As we go through this horrible season in Israel, where there is so much injustice and heartbreak, I often feel helpless. Most days, I go outside, near the Mediterranean Sea, to pray. I feel like one of those seashells against the vast expanse of the sea. How can my prayer make a difference?
The fact is that your prayer alone can make a difference—a dramatic and powerful difference.
Let’s go to the book of Exodus. Moses has given the people of Israel the 10 Commandments. God has initiated a wedding ceremony with them in chapter 19. He tells him that Israel will be my “treasured possession among all peoples” (v. 5), his covenant people if they will obey him. It’s quite dramatic, with thunder, smoke, lightning, fire, and the sound of a shofar.
Moses is then invited onto the mountain to be with God for 40 days. Towards the end of this time, the people grow restless. Mind you, the cloud by day and the fire by night are still visible. But they come against Aaron—“And the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Get up, make for us gods…as for this man Moses…we don’t what happened to him.”
Aaron makes a golden calf and tells them that these are their gods. He calls for a feast the next day to Yahweh. It is interesting that in verse 4, he refers to them plurally as gods but then says that the feast is to the god of Israel, Yahweh. It appears that they were not forsaking Yahweh, but they were demanding that Yahweh allow them to worship in the way of pagans through idolatry.
The next day, they entered into pagan idolatry and, most likely, sexual immorality. The second commandment warns against idolatry because:
1. The one true God cannot be represented by gold or wood. It is an insult to his majesty. Every other known religion had gods that they could see untouched through idols, but the one true God was different. “Yahweh insisted on being believed in rather than being seen. It was so much easier to believe in something that could actually be seen. The Israelites were powerfully attracted to the latter option.”
2. Idolatry always leads to immorality. "The link between idolatry and sexual immorality is established by the frequent use of 'prostituting themselves' or 'adultery' to describe Hebrew idolatry [in the Old Testament]. Israel's unfaithfulness to God was not only a form of spiritual prostitution or adultery, but it also led to the physical acts themselves."
3. Idolatry avoids relationships. Tim Keller writes:
“At the most basic level, idols are what we make out of the evidence for God within ourselves and in the world—if we do not want to face the face of God Himself in His majesty and holiness. Rather than look to the Creator and have to deal with His lordship, we orient our lives toward the creation, where we can be more free to control and shape our lives in our desired directions.”
By relating to an idol instead of a person, we avoid conviction.
Now, let’s get to the main point. When God tells Moses what is happening, he also tells him that his anger is burning against the Israelites and he’s going to destroy them all. He will start over with Moses.
We have to appreciate God’s anger here. He is married to this person. He rescued them from slavery and made a covenant with them. Some see this event as still during the wedding ceremony between God and his people. Sarah Hogan writes:
“The main components of ancient Jewish weddings, some of which are still upheld today, included events and items such the bride’s consecration, the blowing of the shofar (horn), the chuppah (tent-like covering), the ketubah (wedding covenant), and the exchange of wedding gifts. All these things occur in the book of Exodus: like a bride, Israel is consecrated before the ceremony (19:10-11), the cloud covering descends upon the mountain (19:18), the horn is blown to announce the beginning of the ceremony (19:19), the ten commandments defining the relationship are delineated (20:1-17), and the Torah is given as the dowry.”
Marty Solomon describes it as the bride cheating on her husband at the wedding. No wonder God wanted to destroy them.
But whenever we see God speak of destroying people, he is looking for someone to talk him out of it. Justice demands punishment, but as intercessors, we appeal to his mercy. Moses’ response is one of the most powerful pieces of Scripture in the entire Bible. This passage starts with, “Moses implored the Lord his God (Elohav).” As far as I can tell, this is the first time that the suffix pronoun his is used to refer to Moses and God. It shows that their relationship has deepened.
“O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people (Ex 32:11–14).
This is not dissimilar to what we see when God confided in Abraham that he was going to destroy Sodom. The reason God shares information with both Abraham and Moses is not because he needs someone to talk him out of it but because he needs an intercessor to appeal to his mercy. Abraham’s words, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) are an appeal to the mercy of God.
Conversely, when people want to call down fire from heaven, they are rebuked. James and John, but Jesus might want to kill those who rejected him. Jonah is sullen that God has mercy on Nineveh.
God is always looking for us on earth to appeal to his mercy. Remember God’s words through Ezekiel:
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Eze 22:30–31).
The principle here is that God has a duty to bring justice, but if somebody intercedes and stands in the gap, he may relent. In the cases of Moses and the Golden Calf and Abraham and Sodom, God responded to the prayers of one person. That is how powerful prayer is. Through Abraham, if God had been able to find ten righteous people in Sodom, he could’ve saved the whole city. Moses, through his prayer, saved roughly 2,000,000 Jewish people.
Jeremiah is a prototypical Old Testament prophet. He doesn’t just prophesy; he identifies with the pain of his people. While his prayer is in the first person, scholars believe he is repenting on behalf of the people and appealing to God for mercy when he says, “Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in your anger, or you will reduce me to nothing” (Je 10:24). The prophet knows that God has already determined destruction for his chosen nation. Jeremiah appeals to him not to go so far. And we know later on in the book that God says he will not utterly destroy Israel but eventually will restore her: “After I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country (Je 12:15).
But again, it’s very important that we understand the character of God. He wants to show mercy. When he shares his plans of destruction with human beings, it is specifically so they will intercede and stand in the gap, appealing to his mercy. He wants to show mercy.
Today, we also are sharing the third video in our series on my recent visit to Kibbutz Zikim.
On October 7, thousands of terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel by land, air, and sea. Today, we get a closer look at where the beach invasion occurred. Israelis were just out for an early morning run at the beach, or getting some fishing in, when the beautiful Shabbat morning was shattered by violence.
Watch this short video where I talk with an Israeli soldier who recaps the events of that morning near Kibbutz Zikim.
Thank you for being a friend to Israel and standing with us in our time of need. Please continue to pray for the release of the hostages being held in Gaza, for Hamas to be stopped, and for the war to end. Above all, pray for hearts to be opened to the love of Yeshua and lives to be changed. He is our true Prince of Shalom!
 Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life
 Sarah Hogan, “The Desert Honeymoon,” Modern Reformation, January 28, 2022, https://www.modernreformation.org/resources/articles/the-desert-honeymoon