nd commandment God had said that He would visit the iniquity of fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me (EX. 34:6). So is this then according to the promise and will of God? Clearly this petition is very applicable here and it just shows how Moses knew God’s Word.
Two things here:
1) Moses is not asking God not to punish sins. He is requesting that God does not obliterate the whole nation as one man. He is begging that God does not punish the righteous with the wicked just his father Abraham had prayed for the people of Sodom. This is just like Christ prayed, “Please forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing”. He is asking that they should not be disinherited of their earlier promises.
2)  Although the Israelites had fallen in all sorts of sins and transgression on this day, yet this was not the sin of idolatry that required capital punishment by stoning – the contest of Exodus 34.
Here is a clear encouragement to pray from the word of God, standing on divine promises. The prayer that is according to the sovereign will of God is a prayer that stands upon God’s Word. We have to pray with our Bibles open. We have to have the promises expressed in God’s Word close to our chests and lips so that we can make them the podium upon which we stand when in intercession.



3.      Plead God’s mercy as the true welfare of the people
We see here that Moses is truly concerned for the welfare of the people in the twofold requests that are made. He prayed,
Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now."

1)      He pleaded the mercy of God for he knew that such a dire situation could only be remedied by God, against whom they had sinned. In this petition we see a sure trust in the pardoning mercy of God. It is also called steadfast love for it is an enduring love. Agape love that bears with the failings of sinners.
2)      He also pleaded with historical mercies of God in forgiveness. The mercy upon which Moses was depending upon had worked in the past and it will certainly work for now. He is calling God to display the same forgiveness again (not just once more because he knew that the failings of men are numerous). I wonder why Moses did not think that having been forgiven in the past is something that could work against them. For why should they be forgiven again? Did they not learn after the forgiveness was extended in the past? God is indeed, 'The LORD  slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.'
Moses knew the Lord well enough to know that another extension of divine mercy and forgiveness to the rebels was not an assault at God’s mercy to forgive again. Did not Christ preach that if your brother sins against you seventy times seven times you forgive? And is God’s mercy not bigger than that?
Sin is an assault at the holiness of God, but a reproach to God’s justice. Where sin is acknowledged and repented, there is a wealth of God’s mercy, an eager willingness on God’s part to forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness. Therefore you can pray for your unbelieving husband, your rebellious son and wild daughter with the knowledge that God’s mercy in forgiveness cannot be so abused that anyone falls short when requests are made. You can trust the Lord to ask for forgives of the worst sins committed in rebellion against Him. His mercy and grace are inexhaustible!

In this passage we see Moses dimly placed on the intercessory position of the Lord Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest whose throne is on high – whoever lives and pleads for us. When the Israelites were displeased with God they came to Moses and vented their anger against God to Moses. When God was displeased with the sins of the people, He came to Moses and clearly Moses was a type of Christ in interceding for us. Thankfully we have a better Priest for we read from God’s word,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:14-15).
And again, “… For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens”  (Heb 7:26).
And again, “…Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,” (Heb 8:1)

The Lord Jesus Christ who intercedes for us is better placed to help us having gone through the same temptations as we have, and being without sin. Moses fell short because he sinned in the matter of the rock of Meribbah so that he was not allowed to enter the promised land. Our Lord has entered not just the earthly holy of holies, but has gone up and is now seated at the right hand of throne of the Majesty in heaven. This shows how dependable is His intercession for sinners.
If you live in rebellion against God and His revealed will – the only hope for you is not a man like Moses. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who does not only intercede but will indeed give you true pardon and cleanse you by His blood from all sins and transgression making you to be as white as snow. May you plead with you to be your Advocate before the Father, if you hope for a certain acquittal.
Furthermore, He has left us the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit who is the Helper, the Advocate, the Counsellor so that although we do not know how to pray, He helps us for we read,
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).
With such help in prayer, how can we be so negligent of prayer? How can we not pray more and better? In this passage is encouragement for us to pray more and better. Therefore, John Owen said,
I believe that no man can have any evidence in his own soul that he doth 
conscientiously perform any ministerial duty toward his flock, who doth not 
continually pray for them. Let him preach as much as he will, visit as much as he 
will, speak as much as he will, unless God doth keep up in him a spirit of prayer 
in his closet and family for them, he can have no evidence that he doth perform 
any other ministerial duty in a due manner, or that what he doth is accepted with 
God. —John Owen
This is what is expected of me as your pastor – to preach and pray for you. Please pray for me to more keen to be pray for you. I believe that prayer is one thing that I am not as faithful as I ought – so pray that I may be more fervent in prayer for you!
Yet remember that you have a duty to pray for yourself – wait not for Moses, wait not for me, because the Spirit of God who dwells in you helps you so that,
Every true Christian ought to be a man of prayer. All his views, all his affections, 
all his desires, hopes, and joys, ought to be constantly mounting on the wings of 
devotions and flying before him into heaven. Every rub that he meets with in this 
thorny wilderness, every outward combat, every inward struggle ought to make 
his groans and prayers rise incessantly, as memorials before that throne from 
which he expects aid and deliverance. Without this, he is only a nominal, not a 
real Christian…If [he is] not addicted to prayer, [he] is a man without any interest 
in Christ, without hope, and without God in the world. —John Smith
If you must have one single addiction, let it be to one thing – to be spiritually minded and addicted to things that add an eternal value to your life. What could be better than to be addicted to prayer? Pray because the Lord answers prayer as we read in verse 20 that the Lord came to Moses after the intercession and said, "I have pardoned, according to your word!”

This is the great joy we have when we pray that the Lord hears our prayers and will in due time show His grace to us and answer in accordance to His divine wisdom and will.

Isaac Watts so beautifully captures this prayer in this song:



Show pity, Lord, O Lord, forgive,
Let a repenting rebel live:
Are not Thy mercies large and free?
May not a sinner trust in Thee?


My crimes are great, but not surpass
The power and glory of Thy grace:
Great God, Thy nature hath no bound,
So let Thy pardoning love be found.


O wash my soul from every sin,
And make my guilty conscience clean;
Here on my heart the burden lies,
And past offenses pain my eyes.


My lips with shame my sins confess
Against Thy law, against Thy grace:
Lord, should Thy judgment grow severe,
I am condemned, but Thou art clear.


Should sudden vengeance seize my breath,
I must pronounce Thee just in death;
And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.


Yet save a trembling sinner, Lord,
Whose hope, still hovering round Thy Word,
Would light on some sweet promise there,
Some sure support against despair.


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