Prayer is conversation with God; it is communicating with God. If we want to understand more about prayer, who better is there for us to study than the man who had a face to face relationship with God, Moses? For as Exodus 33:11 says “And Jehovah would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
However, before looking at the style and substance of Moses’ prayers, let us look first at the relationship between Moses and his God. Christianity is first and foremost relational; our relationship with God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, is all that really matters.
In Exodus 21:14b-15 we read: “And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. And when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and lived in the land of Midian.”
What had happened just prior to this, was that Moses had seen an Egyptian beating a Hebrew brother, and after looking left and right and seeing no one else around (v12), he had killed the Egyptian and hidden the body in the sand. However, the next day he had gone out and seen two brother Hebrews quarrelling together and had asked the guilty one why he was hitting his brother, to which the man replied by asking Moses if he wished to kill him as he had killed the Egyptian. Moses was shocked, thinking that no one else knew of the killing, for as v14b says, “Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.”
Depending on how you read this passage, the typical teaching of this verse is that Moses had fled to Midian in fear of Pharaoh. This interpretation, however, does not align with later teachings from the New Testament, where we read in Hebrews 11:27“By faith he (Moses) left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible (God).”
Here we have an apparent paradox, but it is not actually the case. Man bases his thoughts and ideas primarily on that which he can see, and actions speak louder than words. Man, therefore, tends to hastily judge by viewing actions, not the inner heart, or the inner intent. God judges the heart; and what is inside is of vital importance to Him. Man looked at the actions of Moses and assumed that Moses fled in fear of Pharaoh, while Hebrews 11:27 shows via the insight of the Holy Spirit to the writer of Hebrews, that in truth, Moses fled “by faith.” God sees the real reason behind man’s actions.
With this perspective in mind, we can look at Moses from a different viewpoint. He did not simply get up in fear and run off to hide as a shepherd in Midian for 40 years. Instead, he understood that God wanted him to relocate and be a shepherd, for whatever end-purpose it was, that God had in mind for Moses.
As I mulled this over I recognised that Moses had grown up all his life in the Pharaoh’s court and was used to a very privileged lifestyle, having been educated to the highest and best standards available in the world at that time and trained as a leader and administrator. It would have been counter-intuitive for Moses to have given up all that and settle for herding sheep for 40 years. Instead, he, because of his past training, position and status, could have either quashed those seeking to charge him of a crime, or he could have fled to another part of the country and become a nameless leader or administer or teacher. Any of these jobs would have allowed him to continue to live within the Egyptian society to which he was accustomed, albeit, in anonymity and far from the court. Yet he chose to move into solitude and herd sheep, a job to which he was not accustomed or trained; while at the same time, living beyond the fringe of all society.
Moses, therefore, had a deep spiritual root which tapped into that which is not visible to the human eye of the human intellect. Moses feared God more than Pharaoh and his actions prove it. This is the man, the first man in the Bible, whom God appointed to be both a teacher and a leader of men. If prayer is communicating with God, we can learn a lot from Moses; not only in what he did and said, but why. What was applicable to Moses is still applicable for us today, since God is always the same: yesterday, today and tomorrow. The God of Moses is the God of all born-again Christians; and He has not changed.
From the first time God called Moses in Egypt, Moses prayed to God and asked God what he ought to say to the people:
Exodus 3:11-13“And Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the sons of Israel out of Egypt?
And He said, I will be with you. And this shall be the sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.
And Moses said to God, Behold, when I come to the sons of Israel, and shall say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they shall say to me, What is His name? What shall I say to them?”
On hearing the mission which God had charged, or called Moses to undertake, Moses told God of all his weaknesses and asked, or rather, pleaded with God, to be excused from the mission saying:
Exodus 4: 1-13“And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me nor listen to my voice. For they will say, Jehovah has not appeared to you.
And Jehovah said to him, What is this in your hand? And he said, A staff. And He said, Throw it on the ground. And he threw it on the ground. And it became a serpent. And Moses ran from it.
