Ten Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 5: The Plague of Frogs

Exodus 7.25–8.15

Why the frogs?

Frogs were considered gods and goddesses.

The goddess Heqt was a frog. The frog was one of many sacred animals. The image of a frog was often found on amulets and statues. The Egyptian’s worship of the frogs was so profound that if a person involuntarily slaughtered a frog, he was often punished with death. [Read more…]

Ten Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 4: The Plague on the Nile River

Exodus 7:14-24

The precision of the prediction was designed to convince Pharaoh (Ex 7.17-18)

  • it will be changed into blood
  • the fish will die
  • the river will stink
  • the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water

[Read more…]

Ten Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 3: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

Sinful human nature can be powerfully deluding. You may have met, or know of a person, who stubbornly refuses to do what is right. He arrogantly pursues his own interests to the detriment of others including himself. Maybe you have persistently counseled your friend to obey God’s commands only to find her reject your counsel and make a complete mess of her life. [Read more…]

Ten Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 2: The Eleven Signs of God’s Sovereignty

(including the ten plagues)

Introduction: The ten plagues. That is how we know and refer to this section of the Bible. However, let’s not forget how the Bible presents the story.

The story begins with a contrast between the Israelites and the Egyptians. [Read more…]

Ten Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 1: God Foil’s Man’s Wisdom

How God used dedicated, common men to frustrate the wisest of the wise in Exodus 6.28–7.13

GOD often frustrates the “wisdom” of natural man (Isa 29.14; cf. 1Co 1.19). When man seeks to glorify himself, God may frustrate his “wisdom.” Recently I received an e-mail illustrating God’s sometimes canny frustrating work: [Read more…]

Prayer Lesson 12: Prayer of Jabez

9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4.9–10

God shares His glory with no one else. He is in the business of carrying out His desires and making complete successes of His own plans. The book of Chronicles is a book of success, God’s success. To illustrate God’s successes, the writer identified the people of God (hence all the names), the kind of relationship God had with His people, and what God did for them.[1]  It was God’s kingdom, God’s people, and God’s plan, after all, and therefore its eventual success was a foregone conclusion.[2]

The book of 1 Chronicles shows the successful results of the covenant God had made with David. God gave David the following promises and successfully fulfilled them:

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock, to be ruler over my people Israel. 8 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men of the earth. 9 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 10 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies. (1Ch 17.7–10)

In the middle of the genealogy, the chronicler includes the prayer of Jabez. Why does he include this prayer in the middle of a genealogy with little comment? It seems that the writer is highlighting one of God’s successes:

The prayer of Jabez highlights God’s success in providing for His people.

God is successful in overcoming the evil effects on His people

Jabez was surrounded by and suffered sin’s evil effects

The writer uses a play-on-words with Jabez’s name. He was named “Jabez” because he was born in pain. The writer continues to say that the circumstances surrounding Jabez were painful.

We have no commentary on what is causing his pain. The Hebrew word for “harm” may be translated “harm” meaning that Jabez wanted protection from physical harm. Also, the Hebrew word for “harm” may be translated “evil” suggesting that Jabez wanted protection from some sinful effects.

Whether Jabez wanted protection from physical harm or sinful effects, the point is the same. Sin brought harm into Jabez’s world and he trusted God to overcome sin’s evil effects.

Jabez, though surrounded by sin’s evil effects, remained honorable

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.

When we approach passages like this one, we are quickly intrigued by questions like: “What did Jabez suffer?” “What ‘harm’ was he facing?” The writer of 1 Chronicles does not pacify our curiosity. Instead, he focuses on the character of Jabez.

Jabez was “more honorable.” When a person was considered “honorable” in the ot sense, he was honorable in the religious sense. Our nt way of saying the same thing is “Jabez was more ‘godly’ than his brothers.”

Our western eyes quickly skip over this accolade. The culture of which we are a part would possibly commemorate a man for academic, political, sporting or media achievement, hardly for being honorable. In Semitic cultures, however, honor is carefully celebrated.[3]

No matter what life brings our way, we can make this our pursuit. God is knowable and able to be imitated (even in the smallest degree). Therefore, we ought to make godliness our pursuit.

