Old Testament Prayer

January 5, 2018 at 10:59 am | Posted in Q&A | 1 Comment
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Question: In Exodus Moses talks to God and relays messages back and forth between God and the people. Did people in the Old Testament pray in the way that we do?

Answer: That’s a really good question that forces us to think about the nature of prayer. We know that people prayed in the Old Testament, even before Exodus. Two notable examples are Abraham in Genesis 20:17 and Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24:12-14. After Exodus the Old Testament is replete with all kinds of prayers in all kinds of situations. Many of the Psalms are in the form of prayers, although sin could always serve as a hindrance to prayer (Psalm 66:18).

It is possible that in Exodus 2:24-25 when God heard the “groaning” of the Israelites in their bondage in Egypt that this groaning was a type of call to God for help, but it is also possible that, after hundreds of years in Egypt, the people had forgotten about Abraham’s God and did not practice prayer. It may be that through the ministry of Moses and the priesthood the practice of praying to the one true God was reinstated.

Your reference to Moses, though, is especially astute, because it reminds us that, while Moses interceded with God on behalf of the people, under the New Testament we have a better Intercessor (Romans 8:34) and Mediator (I Timothy 2:5) that allows us to call upon the Lord in His Name freely whenever we want (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The Personality of God

December 9, 2015 at 1:39 pm | Posted in Exodus | 6 Comments
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Shortly after the exodus from Egypt the Israelites became panicky and dissatisfied, and reminded Moses that they had previously told him to leave them alone so they could go back and side with their slavemasters against the God Who wanted to set them free.

Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.

Exodus 14:12

In Chapter 32, as Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai, and God sees the people’s shameful idolatry around the golden calf, God tells Moses to leave HIM alone so that He can deal with them according to their sin.

Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Exodus 32:10

This is pointed mockery by God, as He suggests allowing the people to do what their actions indicate that they really want: to deal with Him without an intercessor (in their case Moses, but also foreshadowing Christ’s role as Intercessor). However, God’s suggestion is also a thinly veiled invitation to Moses to decline to “leave God alone.” It is obvious that God is giving Moses the opportunity to stay and intercede on behalf of the people – which he does.

Moses’s beseeching and pleading by appealing to God’s past deeds, glory, promises, and Word were successful.

And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

Exodus 32:14

Moses “changed God’s mind” in a sense, although God’s perfect will was still being sovereignly worked out in this apparent reversal. The Bible describes this scenario a number of times when various servants of His intercede in prayer in response to His stated intention to bring wrath and judgment. However, none of these scenarios ever describe what is known as “Open Theism.” Open Theism is a technical heresy intended to: (1) make God seem actively involved in human affairs, as opposed to fatalistically predetermining all events, and then passively watching them happen; and (2) justify God’s alleged failure to overrule evil in the world.

God does not need this help. He is immanent as well as transcendent, and the existence of evil in the world is not a “failure” on the part of God, although He does choose to allow it. Augustine argued that evil is not a “thing,” but simply the absence – in varying degrees – of good. An analogy is the sense in which darkness is not a “thing” in opposition to light, but rather the absence of light. In other words, Augustine posited that God is good and that evil is a privation of good.

That’s certainly one way to think of it, but another way to think of it is that God is a person, and not a force. This reminds us that, even if we must attribute responsibility to Him when evil happens, He still can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. He doesn’t just know the future – He also has already made choices about the future and is already there “eternally” in the “future.” In other words, there’s no real “future” to Him. Omniscience requires no surprises – no “new” or “acquired” information or knowledge – because “omni” means “all,” “everything,” not a “figuring out,” or deciding upon, possible alternatives.

The underlying motivation for Open Theism is a desire to say that we have pure free will – that we are not being “controlled” by God. What this ignores is that everyone is being controlled – under either system. You are either controlled by yourself or by one greater. If the “one greater” is God – the loving, gracious, merciful, true, and right God, Who is a real “person” – then why would we even want to suggest that we should be “free” from Him and beholden to our own choices?

