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.

Speak Your Mind

*