God is successful in answering the prayers of His people

10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

The key to understanding this small prayer comes from the greater context. The writer of 1 Chronicles is paving the way for people to glorify God because of His successes. God made a covenant with David and the people of Israel that they would have a place of their own:

9 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 10 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. (1Ch 17.9–10)

Jabez simply wanted God to have success in His plan. It was God’s plan that the Israelites have land. The “territory” that Jabez sought for was land that God set aside for the tribes of Israel. The land belonged to God. He had the right to divide it and rule. Therefore, Jabez’s request was not self-serving, but was in agreement with God’s plan for Israelites like himself.

When you pray to God, do so with His purposes ultimately in view.

14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him. (1Jn 5.14–15)

Conclusion

Unlike Jabez, we do not have Israel’s promises. God promised Israel success in their campaigns, land ownership, and material wealth (among other things). This passage does not apply to us in the same manner. However, it does apply in at least the following ways:

  • God expects us to pray in accordance with His desires: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1Jn 5.14)
  • When we pray in accordance with His desires, our desires will also be met. 15 And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him. (1Jn 5.15)
  • The bulk of our blessings are reserved for eternity: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2.6–7)


[1] Eugene Merrill, “A Theology of Chronicles,” in Biblical Theology of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1991) 158.

[2] Ibid, 185.

[3]World Evangelical Fellowship. Theological Commission, vol. 20, Evangelical Review of Theology : Volume 20, “A Digest of Articles and Book Reviews Selected from Publications Worldwide for an International Readership, Interpreting the Christian Faith for Contemporary Living.”, electronic ed., Logos Library System;Evangelical Review of Theology (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Periodicals, 2000, 1996).

Prayer Lesson 11: Prayer of Moses

At that time I pleaded with the LORD: “O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan – that fine hill country and Lebanon.” But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. 28But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor. Deuteronomy 3.23–27

The overall theme of Deuteronomy is Israel taking possession of the Land of Canaan. When a Hebrew writer wanted to outline the topic of his writing, he would either state the purpose clearly or use a form of writing called an inclusio.[1] I prefer to call this an envelope. The writer will use a word or phrase at the beginning and end of his writing. In this book, Moses uses the word (???,) “see!” at the beginning and the end of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 1.8
See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

Deuteronomy 32.49
“Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession.

This passage is Moses’ prayer to enter the Promised Land. God had already told Moses that he would not enter the Promised Land. Until now, nothing has been recorded regarding Moses’ reaction. Now, we find Moses’ reaction to the Lord’s proclamation of punishment.

The reason Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land is two-fold:

  • Moses, personally, disobeyed the Lord’s command. He struck the rock instead of speaking to it:

51 … because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” (Dt 32.48–52)

He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Nu 20.10–12)

  • Moses did not provide a godly model of leadership. Thus, he was responsible for the rebelliousness of the nation at Kadesh-barnea.

29 Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

34 When the LORD heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 “Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.”

37 Because of you the LORD became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either.

As we saw in previous weeks, when the answer to our prayers is “no”:

  • It may be because of sin
  • Some prayers may be answered in a superior way
  • Some prayers may be delayed for God’s reasons
  • Sometimes the substance of the prayer is granted but not in the same manner it was asked
  • Sometimes unanswered prayer is a mystery

It seems that at least a couple of these principles fit this passage. We will see that…

… even when God says “no,” we can be assured He is good and gracious

Moses recognized that any good comes from God’s hands alone

23 At that time I pleaded with the LORD: 24 “O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? 25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

This is a great confession of Moses that God will do as He will do. Further, when He does as He wills, He does for His benefit including ours. We see that Moses recognized God’s sovereignty in prayer.

Only in this passage and Dt 9.6 (another passage on prayer), does Moses use the title Lord YHWH. Only in other important passages is this title used:

  • Abraham used this title regarding the covenant
  • Joshua used this title when he prayed to God during a desperate point in a battle.

