Exodus 32:1-10 sets the context for Moses’ intercessory prayer in verses 11-14. Israel’s rebellion invokes the wrath of God, and now YHWH’s appointed mediator, Moses, steps into the gap between God’s holy wrath and Israel’s rightful destruction. He “implores” God for mercy. But what is striking is the way he does it.
He does not plead leniency based on Israel’s ignorance, or relative goodness. He doesn’t minimize the sin. He doesn’t offer some kind of obnoxious statement like: “Deep down they are good people.” That kind of speech has no place in the mouth a Bible-believing Christian. Israel is not good. Like the rest of humanity (Rom 1:20-32), they are covenant-breaking, rebellious idolaters. They deserve death, and so do we.
So what does Moses say? How could he possibly gain the hearing of God, when his law has been violated and his wrath is smoldering? The text records that Moses pleads for mercy based on God’s character and covenant faithfulness. In his prayer, he teaches us how we should pray and intercede before God’s throne. Notice three things:
Moses argues for God to finish his work of redemption (v. 11). Whereas God distances himself from his people in verse 9, Moses (in a manner of speaking) reminds the Lord that Israel is “his people” and that no matter what they have done the Sovereign Lord is the one who “brought [them] out of Egypt with great power and with a might hand.” Failure to finish the task would imply that he couldn’t rule these obstinate people or worse, he wouldn’t lead this people.
Moses appeals to the reputation of God in the world (v. 12). Then, Moses appeals to God’s desire to be known among the nations. Nearly a dozen times, Moses records in Exodus that God’s purpose in saving Israel was to make known to the nations his name and renown. In truth, the world exists as a stage for God’s glory to be displayed. Moses, knowing this, tells God to relent, to change his mind so that his reputation would not be ruined.
Moses asks God to remember his covenant (v. 13). As we have seen previously in Exodus, God’s love for Israel is based on his previous election of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God had made lavish promises to these patriarchs, and Moses is simply appealing to YHWH: Do what you said you would do. You promised offspring, so give life, not death; You promised land, so bring them into the land; you promised your blessing; so don’t curse Israel.
In these verses, we find a key to effectual prayer. It is what George Mueller, the great man of answered prayer, called “Holy Argumentation.” Modeling his prayers after Moses and the other great men of prayer in the Bible, Mueller described the way we must approach God,
[Like Moses] We are to argue our case with God, not indeed to convince Him, but to convince ourselves. In proving to Him that, by His own word and oath and character, He has bound Himself to interpose, we demonstrate to our own faith that He has given us the right to ask and claim, and that He will answer our plea because He cannot deny Himself.
But of course such praying requires spade-work in the Scriptures. His biographer, A.T. Pierson, tells us of how Mueller read the Bible: As he opened God’s word, he was looking for “promises, authorized declarations of God concerning Himself, names and titles He had chosen to express and reveal His true nature and will, injunctions and invitations which gave to the believer a right to pray and boldness in supplication.” He was a man on a mission, to see God, and to pray according to his own revelation. Mueller did not pray according to his feelings or according to what he wanted; he prayed according to God’s revealed will. The result was legendary, because he had learned to pray from Moses himself.
May we learn to pray with such Scriptural confidence, arguing from God’s Word for God’s Word to be effective in the world. Our hope is not in his leniency, but in his steadfast love.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss