Then the whole congregation lifted up their voices and cried out, and that night the people wept.
Genesis 18. It is an intercession for Sodom. It would seem that, while prayer of every kind is made welcome in heaven, a peculiarly gracious welcome is prepared for the prayers in which the petitioner forgets himself for the time, in the ardour of his desire for the good of others. It is in connection with the command to "pray one for another" that the assurance is given, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). And one can perceive that the intercessory prayers of the Bible saints have been recorded in Scripture by the Holy Spirit with a peculiarly affectionate care. In this highest kind of prayer Moses excelled. During his long leadership of the people, dangers from without and murmurings from amongst the people themselves gave frequent occasion for deprecating God's wrath and invoking his help; and Moses never failed to rise to such occasions. His intercessions are amongst the most instructive of any on record.
I. THE OCCASION OF THE PRESENT PRAYER. The people have at length reached the threshold of the promised land; but beyond the threshold they will not advance. Disbelieving the promise, they first insisted on sending spies; and then, when the spies returned, they would hear only the bad report. They even proposed to stone Moses, choose a new leader, and go back to Egypt. They would not listen to Joshua and Caleb, and were only restrained by a threatening' appearance of the Lord in the cloud above the tabernacle. So greatly was the wrath of God kindled, that he threatened to consume the congregation utterly, and raise up a more faithful people in their stead. "I will smite them; I will disinherit them; I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they." Moses may have been - I believe he was - unprepared for the incredible perversity of the present outbreak of rebellion; but he was not unprepared for the threatening which it provoked. A similar outbreak had been followed with the same threatening at Sinai. And Moses did not fail to remember how, on that occasion, the threatened destruction had been averted by his intercession (Exodus 32:7-14). So, now also, he with reverent boldness "stood before the Lord in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them" (Psalm 106:23).
II. THE PRAYER. It is summed up in one word, "Pardon!" (verse 19). "Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people." Forgive, yet this once, their perverse disobedience; revoke the sentence pronounced against them; fulfill thy promise by granting them the land. - I need not say more about this petition. The remarkable thing in the prayer is not what Moses asks, but THE ARGUMENT WITH WHICH HE ENFORCES HIS REQUEST. First, he pleads that the honour of God's great name is at stake. The Lord had been pleased to put his name on the children of Israel. He had chosen them to be his special possession, making them the depositaries of his oracles and ordinances, and the witnesses for his truth. All this was now become matter of notoriety. In the mind of the nations round about the name of the Lord was identified with the seed of Abraham. Verses 13-16, q.d., "If the tribes perish here, the Egyptians will hear of it, and what will they think? The signs wrought in their sight, both in Egypt and at the Red Sea, have taught them that thou, the God of Jacob, art the Most High, and that thou hast chosen Israel for thy people; and the report of thy doings in Horeb, and by the way, have deepened the impression made by the Egyptian signs. Let not this salutary impression be effaced by discomfiture now. Let not Egypt from behind, and the Canaanites in front, shout in derision of thy great name." - I much fear that this argument does not usually find the place of prominence in our prayers that it finds here in Moses' prayer. The interest of God's name - his truth and cause - in the earth does not lie so near our hearts. Yet it certainly ought. "Hallowed be thy name" should get the place of honour in our prayers. More particularly, we ought to guard against everything which would bring reproach on true religion in the view of the outside world. Christians are to "walk in wisdom toward them that are without." There are still Egyptians and Canaanites watching to hear, and eager to spread, any report regarding the professed people of Christ which they think can be made use of to the disparagement of Divine truth and the Christian cause. Secondly, Moses pleads the Lord's promise. Along with verses 17, 18 read Exodus 34:5-7. The reference cannot be mistaken. Q.d., "Didst not thou show me thy glory in Horeb, and was not thy glory this, viz., that thou hast mercy? Didst not thou declare to me that thy name is the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity and transgression? Into this name I will now run. In this name I take refuge. Remember thy word on which thou hast caused me to hope. Let thy name be now manifested in forgiving this people." - There is no encouragement in prayer to be compared with that which is got from the study of God's promises. "He hath said - therefore we may boldly say" (Hebrews 13:5, 6). What God has promised to give, we may ask without wavering. Thirdly, Moses pleads former mercies (verse 19). Next to the promise of God, the remembrance of former instances of kindness received in answer to prayer ministers encouragement to pray still, and not faint. - Such then was the prayer of Moses at Kadesh-barnea - the prayer which turned away the fatal sword of God's wrath from Israel. I am much inclined to think that instances of like success in prayer are not so rare as many suppose; that, on the contrary, if an inspired historian were to write the annals of our families, churches, communities, it would be found that not seldom public judgments have been turned aside by the intervention of the Lord's hidden ones - his Noahs and Daniels and Jobs. When all secret things are brought to light, these intercessors will not fail to obtain recognition and reward. - B.