The manner by which Moses framed his prayer indicates a dependence on the sovereign Lord. Moses said, “I pleaded.” This comes from the Hebrew word which means to be gracious. The particular form of this word in the Hebrew reverses the subject. In this case[2], Moses says, God be gracious to me. He knows that goodness can only come from God and no other.

Moses recognized that his own sinfulness contributed to the “no” answer

26 But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.

While we may be critical of Moses’ failure to lead the nation in a godly fashion, we ought to remember that Moses wrote this book for all to read. In this passage, Moses does not mince words when he expresses the answer he received from the Lord.

Moses writes “the LORD was angry.” The modern translations [nasb, nasb95, niv, kjv (wroth)] all translate this word as “angry.” Why the strong language? Why would God be angry instead of having a more congenial tone? Understanding the language used and the culture in which Moses addresses God, it is easier to see.

Moses uses vassal language. The obedient Israelites considered themselves vassals. A vassal is a servant who is indebted to his master. Conquering kings considered the enemy captives his vassals. It was inconceivable that a captor would speak out of turn in front of the king.

Using the language of a vassal, Moses recognizes that his prayer “stepped over the lines.” How then did Moses cross the line?

  • Perhaps it was an obnoxious prayer. The fact that the Lord said do not speak to me anymore clearly notes that this was a persistent, if not overly persistent prayer. One commentator notes that Moses “continually pound[ed] the gates of heaven in order for God to relent.”[3]
  • Perhaps Moses had lost an important perspective. Moses elevated the promise of entering the land above the Promise-maker himself.

It may be that both are in view. The point is that Moses recorded his obnoxious prayer, with God’s response, for all to see. As a vassal, Moses should have recognized his relationship to God and been more subservient.

Moses recognized that God was gracious in spite of rejecting his prayer

Sometimes God does not answer our prayers in the same manner as we expected. It seems to me that God graciously answered Moses’ prayer in a superior way:

God granted Moses the opportunity to see (experience) the Promised Land

27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.

Moses was allowed to see the Promised Land from a distance. The mountain, Pisgah (modern name Ras es-Siyaghah) is ten miles east of the Jordan River. From its elevation, one can see all of Canaan from Hermon in the north to Beersheba in the South all the way west to the Mediterranean.

 

view-israel-moses

God granted Moses the privilege of preparing God’s people to enter the Promised Land

28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” 29 So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor.

God gave Moses the charge to train, commission, and prepare a great leader – Joshua. As you know, Joshua enjoyed many victories in the Promised Land. The training he received from Moses enabled him to become a successful leader.

Perhaps the greatest privileges of leadership do not rest in the opportunities the leader enjoys, but the opportunities he allows others to enjoy.



[1] This is not to suggest that these are the only ways a Hebrew writer would make the point clear.

[2] Hithpalel of chanan.

[3] Louis Goldberg, “Deuteronomy,” Bible Study Commentary (Zondervan, 1986), 45.

Prayer Lesson 10: Old Testament Prayers

An Introduction

Before, when we considered the OT and NT terminology used for prayer, we saw that the OT has several different expressions and words for prayer. You will not find one generic word for prayer. Unlike the NT, which has one overall word for prayer, the OT believer used several words and concepts to speak of prayer. Why is this the case?

It seems that progressive revelation provides the answer. We know that the OT believer did not have the same amount of divine revelation as the NT believer. So, throughout the OT, the terminology for prayer begins with a very generic verb “to call” and later becomes a more specific noun “prayer” hL;piT]. The OT terminology related to prayer expand as divine revelation increased.

The conceptual OT term for prayer

The very first mention of a prayer is found in Genesis 4.26:

“… at that time men began to call on the name of the LORD”

The word “call” (ar`oq]li) simply means “to call out.” It should be noted that there is some question whether this is the first prayer mentioned. The word ar`oq]li may mean to “call out for help” or “to proclaim.” So, we must turn to the context to determine whether this “call” was a prayer to God for help or “a statement that men began to proclaim the Lord to others.”

