Praying for the Good of Others

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Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Note Acts 1:14 demonstrates that it is important to pray together and be praying for the same things, in the same way. That is to be of one accord, or in agreement.

Read Acts 12:1-18 This is the story of Peter’s rescue by the angel of the Lord from prison.  A good illustration of the power of group prayer in one accord.  This is an amazing story.  Peter is rescued, and then he goes to the door of the house of his fellow Christians and the woman is so shocked and happy that she doesn’t even open  the door!  She leaves him standing there so that she can go and tell everyone else who had been praying for him! They actually suggest it is his ghost! You can just see this in your minds eye, can’t you?!

This group of people were praying for him and God answer their prayer promptly…so promptly that they could hardly believe it.  Peter went to let them know he was safe and make sure they passed the information on to others, but then he left.  We go a bit further down and see that Herod was very unhappy about this situation and was probably looking for Peter.  He really wanted to execute him.

You can contrast this story to the one of Paul and Silas being in prison and having an earthquake hit.  (Acts 16:16-40) They didn’t leave, but Peter actually thought he was having a dream, but was in fact being rescued by an angel.  Similar situations, but God handled them differently.  In the case of Paul, he and his companion were there to facilitate the salvation of the Jailer and his family, and their fellow prisoners.  Also they were not being held by King Herod and not under threat of death, God did not have to effect a miraculous rescue for them.  Now that jailer was going to kill himself if Paul and Silas and the other prisoners had escaped, but it wasn’t necessary. The Roman penalty for a jailer who let their prisoners escape was that they had to suffer the harshest penalty of the prisoners they were holding…for ex. if someone in their group of prisoners was sentenced to death, then they would be taking the place of that person if the prisoner escaped.

Peter’s death was eminent if he had not been rescued by the angel.  God was not done with Peter, and there were a lot of people praying for Peter’s well being.  In Paul’s case his and Silas’ arrest was less serious, and Paul had a way out because of his Roman citizenship (though it was not known at the time of the decision to release them).  Paul and Silas also went to visit someone before they left town…people who were probably concerned and praying for Paul and Silas also.

One thing you can bet on in both of these situations is that God knew what situation his people were in, and was keeping and eye on it.  Things went the way that God planned.  Peter escaped and went on about the Lord’s work, and Paul and Silas did the Lord’s work while in jail, and when they were released they also went on about the Lord’s work continuously….preaching the Kingdom is here to everyone they met!  The power of group prayer cannot be underrated.  Many times when we pray for someone we tend to pray in a very specific and limiting way.  Recently, it was brought to my attention through study in a group that we should actually be praying for God’s blessings to shower down into their life..that they have the fullness of all of God’s blessings!

If you think about it…having the fullness of all of God’s blessings is that they have the most “life” in their life…they would be in line with God’s plan for them, and would be a disciple of Christ who is busy making other disciples of Christ…that is what Peter and Paul and Silas and all of the other Disciples of the Lord did for the remainder of their lives….they preached the Kingdom and made Disciples who preached the Kingdom and made more Disciples…isn’t that the greatest blessing…to know that you have been an able participant in the Kingdom of Heaven and bringing others into the Kingdom also?

IMG_0089Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison

Acts Chapter 12:1-16 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

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Prayer for Healing

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Psalm 6:2 Be Merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; Oh Lord, Heal me for my bones are in agony.

Read Mark 9:14-29 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him.  What are you arguing with them about?  He asked.  A man in the crowd answered, teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.  He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.  I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.  Oh unbelieving generation, Jesus replied, how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.  So they brought him.  When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion.  He fell to the ground and rolled around foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked the boy’s father, How long has he been like this?  From childhood, he answered.  It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.  If you can? said Jesus.  Everything is possible for him who believes.  Immediately the boys father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, He rebuked the evil spirit.  You deaf and mute spirit, He said, I command you come out of him and never enter him again.  The spirit shrieked, convulsed him and came out.  The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, he’s dead.  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.  After Jesus had gone indoors, His disciples asked Him privately, why couldn’t we drive it out?   He replied, this kind can come out only by prayer.* 

*Some manuscripts say prayer and fasting – but it doesn’t appear that Jesus took time to fast before casting out this evil spirit…fasting would be a physical thing that we do ourselves and is not something that can enhance or add to the power of God.  It can help us to concentrate on God more, or to make us “feel” more sincere, but God actually knows how sincere we are already so we are inevitably really fasting for our own sake.  There are times when a person is inspired by the Holy Spirit to fast and pray and they should follow that leading in obedience to God. In that case it is the obedience which matters not the actual physical act of fasting. 

When Jesus is told that the Disciples could not drive out the evil spirit his response is that the generation is disbelieving and how long shall he stay with them.  This question is very serious and really needs some examination.  Is Jesus talking to the crowd?  or is he saying that his Disciples still lack belief?

If we look at Mark 6 there is an indication of the answer for us.  Mark 6 tells us about Jesus’ visit to his hometown.  As you can read, during that visit it says that due to the lack of faith in the town Jesus “could not” do any miracles there, except laying his hand on a few sick people and healing them.  So it seems that Jesus was actually talking more to the townspeople in Mark 9, than to his Disciples.  After all, if he were addressing his Disciples about their lack of faith, he would have spoken to them privately as he did in the end about why they couldn’t cast out the demon.    So what we learn from Mark 6  and Mark 9 is that what is required for the working of God is simply belief that God can and will work.  Please note that I am not saying that in every instance that we pray for the healing of a person that the healing will take place…sometimes the healing we wish for is not within God’s plans…sometimes there is a more important kind of healing that the person needs which is not always obvious to us.  Perhaps a healing of a different nature.

Mark 6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

So what kind of prayer would be required to cast out something like the demon in Mark 9?  Perhaps a prayer that God would bolster the faith of the people who are needing and looking for his intervention, but are not daring to believe in the possibility of God doing what they ask.  After all, the father of the boy recognized that Jesus was talking about him when he said that the generation was disbelieving…his response, “I do believe, help me to overcome my unbelief!”  So what did the father believe?  He believed that Jesus/God could and was able to help his son, but his unbelief was in whether Jesus/God would choose to help his son.  His unbelief was based on years of trying different things to help his son…it was based on experience.  Many times we are bound by our experience and that leads us to be in a state of unbelief.  A miracle is a miracle by virtue of it happening despite our experience that “such things don’t normally happen.”   Miracles are unbelievable incidents that is why they are greeted by such skepticism…our experience doesn’t want us to accept that this is possible…however, our spirit longs for the kind of childlike belief that it can.  The good news is that once we acknowledge that we have a problem with our ability to believe, then we can pray for “help with our unbelief” and God will bolster the little bit of belief that we have and help us to believe with our whole heart.  Then we start to see and know who God truly is in our lives…that is a true prayer of healing.

Prayer in Action

golden-wheat-field-1354390133xga2Samuel 24:24 No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing….

Read 2Samuel 24  and 1Chronicles 21 This is the story of David taking a Census of his men against God’s wishes and the penalty of doing so.  This chapter is a good story to demonstrate that when you pray, you must listen to God’s answer, and that sometimes, there is some action you must take for the answer to take place.  Note:  There is confusion in these two verses, but when you realize that in 2Samuel God is angry against Israel then you can see that what is described in 1Chronicles 21 as Satan inciting David to take a census and in 2Sam 24 as God inciting David to go and take a census is simply two ways of saying that God is sovereign and everything that happens is at his control/command…God does have control of Satan also and when God’s wrath burned against the people of Israel he used Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of his people.  David always had the option to not yield to temptation, which also would have lessened God’s wrath.  However he chose to go ahead and sin.  Then he had to pray to God for forgiveness to lessen God’s wrath.  God gave him a task to do to show his sincerity of repentance.  Let me be clear…the task is not what gained him the forgiveness…it was simply a demonstration of his sincerity and an obedience to God.  God does not “need” us to do anything, but does sometimes require us to do things…not for the sake of repentance (beyond accepting Christ), but for our own sake so that we can “feel” (for lack of a better word, though faith is a decision that you make, not a feeling that you have) that we have repented or that we have connected closely with God and rebuilt our faith in God.  Everything that God does or asks us to do has one goal….to bring us closer to him…to help us understand him better, and to bring others closer to him and to help them understand him better through us.  God does these things out of his extreme love for us.  After all, he is God why else would he bother with us, if he didn’t love us?!!

For example:  There is a story (not in the Bible) of a man who was living in a place where a flood was coming.  He was warned by the news, but he told his friends and neighbors who were packing up their cars to evacuate that he was going to wait for God to answer his prayer.  He was praying about it and that God would make everything all right.  After a while, the police came by and told him that he must evacuate that the water was rising quickly and he was losing time.  He assured the police that he was praying and that God would take care of the situation.  (I know that sometimes the police will force an evacuation…but this is an illustration.)   More time went by and the water had risen to the point where the man was having to go to his upstairs room.  Someone came by with a boat and offered to let him join them in the boat and get him safely away.  The man answered that he was waiting on the Lord that the Lord would rescue him as he had been praying about this situation.  The man in the boat left.  A couple hours later the man was forced to move up to his roof.  A helicopter came by, and dropped a rope for him, and told him to climb up.  The man repeated that he had been praying and was waiting on the Lord to answer him.  He refused to climb up.  You can probably guess the fate of the man, right?!!  He drowned.  Then he is standing in front of the Lord, and he asked, “Lord, I prayed to you and you did not answer me.  Why not?  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

The Lord responded to the man, “Son, my child…I did answer you, when you first prayed, I sent you the news that there was a need to leave because it was dangerous for you there.  Then when you did not leave, I sent you some police officers to make certain that you saw the authority in the order to leave.  You still did not listen.  So as things became more dangerous and perilous for you, I tried to rescue you once more in the form of a man with a boat, but you refused to get into the boat.  Finally, I sent some other rescuers with a helicopter and they practically begged you to cling to the ladder and be flown out of there.  Son, I made four attempts to show you my answer and provide for your safety, but you were so stubborn that you were only looking for the answer that you wanted.  You were not really looking for the answer I was providing.  I love you and it saddens me that you valued your home more than your life and more than your relationship with me.  That is why you perished.”

Sometimes, we just don’t recognize the answer that God is giving to us.  We are either too stubborn (in wanting our own way) to recognize it, or our prayer life and our relationship with God is taking a back seat to other “idols” in our life.  An idol can be anything in a person’s life which interferes with your relationship with God.  In the illustration above, the idol of the man’s life seems to be his home.

The illustration is an extreme example of someone who the Bible would describe as “stiff necked”.  Think for a minute about what it means to be stiff necked.  I have had a stiff neck at times, and it makes it really hard to look around.  A stiff necked person in spiritual terms is someone who refuses to turn back from their own agenda, and follow God.  There are many times that the people of Israel were called a “stiff necked people”.  Set in their own ways, and unable or unwilling to see the truth that God reveals for them.  Now a days we would call that person stubborn and unyielding.

Think about yourself…is there a time that you have been too stiff necked about what you wanted?  That you haven’t been able or willing to understand that God has answered your prayer perhaps because the prayer’s answer was not what you wanted it to be?  I know that I have had times in my life like that.  Then there may have been times when you take an action to make something turn out the way you wanted it…ask yourself..how did that turn out for you?  I know that for myself the answer would be that it usually didn’t turn out too well.  In the Bible it also didn’t turn out well when God promised something, and then told them to wait upon him….there are many examples of that…King Saul, Abraham and Sarah just to name a couple of examples.

Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In the case of Sarai/Sarah she came to regret her decision because it caused her to have trouble in her home and she suffered from jealousy and her slave, Hagar, started looking down upon Sarah.  Sarah tried to rush the God, instead of waiting on him.

This is in contrast to David, who was told to go and make an offering to God.  David had to buy the threshing floor where he was told to make the offering.  How great the temptation must have been to accept the place for free when it was offered.  However, David sets an example to us…if we are going to make an offering to God it should be something that belongs to us, or costs us in some way.

Sometimes we simply need to do something in order for a request to be fulfilled.  If you are looking for a new home, or a new job, and you pray for God to help you with that…you cannot expect the Lord to magically beam you to the new job or the new home, right?  You still have to go out and look for that new home or new job.  God will guide you to the place that will fulfill the desires of your heart.  He actually knows better than we do what the desires of our heart really are in life.

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The key thing about this verse is that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first….that way your desires will line up with the Lord’s wishes for your life and happiness.

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Forgiveness through Prayer

pexels-photo-290951 Samuel 7:3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, if you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign Gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.

1Samuel 7:3-10 Samuel told Israel to turn away from the false Gods, and humble themselves before the Lord and ask forgiveness from God and be obedient to God and that God would protect them from the Philistines.  The Philistines came after them, and the Israelites told Samuel to keep praying for God to save them.  Samuel not only continued to pray for them he also made an offering of a lamb.

God heard him, and caused the Philistines (who were the enemies of Israel) to be terrified by thunder and let the Israelites chase them off and kill them. Isn’t the idea of God scaring off your enemies by thundering at them kind of amazing?!! Since God created nature making a little convenient thunder is not a chore for him at all!  

Proverbs 9:10-12 (NIV – Bible Gateway website)

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Note:  The people of Israel were doing wrong and had a crisis which caused them to turn their attention back to God.  Think about occasions when people are far from God, and have a personal crisis in their life (or an emergency situation) which causes them to turn back towards God. 

Isaiah 55:6  Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. (NASB)

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When those crisis occasions come about in a person’s life it is awfully nice if your relationship with God is really close and in good standing.  It’s a case of, “Why wait for a crisis?”  to turn your focus back to God.  Also think about how important it is to be in good standing (meaning have a good close personal relationship or friendship) with God when talking to him through prayer. Think about how you feel about friends who are fair weather friends, and only are nice to you when they want something.  Do you feel like giving that person what they want?  How do you think God feels when we don’t give  him a thought unless we need something? 

Think about God’s overwhelming forgiveness in this story, and how they gained forgiveness through prayer and obedience to God’s command. To get the maximum impact in your prayer life, you must have a good relationship with God.  Just as you must have good relationships with your friends for them to be there for you in your time of need.

This does not mean that you will never have troubles, but that you will never be alone in your troubles.  If you are in close communication with God, then your troubles are easier to bear.

Psalms 119:67-68  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (NASB)

If there are 10 Righteous Men…

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Genesis 18:32 Then he said May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only 10 can be found there?

Read Genesis 18:20-33 God tells Abraham that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah that their sin is too great.  Abraham prays to God that he not destroy the city of Sodom if 10 righteous men could be found in either one of them.  God agreed, but could only find 1 righteous man, Lot, and so saved Lot and his family and still destroyed  the city.  So although  the city was destroyed, God listened to Abraham, and looked for righteous people first thereby saving Lot.  Without Abraham’s intercessory prayer, God may have destroyed the entire city.  Prayer affected the outcome for Lot.

There is a bunch of history between Abraham and Lot.   Lot is Abraham’s nephew by one of his deceased brothers.  When God told Abraham to pick up and move to a new country with his wife and family, Abraham took Lot along.  He and Lot ended up having to go their separate ways after a while because their family groups were too large and their flocks were too large.  This caused a bunch of fighting between their herdsmen.  Abraham was kind enough to let Lot choose which of the new land he wanted for himself.  Lot demonstrates a bit of his character to us by choosing the best and greenest land, and leaving the desert area for Abraham. Later his area is raided and he and his family members are kidnapped…Abraham goes to the rescue with a few hundred men and gets them back.

John 3:16-21  

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (NKJV -Biblegateway)

Now in this story we find that the town that Lot is living in (Sodom) is about to be destroyed by God.  God has found the town to be so filled with sin that he considers it irredeemable.  In our society there is a belief that everyone is going to be redeemed.  That is simply not true.  It is purely wishful thinking…however, it is good that we have that desire to see everyone redeemed.  God has the same desire, and wants us to have that desire also.  He wants us to love others to that point where we wish the best for them, and would like to help them achieve it.

2Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The promise that is spoken about in 2Peter 3:9  is the return of the Lord…he is not slow in returning because he wants us to suffer more, but because more can have time to make the decision to follow Jesus, and gain their salvation and restored relationship with God.  God leaves people here on earth who have already gained their salvation so that they can be instrumental through their knowledge of God, and through the way they live out their faith….in bringing others to the knowledge of salvation also.

Abraham always loved Lot and wanted him to be saved, but he also did not want the people of Sodom to be destroyed either…he was hoping that there would be enough people in the town of Sodom that Lot could continue to live his life there, and that God would not destroy the town.  That there were enough people still in Sodom that they could witness to those who were living in sin and thus help them to repent and return to God.  However, as we know from the Bible, Lot was the only person left in that town whom God considered to be righteous.  If you read more about Lot in the Old Testament you will find that he wasn’t really all that righteous…he had a knowledge of God, but not necessarily a very strong character.  He tried to be obedient to God, but he didn’t seem to cling to him the way he should.  It is a good thing that Abraham was around to look out for his nephew, and to pray to God for him.  God wants us to look out for others, especially for other Christians who may be new to the faith, or weaker spiritually.  We are to lift them up in prayer and bolster their faith as much as we can.

Notice that God never got mad at Abraham for how he questioned him repeatedly about his actions.  God does not get mad at us either for wondering about what his plan is and what he is doing.  God wants relationship with us, if we have a question about what God is wanting us to do, or what is happening or why…we should feel free to pray and ask God to help us to resolve these questions, and to have a closer understanding of him and his plan.  God is gracious and loving and understands us more than we understand ourselves.  Use prayer to relate to him and he will give you answers and contentment about how he is doing things.  When there isn’t prayer/communication..there isn’t understanding either.  So pray and ask God what is going on and how to proceed whenever you are in doubt…it will definitely build your faith up…beyond your dreams!

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Moses Intercedes with God

IMG_0579Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Read Exodus chapter 32:  The Israelites made a Golden Calf, and God was going to destroy them in his anger, then Moses prayed an intercessory prayer to God that he not destroy them that the world would then think that the only reason God brought the Israelites out of Egypt was to destroy them.  God listened to Moses and changed his mind about destroying the Israelites.  In this story God was angry and Moses prayed on behalf of his people that God’s anger would be calmed and that God would not be so angry.  

When I look at God’s righteous anger over the idolatry of his chosen people it tells me that God has a limit to his patience.  Here we have God who has taken this group of people out of slavery, using Moses as their leader.  Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God and because he is gone a while these people get all worried that he has abandoned them, or God has killed Moses, or something.  So they decide that they cannot worship what they cannot see, and demand that Aaron make them a new god.  This same Aaron, who was Mose’s brother and the spokesperson whom God gave to Mose’s because of his stumbling tongue, or other difficulty with words.  This Aaron who should have been large and in charge and reassuring the people tells them to get him their gold and then proceeds to give the people what they wanted…a Golden Calf to worship.

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When Moses gets back down the mountain, and finds all of Israel worshipping this Golden Calf, he asks Aaron what happened.  Aaron’s response is to deny his own responsibility!  This is a typical response we find in our own society today….”it’s not my fault…they/he/she did/wanted/said…therefore…it’s their fault that this (fill in the blank) bad thing happened!”  Most of us want to throw up our hands whenever we encounter this response from a person when we are trying to find out what happened…or how a situation came about.  It is most frustrating, isn’t it!  We should ask ourselves…why is it like this?  Well, in the case of the Israelites they had been slaves…so they were living in fear for their lives at all times.  If they did something wrong and they were at fault the circumstances could be dire either beating or death, or both.  They were not used to being allowed to take responsibility and it not end very badly.  They were literally, as far as life went, and as far as following God went…children in their level of maturity.

That being said, in God’s eyes what they had done would be the equivalent of a child running out into the road, or sticking their hand into a fire!  This situation of idol worship was not something to take lightly, it was not just a life threatening problem….it was a soul threatening problem.  God had chosen these people to teach them about who he was in order that they would worship him and only him, so that they could show the world who God truly was…that God was a loving and caring God who was worthy of worship; but also that God was a jealous God who did not allow for the worship of any other Gods besides him!

Moses had just received these rules and before he could even deliver them to the children of Israel they had already broken the first and second rules!  No wonder he threw them to the ground and broke them, they were already broken! How frustrating that these people who supposedly had Mose’s right hand man there to keep them straight couldn’t hang out and wait patiently  until Moses returned without getting into trouble.  They were led out of Egypt, but they had not really left emotionally, as the calf was one of the gods of the Egyptian people.  They were sticking with what they knew.

How many of us do that all the time…we give up a bad habit, because to do so sounds like a good idea, but then the first time we have an idle moment we fall right back into that same habit.  In my case, I have a sweet tooth, and so I decide to diet, then immediately am confronted with someone flashing a sweet in front of me, and it is “abandon all hope” of not eating it!  lol!  I do love sweets!  It takes a lot of effort to turn it down.  We all have weaknesses like this.