And Jehovah said to Moses, Put forth your hand and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand, so that they may believe that Jehovah, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.
And Jehovah said to him again, Now put your hand in your bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom. And when he took it out, behold, his hand was as leprous as snow.
And He said, Put your hand into your bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again. And he brought it out of his bosom, and behold, it was turned again like his other flesh.
And it will be, if they will not believe you, neither listen to the voice of the first sign, then they will believe the voice of the latter sign. And also it will be, if they will not believe these two signs, neither listen to your voice, then you shall take from the water of the river and pour it upon the dry land. And the water which you take out of the river shall become blood on the dry land.
And Moses said to Jehovah, O my Lord, I am not a man of words now, nor since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.
And Jehovah said to him, Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, Jehovah? And now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.
And he said, O my Lord, I pray You, send by the hand of him whom You will send.”
Later, all the people complained as was their want (and we need to recall that there are estimated to be some 2 million people in the Exodus), that Moses had increased their burdens. Again, Moses went to God immediately for advice and help for he had no answers for the people:
Exodus 5:22“And Moses returned to Jehovah, and said, Lord, why have You treated this people ill? Why then have you sent me?”
And as we see in the next verse, not only did Moses go to God got help and advice, he went to talk to Him to express his inner fears:
Exodus 6:12 “And Moses spoke before Jehovah, saying, Behold, the sons of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh hear me, since I have lips that are not circumcised?”
Once could say that this was a time of training for Moses, in the ways of God. As he was tending sheep, he was also being trained, but this was a time of training in prayer. Prayer, being communication with God.
This communication through prayer came into full fruition in Exodus chapters 8-10 as Moses was negotiating with Pharaoh for the release of the Hebrews, out of their bondage in Egypt. Time and time again the Pharaoh asked Moses to entreat the Lord for mercy and grace for him and each time, deliverance came with Moses’ prayer. Here we have is one example as Pharaoh asked Moses to seek God to get rid of the frog infestation:
Exodus 8:8-13a“And Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Pray to Jehovah that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people. And I will let the people go, so that they may sacrifice to Jehovah.
And Moses said to Pharaoh, Glory over me! When shall I pray for you, and for your servants, and for your people, to destroy the frogs from you and your houses, so that they may remain in the river only?
And he said, Tomorrow. And he said, It shall be according to your word, so that you may know that there is none like Jehovah our God.
And the frogs shall depart from you, and from your houses, and from your servants, and from your people. They shall remain in the river only.
And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh. And Moses cried to Jehovah because of the frogs which He had brought against Pharaoh.
And Jehovah did according to the word of Moses.”
A study of the other prayers and deliverances from throughout Exodus chapters 8-10 will provide a deeper understanding of the importance of Prayer in the life and works of Moses. It will also lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s redemption, for with Moses, we have a close correlation between prayer and redemption.
At the edge of the Red Sea, we again find Moses in prayer to God. Here he was, with his 2 million followers trapped between an impassable stretch of water before them and Pharaoh’s army chariots closing in around and behind them, intent to bring them all back into bondage in Egypt. Moses just cried out to God in prayer:
Exodus 14:15 “And Jehovah said to Moses, Why do you cry to Me? Speak to the sons of Israel, that they go forward.”
God’s answer came immediately, asking Moses to “Speak” and adding v16: “But lift up your rod and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it.” Immediately Moses did as he was asked, the waters parted and the Hebrews crossed over to safety.
Soon the peoples were again complaining, this time about thirst and they were attacked by Amalek. Moses prayed. God provided redemption. The Hebrews were delivered.
Exodus 17:4“And Moses cried to Jehovah, saying, What shall I do to this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
Exodus 17:11“And it happened when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed. And when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.”