This verse is in the context of the evil events when Cain murdered Abel. The narrator followed the lineage of Cain, showing that another savage was born in the Cainite family. Lamech, the great-great-great grandson of Cain murdered a man himself.

As the narrator concludes his description of the wicked Cainite lineage, he states that some good had developed. Adam and Eve bore another child, Seth. And Seth bore Enosh. And concludes with the statement “at that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.”

It seems then that the narrator contrasts the Cainite lineage with that of the Sethites. The Godless Cainite family relied on their own wickedness to cope in the world, but the Sethite family depended upon the Lord (YHWH). Therefore, the context suggests that the “calling out” is an expression of dependence upon the Lord, the background idea in prayer.

Other passages make it clear that “calling out” was an expression used for prayer:

Genesis 12:8 From there he (Abram) went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

1 Kings 18:24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

The specialized OT term for prayer

As man understood more of his relationship to God via divine revelation, so the concept of praying became a noun – pray. This is essentially the only OT word for “prayer.” It’s verb form means, “to intercede.”

The various OT terms for prayer

Hebrew Word
(w/ phonetic pronounciation)

Translation

Palal pray, prayer, make intercession
Tephillah pray, prayer
Chanan beseech, prayer, prayer, make supplication
Athar Pray, prayer
Paga Pray, prayer, make intercession
Siach Pray, prayer
Darash Seek the face of God
Chalah Pray, prayer, beseech, entreat
Qara Call to the Lord
Baqash Seek the face of God
Shaal Ask, enquire

 

Prayer of Moses: Deuteronomy 3.23–29

23 At that time I pleaded with the LORD: 24 “O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? 25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

26 But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. 28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” 29 So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor.

 

Prayer of Jabez: 1 Chronicles 4.9–10

9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, s saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

 

Prayer of Solomon: 1 Kings 3.7–14

7 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

Prayer of Nebuchadnezzar: Daniel 4.34–37

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”

36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Prayer Lesson 9: What About Others Who Persisted in Prayer?

Last time we investigated the topic of persisting in prayer without pestering God. We concluded that persisting in prayer is a very important aspect of the Christian life. Humanistic thinking people doe one of two things: 1) They pester God as if He is a cosmic bellhop; 2) They fail to persist in prayer.

This week, we are considering two passages which some use to teach about prevailing prayer.

What about the persistent widow? Luke 18.1–8[1]

When interpreting parables, keep two important things in mind: 1) determine the main point of the parable; 2) draw only valid comparisons.

This sometimes is easier said than done. In the parable of the unjust judge, one needs to be carefully that he does not find unnecessary (even blasphemous) parallels.

Notice the areas where Jesus intends us to see a parallel.

The characters involved.

The parable The interpretation
The Unjust Judge God
The Widow God’s people

 

This widow was helpless and had no place else to turn but this judge. God’s people are just as helpless (18.7).

This judge heard the pleas of this helpless widow. God hears the cries of His people (18.7).

Because this unjust judge heard the cries of this widow who meant nothing to him, how much more will God hear the cries of His chosen people? This is the point of the entire parable. This parable could correctly be called a “How much more parable.” The point is that if an unjust judge hears the cries of a woman he does not care about, how much more does God hear the cries of those He has chosen to be His children. That is exactly Jesus’ point in verses 6–7. We need to understand that this parable does not teach why God chooses to bless His children, but that He chooses to bless His children. In other words, this parable is not teaching that God blesses His children because they pester Him night and day with the same requests. This parable is teaching that since even a wicked judge will show kindness to someone he does not care for, God, who is by His very nature good and kind, will certainly show kindness to His children who lay their requests before Him.

Notice the areas where there is no parallel.

This judge was driven by arrogant selfishness. He cared about no one but himself (18.2,4). God, on the other hand, loves those who hate Him, and He demonstrates that love continually by showing kindness to every human being and by granting salvation to His elect.

This judge was unjust. It’s apparent from the parable that the widow’s plea is a just plea. She has legitimately been wronged, and this judge doesn’t care. God, however, is absolutely just and righteous in all His dealings. He is the very definition of righteousness.

This judge is influenced by inconvenience. The only reason he granted justice to this woman was because it served his best interests and kept her out of his hair. The sheer volume of someone’s prayers, however, does not influence God. In Matthew 6.7–8 Jesus states, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” What exactly is Jesus condemning when He condemns “vain repetitions”? He is not condemning lengthy prayer. Luke 6.12 mentions that Jesus prayed all night. He is also not condemning repetition during prayer. Matthew 26.36–45 records that in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed three times that the cup of death would pass from Him. What Jesus is condemning here is the kind of prayer that involves repetition for the sake of influence. It was common in Jesus’ day for Gentiles to pray the same prayers over and over thinking that repetition was the key to answered prayer. Jesus’ point is that babbling is not the way to the heart of God. Unlike the unjust judge, constant, nagging prayer has no influence over God. Luke 18.1–8 is not teaching that if a person nags God enough, God will give in and give him what he wants. Not only does Luke 18.1–8 not teach that, but also Jesus absolutely condemns that kind of attitude in Matthew 6.5–8. Commenting on prayer in his Institutes, John Calvin wrote, Christ does not “forbid us to persist in prayers, long, often or with much feeling, but requires that we should not be confident in our ability to wrest something from God by beating upon His ears with a garrulous [verbose] flow of talk, as if He could be persuaded as men are.”John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, III, xx, 29. Cited by C.S. Storms in Reaching God’s Ear, p. 273, note #7.

This woman’s petitions wearied this judge for justice. God, on the other hand, never tires of our genuine pleas for help. James 1.5 states, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” This woman meant nothing to this judge. He cared for neither God nor man, and he certainly didn’t care about her. Notice, however, that God cares a great deal for His people. In verse 7 Jesus calls God’s people “His own elect,” or in other words, “His chosen ones.”

The two main points of the Parable of the Unjust Judge

During times of discouragement God’s people should consistently pray (18.1). In order to understand this parable we need to understand the context in which it was given. In 17.20–37 Jesus spoke of the coming of the Kingdom of God. In verses 26–29 Jesus states that as in the days of Noah and Lot destruction will come out of nowhere while people are eating, drinking, marrying, and enjoying life. He goes on to say in verses 30–36 that when He comes to establish His kingdom He will take many away to judgment. In 18.1 Jesus continues His conversation with His disciples. In 18.1–8 Jesus shifts from a discussion of the coming Kingdom and its horrendous judgment, to the disciples and their need to be faithful as they await its coming. From Jesus words in 18:1 it is clear that the disciples were somewhat discouraged. They were tempted to “faint.” So Jesus commanded them to replace fainting with prayer. In verse 1 Jesus provides for us the main purpose of the parable. The parable is designed to encourage His disciples to always pray and not faint. So Jesus is basically saying this, “Do not faint. Always pray, because you know that if a wicked judge will listen to the pleas of a person he does not care for, surely God will listen to your cries because you are His chosen ones.” That is how the parable fits in with Jesus’ challenge in verse 1.

During times of discouragement God’s people should consistently pray because God hears their prayers and cares for them (18.6–8). Verse 1 introduces and to some point explains the parable of verses 2–5. Verses 6–8 further explain the parable. In Verses 6–8 Jesus answers the question we asked earlier, “Why are we to pray continually?” Here is the answer. We should continually pray because like this widow whom only the judge could help, so also only God can help us; and we should continually pray because unlike this judge, God is merciful and caring and longs to help His chosen people.[2]

In his book Reaching God’s Ear, Sam Storms has an excellent chapter entitled “Persisting in Prayer Without Pestering God.” After dealing extensively with this passage Storms gives six reasons why we should persist in prayer:

  • We should persist in prayer because God, unlike the judge, is good and gracious.
  • We should persist in prayer because such prayer will compel us to depend wholly upon God.
  • We should persist in prayer because such prayer puts us in that frame of mind and spirit in which we may properly receive what God desires to give.
  • We should persist in prayer because when we pray persistently about some specific matter, we are enabled to differentiate between impetuous, ill-conceived desires and sincere, deep-seated ones.
  • We should persist in prayer because persistence serves to purify the content of our petitions.
  • We should persist in prayer because being forced to pray persistently enables us, by God’s grace, to overcome impatience.

 

 

What about wrestling with God in prayer?[3] Genesis 32.22–32

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, a because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, b saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, c and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

This episode of Jacob and the Angel of the Lord is not really an example of the believer wrestling with God in order to get a blessing or to receive an answer to prayer.

Jacob had been out of fellowship with his God for over 20 years. He left home as an unsaved man in a context of lying and deceit (Ge 27) (he was probably saved at Bethel C Ge 28.10–22). He had left Laban 20 years later also in an atmosphere of deceit as a backslidden heir of the covenant (Ge 29.1C31.21). He was in flight when Laban caught up with him, and the two made a covenant not to defraud each other any more (Ge 31.49, 52).

 

On the banks of the Jabbok River the Angel wrestled with Jacob (not the other way around) all night, finally miraculously injuring Jacob to get his attention (Ge 32.24–25). Jacob may have thought the Angel was Esau or someone from Esau’s camp who was out to get Jacob. Jacob had to learn that his problem was not really with Esau but with God.

Jacob had been depending on his own craftiness for more than 20 years, culminating in the presents he gave Esau in order to make an unwarranted and false impression on his brother (Ge 32.13–21).

Jacob wanted to be blessed only after he finally realized that God was wrestling with him.

Conclusion

In this lesson we looked at two passages often used to support the false idea that we need to “wrestle with God” or “prevail with God” in prayer. As we have seen, the episode between Jacob and the angel of God does not teach anything about prayer. However, the parable of the Unjust Judge does teach us much about prayer. We learned that pestering God is not a biblically authorized way of reaching God’s ear.

Perseverance can often have the effect of clarifying and segregating in our minds deep-seated desire from fleeting whim. A petition persistently voiced over an elongated period of time is not likely to be a whim. It is only when one strongly desires a thing that he will ask earnestly and persistently. Perhaps there are many things we think we would like God to do in our church, but how badly do we want them? Persistent petition is the proof. Only those needs we desperately desire will we be willing to labor persistently over month after month. This is the type of effective importunate petition voiced by John Knox: “Lord, give me Scotland or I die.



[1] Taken and adapted from Pastor Scott Williquette’s article “Why Should We Persevere in Prayer?” Sola! Issue 12 (March 2000).

[2] Storms, pp. 145–8.

[3] Taken from and adapted from Dr. Rolland McCune

Prayer Lesson 8: Persistence in Prayer

An early Wesleyan preacher called “Praying Johnny” once preached from the text. “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” He commented on that verse and made the application. “Some people, in praying go round and round the throne, and never come up to it; but I go right up, and reach out my hand, and take what I want.”

Even well meaning believers sinfully pray. They battle selfishness in prayer and violate God’s sovereignty. Though persistence in prayer is not wrong, praying in a demanding fashion is wrong.

The illustrations below show modern, yet erroneous, forms of persistent prayer.

prayerwheeltibet

Three prayer wheels at the Sakya Monastery in Tibet. Each revolution of the drum constitutes a prayer.

 

prayerwesternwall

Ritual prayers are prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

 

latest-evangelical-rosary
Bruce Wilkinson has popularized the Prayer of Jabez and promises great blessings for those who repeat this prayer daily.

 

Though these practices are clearly wrong, failing to persist in prayer is just as humanistic. The prevailing theology behind pestering prayer is that man’s persistence can move God. The prevailing theology behind the lack of prayer is that man does not need God.

Persist in prayer without pestering God

Persistent Prayer is not the same as having marathon prayer sessions

A preacher that went to a Jack Hyles preaching conference in the ‘70s found that marathon praying is dangerous. At one session the preacher learned that he should “wait on God” meaning, he should pray, pray, and pray, until God revealed something to him. The preacher went home, excited to practice this kind of “waiting on God.” He did not sleep for three days as he “waited.”

By the third day, this preacher began hallucinating. He became panicked that the governmental authorities were going to storm his house and take his family away. His behavior became so bizarre that he was a threat to his family. A biblical counselor took this preacher to a cottage and forced him to sleep. After much sleep, the man came to his senses and the counselor was able to teach him about the error he had learned.

Did you know that three days of sleeplessness could produce the same hallucinogenic effects as cocaine? Is there biblical warrant for one to “wait on God” by praying in marathon fashion?[1] Let’s consider the phrase “wait on God” some passages used by those who teach that marathon prayer is legitimate:

The phrase “waiting on God” is not equivalent to persisting in prayer. The phrase “waiting on God” has the idea of “patient, faith-filled trust.”[2]

(Psalm 25.2, 3,5,21) O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause…. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day…. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee. Waiting means trusting; cf. v 2

Psalm 27.13,14
I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. Waiting means patience to wait for God’s goodness, cf. v. 13

Psalm 33.13–21
From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth –
he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.

Waiting means faith and trust to do what was advocated in v. 13-19; cf. v. 21

Psalm 37.7–9
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. … For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. Waiting has the idea of trust and patience for God to vindicate (vv. 3, 5)

Psalm 104.27
These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat Even animals wait on God in dependence in due season.

Isaiah 40.31
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Context seems to be Israel in tribulation, but the waiting means having faith and trust to go forward and persevere

Christ persisted in prayer

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Mt 26.39 nasb95)

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. (Mk 14.35)

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, (Lk 22.41)

Jesus Christ practiced persistent praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three of the four Gospel writers record (and thus emphasize) Christ’s persistence in prayer.

Our English translations fail to convey the exact Greek language. All three writers use specific language to describe Christ’s persistence. Note the chart:

Mark 14.35,39 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed (lit. “kept on praying”) that if possible the hour might pass from him … And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.
Luke 22.41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed (lit. “kept on praying”).
Matthew 26.39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

 

This particular prayer session lasted through the night. According to Matthew and Mark, the prayer was so lengthy the disciples could not stay awake. Three times, Jesus went to the disciples and exhorted them to stay awake and pray.

Mark recorded that Jesus, after exhorting the disciples to wake up, returned to prayer and prayed the same thing.

Thus, Jesus Christ, in the garden of Gethsemane practiced persistence in prayer. However, since this was the only recorded “all-night” prayer of Jesus, we should not assume that this is a model for effective praying. It simply teaches that Christ did this, and is a legitimate way to pray.

The Apostles and early believers persisted in prayer

The Apostle Paul exhorted the early believers to persist in prayer

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5.17

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6.18

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4.2

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Romans 15:30

Against whom or what was Paul struggling? It could not have been God Himself whose reluctance must be overcome. The foes here are the enemies of God of Christians, and of prayer itself. The foes are the world, the flesh, and the devil (1Jn 2.16), not God.

This struggle is the fervent prayer, which is a striving of the inner man against the hostile or dangerous powers, which must be overcome (H. A. W. Meyer). Anything that would frustrate the work of God is a foe.

There is value in struggling in prayer. That is not the same as pestering God until He relents.

The Apostle Paul persisted in prayer for his weaknesses

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12.8–9

Conclusion

Next week we will consider two passages which some use to teach that we are to persist in prayer, even to the point of pestering God.

  • What about the persistent widow in Luke 18.1–8?
  • What about Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32.22–32?

 


[1] This kind of praying is also called “praying through,” “tarry in prayer,” and “prevailing prayer.”

[2] The following points are by Dr. Rolland McCune.