“Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.’ So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.”—Exodus 32:31–35 (NKJV)
The Israelites had just committed a serious sin by turning from the Lord to worship a golden idol. Their sin requires a swift response, so Moses calls an army of those who will stand for righteousness and around three thousand idol worshippers are slain. But Moses knows things remain unsettled between God and His people, so he assumes the role of an intercessor for them.
An “intercessor” is someone who advocates or speaks out on behalf of another in need. In Scripture, intercessors include Abraham, Hannah, Ruth, Samuel, David, Abigail, Isaiah, Daniel, Job, Paul, and Jesus Himself. In this passage, Moses joins these ranks and there’s much in his prayer that we can learn from as we aspire to grow as intercessors ourselves.
For starters, we see Moses “returned to the Lord.” It might seem obvious, but effective intercession doesn’t happen unless a person is close to the Lord. That is, they have made it a true priority to be near Him and order their lives in a way that He’s familiar to them. Their lives aren’t cluttered with a lot of things that would make it difficult to approach His presence.
Next, we notice that Moses has an honest attitude. He didn’t excuse or sugar coat Israel’s actions. He calls it out as “a great sin” and even goes into specific detail about their sin, that they had made “a god of gold!” Intercessors don’t pretend. They see things as they truly are and they don’t turn a blind eye to how bad things are. The act of intercession needs a firm grasp of the actual problem that it’s speaking out for. It’s always honest.
Yet intercession also has a firm grasp on God’s character, as evidenced by Moses asking for their forgiveness. Moses had come to know who the Lord was and had developed a trust in His nature to reconcile and forgive. This understanding of who God is gives the act of intercession its dynamic power, because it appeals to His infinite compassion, goodness, and wisdom. Intercession is what it is because God is who He is. Regardless of outcome, we intercede trusting in what is most trustworthy.
Finally, we find Moses fully identified with those he was interceding for. By saying, “blot me out of Your book,” he was expressing the willingness to suffer as one of them. Moses didn’t stand on the sideline and distance himself from everyone else. He stepped into the boat they were in. That’s true empathy, and an intercessor’s heart will always seek to identify themselves with rather than distance themselves from those in need.
Notice God’s response is that while there would be a degree of consequence, it would not invalidate His greater purpose for His people . . . the Exodus adventure will continue! But before moving on, may we remember that intercession is effective when we commit to a closeness with the Lord, have an honest attitude, understand His character, and seek to identify with those we’re interceding for.
Pause: What four “takeaways” can we take away from Moses’ intercessory prayer here?
Practice: Determine ways you can integrate these elements into your own intercessions for others.
Pray: Lord, may I grow in my passion for and effectiveness in the ministry of interceding for others. May my prayers reflect Christ’s prayers more and more. Amen.