This is the final post of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We’ll look at two prayers from two spiritual giants: (1) Daniel and (2) Moses.
Other Case Studies
“Those who pray in the Scriptures regularly pray in line with what God has already disclosed he is going to do” (139).
Daniel knew about God’s promised word to Jeremiah (Dan 9.2) that at the end of the seventy year exile the Jews would travel back to their homeland. God is not a machine, but is personal. Daniel “appeals to God to preserve the integrity of his own name, the sanctity of his own covenant, his reputation for mercy and forgiveness.
And the exile ends” (140).
Moses is receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel are committing heinous idolatry. The people have declared their loyalty to Yahweh, the One who rescued them from abject slavery, but in a moment’s notice they turn their backs and worship a golden calf. God is furious and threatens to destroy them (Exod. 32:9–10).
But Moses intercedes for Israel, “appealing to God both as the Sovereign and as the supreme personal Deity” (140). While they have sinned and God could destroy them, the Egyptians would mock God, saying he couldn’t even save his own people. Or, perhaps worse, he led them out in order to destroy them.
Moses reminds God of his promises to the forefathers, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’” (32.12).
Moses isn’t thinking fatalism here (“simply trust the promises of God and everything will work out”). Moses turns to intercession: “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (32:12).
“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (32:14).
Many say, “See? God does change his mind. His purposes are not sovereign and steadfast. Prayer does change things because it changes the mind of God” (141).
But perhaps we should look at a few more prayers.
Amos and the False Prophets in Ezekiel
In the book of Amos, God threatens judgment against Israel. Amos, hearing about it, passionately intercedes on their behalf: “I cried out, ‘Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’ ” (Amos 7:2). “Amos’s prayer proves effective. Twice we are told, ‘So the Lord relented’ (7:3, 6)” (141).
On the other end, “God berates the false prophets of Israel precisely because they do not intercede for the people” (Ezek. 13:5, p. 141).
What Doth This Meaneth?
“God expects to be pleaded with; he expects godly believers to intercede with him. Their intercession is his own appointed means for bringing about his relenting, and if they fail in this respect, then he does not relent and his wrath is poured out” (142).
What happened with Moses? “Moses is effective in prayer not in the sense that God would have broken his covenant promises to the patriarchs, nor in the sense that God temporarily lost his self-control until Moses managed to bring God back to his senses. Rather, in God’s mercy Moses proved to be God’s own appointed means, through intercessory prayer, for bringing about the relenting that was nothing other than a gracious confirmation of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (142).
Is this kind of praying left only to Moses, Daniel, Amos, and Paul? No. James says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit“ (James 5.17-18).
It’s not that these men (and women) were so special and so gifted and so “holy” that God gave extra ear to them. It’s that they sought out the purposes of God, who God is, what his character is, and they trusted in Him. They prayed believing that God was listening. This does not mean God is a genie and all of our prayers will be answered (not all of Paul’s were). But we do serve a personal God who listens to us, who condescends to us in the form of a human being. Jesus taught us how to pray that we might sit around and parse the details of Greek? No. Though that is a good thing to do in your studies (if you know Greek, Jesus taught us to pray so that we could pray!
God’s character is profoundly mysterious to us. He has revealed himself to us, yet he is infinite and we are not. The more we study his word, the more we will learn how to pray, what to pray for, why we should pray, and how we should ask. We will learn more about our Father and hopefully will be drawn to speak with him as he has spoken to us first. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4.19).
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.9-10, 13, 18).