The Intercessory Prayer of Moses

November 18, 2015 at 11:42 am | Posted in Exodus | 9 Comments
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Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Exodus 32:10

This is an example of anthropopathism. In Exodus 15 we learned about anthropomorphism (“man-form”), where human physical characteristics are used to describe God. Anthropopathism is derived from anthropos, meaning “man,” and “pathism,” referring to feelings or emotions. For example, “pathology” is the study of disease – or why people “feel” bad. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone. Empathy is feeling bad with someone. Someone who is “pathetic” is someone for whom we feel sorry. Anthropopathism is attributing human feelings to something (or in this case Someone) who is not human. It does not mean that God is faking His anger, but, unlike us, He is sovereignly and omnipotently in control of it. His feelings or emotions are real, but they are decreed by Him. They are controlled by Him. And they are exhibited in a way that lets us (finite beings) understand His attributes.

God also seems to be testing Moses in Exodus 32:10, telling him that He is mad at the people, and that He is going to demonstrate His anger and wrath, while at the same time making it clear that He is not mad at Moses. It is as if He is telling Moses to move aside while He deals with the people, and that He will start over by a making a new nation from the seed of Moses. God is not lying when He does this because He is not practicing deceit, but He is giving Moses a chance to demonstrate his own humility and faith – which, in fact, Moses does:

And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

Exodus 32:11

A casual, out of context, glance would make it seem like Moses was disrespectfully questioning God, or just being obtuse, asking a dumb question. But what was really going on was that Moses was praying a prayer of intercession. He asked God to do something in a rather bold way, but he recognized this, and he tempered it with a formal Hebrew way of reasoning.

When you were in high school, you probably didn’t say to your father, “Dad, you’re wrong for not letting me drive the car!” At least not if you were thinking rationally. You probably said something more like, “Why would a kind, gracious man like yourself refuse something harmless and kind to a responsible and careful lad like myself?” So, even though it looks like Moses was questioning God’s wisdom, God really received this as a respectful and reverent prayer, with solid reasoning included, as Moses tried to induce God to have mercy. By reading closely, we can find some principles to emulate in our own intercessory prayers:

1. Moses appealed to God’s great past deeds on behalf of these people: “…why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” As if he said, “Lord, you have gone to great lengths to redeem them, even though they don’t appear to appreciate it.”

2. He appealed to God’s glory

Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

Exodus 32:12

As if saying, “The Egyptians (and the world) are watching. It’s going to look to them like You couldn’t finish what you started, or like You were playing a cruel trick in bringing them out of a bad condition, getting their hopes up, and then destroying them.” Moses asked God to “repent of evil,” but it’s not the same thing for Him that it is for us. The “evil” that Moses referred to was not moral evil. It was catastrophic consequences. The word “repent” here is the idea of “relenting” – of reconsidering what He’s thinking about doing. He respectfully asked God to “change His mind,” also reminding Him of the fact that they are “Thy people.”

3. He reminded God of His Own promises.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

Exodus 32:13

For God to start over with Moses would pose a difficulty in making it seem like God was breaking His promise to Abraham, so Moses asked God to keep His side of the Covenant for Abraham’s sake, and, more importantly, for His Own name’s sake. This is not a “prayer-trick” to get God to do what we want. It is a God-ordained feature of prayer and one that pleases Him. He is far more interested in His Own glory than in our desires, comfort, or even needs.

Prayer is not really about getting God to change His mind; it’s about re-centering us on His will, His glory, His name, and His purposes. Some people think this whole exchange between God and Moses is just a set-up – just play-acting arranged by God – and, in an attempt to rescue the doctrine of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, they say that Moses’s prayer was basically useless – that God was going to do what He was going to do anyway. If you say, no, prayer really works, Moses really did “get” God to hold back His wrath, then someone might say you are guilty of something called “Open Theism.”

Open Theism is a technical heresy that states either: (1) God does not and cannot know the future because, although He can know all the possible outcomes of free will choices, He still can not know what “free will agents” will choose; or (2) God has the power to know the future, but has chosen to limit His own knowledge so that His relationship with His creatures can be more “real” vis-à-vis reciprocal love.

It is not necessary to resort to Open Theism in order to believe in the omniscience of God and the real effects of Moses’s prayer. God simply chooses prayer (and even changing His Own mind, which is infinite and eternal) as the means to accomplish His perfect sovereign will and plans.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 46:9-10

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

Psalm 90:1-4

Beware of Fretting over the Forlorn

May 4, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Posted in The Fives | Leave a comment
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It is right and good that the Bible admonishes us to pay special attention to the needs of widows. Ladies whose husbands have passed away have always been at risk in a sinful society. However, the Lord, while certainly pointing to the plight of, and being compassionate toward, older widows, is also very gracious to recognize their worth and value to the body of Christ.

Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.

I Timothy 5:5

A Godly lady who would otherwise find herself alone and desolate may nevertheless learn to lean upon, and trust in, the Lord in ways which go beyond the abilities of wives still attending to the needs of earthly husbands. For this reason, among others, the Bible reminds those in church leadership to encourage the powerful and prayerful intercession of these precious women.

Thought about Ought

April 18, 2011 at 9:53 am | Posted in Luke, Uncategorized | 12 Comments
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And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;

Luke 18:1

Could such a short, simple Verse really teach us much about the great Biblical principle of prayer? You might be surprised. In fact, let’s focus in for a moment on just one word in that Verse: “ought.”

The word “ought,” like so many Bible words, goes deeper than we can ever fathom. For example, there is the “ought” that tells us something is a good idea. “I ought to take my umbrella today. It might rain.”

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The concept that men should pray is one of the best ideas that God has given us. If you received some gadget, and weren’t sure exactly how it worked or what to do with it, the one person who would be most helpful to you is the person who invented, designed, and built the gadget. God is the Creator, Designer, and Builder, not only of you and me, but of everything that exists. And prayer is the way we talk to Him.

The word “ought” can also carry the connotation of a warning. “You ought not to mess with that dog,” said the owner of the snarling Rottweiler to the little boy.

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For people to go through their day, arrogantly thinking they have the knowledge to make it through life’s trials, temptations, and testing, without consistently looking upward in prayer, is extremely dangerous. Whether you know it or not, you need the wisdom of God to keep from making a train wreck of your life. Prayer is how we ask God for wisdom.

There is also the “ought” of command. An employer might tell his custodial staff, “You ought to keep this area clean every day.”

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The Bible says to pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:17) This is a command from God. It does not mean that Christians should wander around in an oblivious state of hazy mumbling.

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But it does mean that Christians should always be in an attitude of prayer, ready to call upon the Lord and seek His will, or to confess sin at the drop of a hat. We should also make sure that we have a serious “quiet time” of conversational communion with God on a consistent and frequent basis.

Christ said that the opposite of “always praying” is “fainting:” getting weary and giving up. As men and women of God, if we fail to “come apart” (get alone with God in prayer), we will surely “come apart” (fall to pieces).

Discipleship Lesson 5: Prayer

January 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Discipleship Lessons | 55 Comments
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I. Why should we pray?

We should pray in order to be conformed to God’s will, more than to attempt to change God’s mind. Prayer is also good for our peace of mind and heart.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

God allows needs to come into our lives so that we will draw close to Him and learn to depend on Him.

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Matthew 6:8

Pray without ceasing.

I Thessalonians 5:17

It is dangerous for us to believe that all our needs are met and that we are not dependent.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

Revelation 3:16-17

We must give thanks for our needs and even for our times of difficulty.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

I Thessalonians 5:18

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Psalm 100:4

Prayer should be our first reaction in times of trouble.

And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

Psalm 50:15

II. How should we pray?

A. We should pray in the Holy Spirit.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

B. We should pray constantly.

Pray without ceasing.

I Thessalonians 5:17

C. Public prayer is good, but most of our prayer time should be in private.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Matthew 6:5-7

D. We should pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

I Timothy 2:5

For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

Ephesians 2:18

E. We should pray with our sins confessed.

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:

Psalm 66:18

F. We should pray with a forgiving heart.

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

G. Husbands should pray without bitterness toward our wives.

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Colossians 3:19

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

I Peter 3:7

H. We should ask God to fulfill specific requests when we pray.

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

James 4:2-3

I. We should pray consistently with what is revealed in God’s Word.

He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.

Proverbs 28:9

III. What should we pray?

A. Be specific.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Philippians 4:6

B. Give thanks.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

I Thessalonians 5:18

C. Pray for others.

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

Ephesians 6:18

D. Praise and worship the Lord.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Psalm 100:4

E. Pray for the lost.

Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Matthew 9:38

F. Pray for God’s will to be done – pray the way Jesus told us to pray.

And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

Luke 11:2

IV. Questions

A. Should we pray to the saints in Heaven or to angels? (No.)

B. Does praying for the same thing over and over show a lack of faith? (No.)

C. Should certain prayers be memorized and repeated word for word without feeling or as a substitute for personalized prayer? (No.)

V. Memory verses

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

I Timothy 2:5

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:

Psalm 66:18

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

I Thessalonians 5:18


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