So we look back at Moses who grew up around these people and he knew what they were doing, but he had a bad temper and had frustration from the situation.  God tells Moses that he is just going to destroy these people as they are hopeless, and stiff necked…essentially that they cannot be taught.  God says, “Hey! Moses!  I think I will destroy them and just start over again with you…I will just use your offspring to make a great nation instead of this group!”

This might have been pretty tempting to Moses.  Don’t you think?  Maybe that was why God said it…to get Moses to take a look at himself and see if  Moses was really that fed up with the people he was leading…essentially with his own relatives!  Sometimes, when you are upset and someone says something really outrageous that is a bit further than you would ever really go with your thoughts, that can snap you right back to your senses, can’t it?!!!  I think this is what happened to Moses….Moses was upset and tossed the first set of the ten commandments tablets to the ground and God jumped in there and went right along with Mose’s thoughts and said that he was fed up himself, and that they were stiff necked and unteachable and he would just wipe them all out and start over with Moses!  How shocking…so Moses then says, “Oh, No!  You can’t do that, God!  If you do that, then the whole world will believe that you led these people out of Egypt just to kill them in the desert!  What would that say about you?  Is that the kind of God you want to be known as?  The whole world will believe that you brought them out for an evil purpose.”

Another way to look at this is that Moses was telling God that the world would be thinking that he was a God of evil and not good!  I find it wonderful how Moses was immediately looking out for God’s best interests rather than his own!  This really tells us a lot about Moses’ character, doesn’t it?!!

Now Moses, standing in front of the people tells them that whoever among them is for the Lord to come and stand next to him.  All of them, but 3000 did so, and then Moses ordered that those who had come back to the Lord kill the group who were not willing to turn away from their sin.  We are told that the penalty of sin is death…that is still true today…those who do not turn away from sin and turn toward the Lord suffer the penalty of death, and those who turn to the Lord gain everlasting life.  It is just that in Mose’s time this group suffered from a painful lesson about how real the God who led them out of Egypt was and how immediate the penalty of turning away from him.  There was no “king in the land” no “parliament” no “congress”…judgement and justice were swift and final.  Moses was their leader and he was trying to get God’s anger to subside…so that only the unrepentant were slain.

When Moses approached God again after this slaying of 3000 of his brethren, his words to God were, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

Moses was saying that if after all of this that his brethren who were guilty were forced to slay those who were also guilty, but who were unrepentant, if after all of this, then if God would not forgive them, then to just take Moses name out of the book of life also!  Moses was saying to just blame him because he had not led them well enough.   Moses, who was with God the whole time and hadn’t done anything wrong, was telling God to just put the blame on him too!

This was Mose’s powerful intercessory prayer with God for his people….Moses is a type of savior, to his people.  He offered himself in intercessory prayer to God in the place of his people.  Interestingly, on the day that God handed the Law down to Moses 3000 people were killed, and on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent to live in the hearts of God’s people 3000 people were saved!

God did not kill the entire group, but said that whoever sinned against him would be blotted out of his book, and when the time comes to punish he would punish for sin.

Now, this could be taken that God was telling Moses that his method was wrong because although in Exodus 22:20 Moses had already heard the penalty of idol worship…the people of Israel had not.  After all, Moses still had a lot to learn about God’s character himself, even if he was their chosen leader.   God sent a plague on them, but it doesn’t say that any of them died from that plague.

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Sometimes a plague may just make people miserable…you know plagues of locust, plagues of boils, etc.  About 45 min. or so North of us there was the outbreak of the 17 year locust….now many of those people would call that a plague.  One of my cousins was very plagued by them, they were on her car, on and in her house…they were every where…they were a pain, but no one died from them!

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Due to Mose’s intercessory prayer and willingness to lay himself out before God on their behalf, God was willing to forgive.  It tells us that God relented…God changed his mind.  You could say that God decided to go with his original plan and being a God who comes through on his promises…he continued to follow through with the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to make them a great nation.  We learn so much from this story of Mose’s and the Golden Calf….God is gracious to show us our own faults and to help us to recognize who he is, and to be swayed by our prayers for others….but there are also God given penalties for unrepentant people and those God given penalties will not be avoided without repentance.

There are also man made penalties for breaking the law of the land, which are separate from God given penalties. Ex. If someone steals money from another person, and asks God with a repentant heart for forgiveness God would forgive them. The same person  usually cannot avoid the legal penalty for their earthly crime against society.