The people wept.
Homilist.I. THAT TO ENTRUST THE IMPORTANT AFFAIRS OF SOCIETY TO THE CONDUCT OF MEN OF AN INFERIOR TYPE IS A GREAT EVIL. Feeble-minded, and mean-hearted men, at the head of society, have always impeded its onward march, and endangered its interests.
II. THAT WHILST IT IS COMMON, IT IS NOT ALWAYS WELL TO FOLLOW THE MAJORITY.
1. Because truth does not depend upon numbers. The crowds that skirt the base of a mountain cannot see as much as the man who climbs the heights and takes his view from the lofty summit. The solitary eagle sees more than can "the cattle upon a thousand hills."
2. Because numbers in the present state of the world are likely to be wrong.
III. THAT IT IS NOT A WISE THING TO FOLLOW THE OPINIONS OF MEN RATHER THAN THE WORD OF GOD.
1. Because God's word is infallible; men's opinions are not so.
2. Because God's word ensures strength to the obedient; men's opinions do not.
IV. THAT IT IS A SAD EVIL TO FORGET, UNDER PRESENT TRIAL, THE PAST MERCIFUL INTERPOSITIONS OF GOD. Had the Israelites remembered God's wonderful interpositions in their behalf, the recollection would have given their spirits a moral force, which would have enabled them to bear with magnanimity the greatest trials, and to brave with undaunted hearts the greatest perils, and the greatest opposition (Psalm 77:10, 11; Psalm 27:9; 1 Samuel 17:37).
V. THAT A LIFE OF SERVILITY EATS OUT THE INDEPENDENCY OF HUMAN NATURE. These Israelites, after their long servitude in Egypt, had scarcely anything of the heart of a man left within them. The only thing that could resuscitate their expiring life, and wake up their manhood, was a system of trial to throw them upon their own resources.
British Weekly Pulpit.There are three good reasons why we should learn to mind this warning.
1. For our own comfort. Suppose you have a long walk to take every day, but you have a thorn in your foot or a stone in your shoe. Could you have any comfort? No; the first thing to do would be to rid yourself of thorn or stone. Till this was done you could not have the least comfort. But a feeling of discontent in our minds is just like that thorn or stone. It will take away all the comfort we might have, as we go on in the walk of our daily duties. A bishop was once asked the secret of the quiet contented spirit which he always had. He said, "My secret consists in the right use of my eyes. When I meet with any trial, I first of all look up to heaven; I remember that my chief business in life is to get there. Then I look down upon the earth, I think how small a space I shall need in it when I die; and then I look round and think how many people there are in the world who have more cause to be unhappy than I have. And so I learn the Bible lesson, 'Be content with such things as ye have.'"
2. For the comfort of others. A contented spirit is to a home what sunshine is to the trees and the flowers. John Wesley used to say, "I dare no more fret than curse or swear. To have persons around me, murmuring and fretting at everything that happens, is like tearing the flesh from my bones."
3. The third reason why we should mind this warning against discontent, is to please God. No trials can ever come upon us in this world without God's knowledge and consent. He is so wise that He never makes a mistake about our trials, and so we try to be patient and contented, because we know that this will be pleasing to God.
(British Weekly Pulpit.)
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
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