Archive for Moses

Daily Bread

Gathering Manna German Bible, Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 17 February 1483 Bridwell Library, SMU

Gathering Manna
German Bible, Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1483
Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University


Two things I ask of thee;
    deny them not to me before I die:
 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
 lest I be full, and deny thee,
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor, and steal,
    and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30: 7-9


Prayers in the wilderness

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the wilderness this week: Christ in the wilderness for forty days. Moses in the wilderness for forty years. Moses interceding for the people so that God would not destroy them (pointing out to God that destroying his own people would look bad).

“So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, destroy not thy people and thy heritage, whom thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, whom thou hast brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness, or their sin, lest the land from which thou didst bring us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” For they are thy people and thy heritage, whom thou didst bring out by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm.’   Deurteronomy 9:23-29


I’d been pondering for a few days, and then my sister sent me an article by Kevin P. Emmert called “A Lent that’s Not for Your Spiritual Improvement.”  Emmert urges us to look to the example of Christ in the wilderness and use our Lenten disciplines as a means to better serve our neighbors. He argues that we shouldn’t see Lent as merely an occasion for personal holiness or drawing nearer to God.

While I might disagree a bit with Emmert’s use of the term “personal holiness” (I don’t think true holiness can ever be selfish), I do take his point about the social dimensions of Lent. He quotes from Isaiah:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Isaiah 58:6–7

Now, I have never been a faster, but I am a pray-er, and it occurred to me that I rarely pray for God to forgive others’ sins. I ask on my own behalf all the time (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”), but how often do I intercede for others in this way? Truth to tell, it feels a little cheeky, if you know what I mean. Judgmental. It feels like taking on something that’s not my job.

In Hebrews we read about the office of the high priest

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.  

And we know that Jesus prayed for us, “Father, forgive them…”

I am not called to the priesthood. I am certainly not Jesus, but I wonder if, as we are all called to imitate Christ, we might not include in our intercessory prayers a request for forgiveness. Not just comfort and healing, not just the “let-this-cup-pass” kind of mercy, and not just “Spare thou those who are penitent.” More like “Spare thou those who are making the world a miserable place and who care nothing about you. Spare the ignorant and wayward and hateful. Forgive them.”

The one thing I know know I have in common with the high priest is that I am beset with weakness.  (Perhaps that knowledge will grant me the possibility of dealing gently with the clergy, as with all fellow Christians.) But here in this Lenten wilderness I am wondering about Moses and Jesus and praying for others.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…and please, God, will you forgive them too?

Praying for Pharaoh

 Pharaoh detail

The Exodus story is much stranger than I remembered. I read it again the other day and there was so much that just seemed odd and complicated.

To begin with, why do you think God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go free? If you trusted vague memory, you might think it was because God is a freedom-loving deity and slavery is wrong. But what God actually says is, “Let my people go, that they may serve me” which sounds much more like he’s telling Pharaoh “You have something that belongs to me, and I want it back.” Oh.

And then there are all those plagues, and all that back and forth–essentially between God and Pharaoh, but with Moses and Aaron in between. In memory, the plagues create the mounting drama, and ensure that we are clear about how stubborn and wicked Pharaoh is. In memory (and the movies), the plagues are God’s way of wearing down Pharaoh’s resolve, but this time through it seemed to me that there was more going on.

Setting aside the whole question of “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and Pharaoh’s free will in this situation (we’ll have to save that for another time), each plague is both a sign of God’s power (witnessed by Egypt and Israel) and an opportunity for repentance. And every time Pharaoh repents and says, “Ok, you can go, just stop the plague,” Moses has to go out and intercede for Egypt.

Wait. Moses has to pray for Pharaoh? That must have been terrible. Why plead on behalf of the oppressor? “Stop the gnats. Stop the frogs. Stop the locusts. Forgive him. Have mercy on Egypt.” Do you think that what Moses wanted to say was “Wipe them out and let’s be done with this!?” Do you think that after a while he might have doubted Pharaoh’s sincerity? Why did God put Moses through that? Why was intercession required? Why couldn’t Moses just command the plague to end?

I wondered about this the other day as I read familiar verses in Romans 8

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Pharaoh didn’t know God, did he need Moses in this weakness?  I need to think about this more.

Intercession is a mystery–deeply strange and sometimes difficult. Why should God, knowing someone’s need better than we do, command us to pray for them? Why should we pray for our enemies? What does it mean that God, knowing our hearts, wills the Spirit to intercede for us?

I think it may have something to do with forgiveness. “And whenever you stand praying, forgive.”  Perhaps intercession enables forgiveness. Perhaps it is a sign of forgiveness. Perhaps the Exodus is not only a story of God’s mounting wrath, but also his repeated forgiveness. Perhaps we never really forgive anyone until we lift them up and stand with them in God’s presence.