The times in the wilderness were no picnic for the Hebrews, or for Moses, and matters continued to get worse until at Mount Sinai when, in the temporary absence of Moses, the people made a golden calf and returned to idolatry. God was enraged as Exodus 32;9-10 tells us, “And Jehovah said to Moses, I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. And now leave Me alone, so that My wrath may become hot against them and so that I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”
Moses prayed and God repented of His planned wrath upon the people:
Exodus 32:11 “And Moses prayed to Jehovah his God, and said, Jehovah, why does Your wrath become hot against Your people whom You have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”
Exodus 32:14“And Jehovah repented as to the evil which He spoke of doing to His people.”
Following the resolution of the golden calf incident, it was prayer from Moses which secured agreement from God that He would remain with them and not leave their presence in the wilderness. Indeed, He agreed to lead them personally (as a column of smoke by day and fire by night (Exodus 13:22)):
Exodus 33:12-17 “And Moses said to Jehovah, Behold, You say to me, Bring up this people. And You have not told me whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.
Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found grace in Your sight, make me see now Your ways, that I may know You, that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.
And He said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.
And he said to Him, If Your presence does not go with me, do not carry us up from here. For in what shall it be known that I and Your people have found grace in Your sight? Is it not in that You go with us? So we shall be separated, I and Your people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.
And Jehovah said to Moses, I will do this thing also that you have spoken. For you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”
It was prayer from Moses which then resulted in God revealing His Glory to Moses as we read:
Exodus 33:18-19“And he said, I beseech You, let me see Your glory. And He said, I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before you. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
After God has revealed His Glory to Moses, it was through prayer that the covenant with God and His chosen people was renewed:
Exodus 34:8-10“And Moses made haste and bowed toward the earth, and worshiped. And he said, If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Jehovah, I pray You, let my Lord go among us. For it is a stiff-necked people. And pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your inheritance.
And He said, Behold! I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. And all the people in whose midst you are shall see the work of Jehovah, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”
In the Book of Deuteronomy, all of Moses’ prayers are summarised and are available there too for study, for in Deuteronomy the intensity of Moses’ prayers becomes self evident, with his 40 days of fasting both food and water for prayer. Let us look at one sample prayer which occurs immediately after Moses finds the people bowing to the golden calf while he was receiving from God the 10 Commandments:
Deuteronomy 9:18-26 “And I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands and broke them before your eyes. And I fell down before Jehovah, as at the first, forty days and forty nights.
I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sins which you sinned in doing wickedly in the sight of Jehovah to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and fury with which Jehovah was angry against you to destroy you.
But Jehovah listened to me at that time also. And Jehovah was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. And I took your sin, the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire, and stamped it, grinding it very small, until it was as small as dust. And I threw the dust of it into the torrent that descended out of the mountain. And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at the Graves of Lust, you provoked Jehovah to anger. And when Jehovah sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying: Go up and possess the land which I have given you, then you rebelled against the commandment of Jehovah your God, and you did not believe Him, nor listened to His voice.
You have been rebellious against Jehovah from the day that I knew you. And I fell down before Jehovah forty days and forty nights, that I had thrown myself down, for Jehovah had said to destroy you. I prayed therefore to Jehovah and said, O, Lord God, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance which You have redeemed through Your greatness, which You have brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
In the Book of Numbers we can read of Moses’ prayer by which he quenched the fire of the Lord and obtained a supply of meat for his people:
Numbers 11:2“And the people cried to Moses. And when Moses prayed to Jehovah, the fire was put out.”
Numbers 11:11-13“And Moses said to Jehovah, Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, so that You lay the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? Did I bring them forth, that You should say to me, Bear them in your bosom like a nursing father carries the sucking child, to the land which You swore to their fathers? From where should I get flesh to give to all this people? For they weep to me, saying, Give us flesh that we may eat.”
Numbers 11:31-32 “And a wind went forth from Jehovah. And it cut off quails from the sea and let them fall by the camp, about a day’s journey on this side, and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits high upon the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day and all night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails. And he that gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.
Moses prayed for Miriam, the elder sister of Moses and Aaron after the Lord stuck her down with leprosy for leading a rebellion. Indeed, Miriam’s Hebrew name “מרים“ means Rebellion:
Numbers 12:13-14“And Moses cried to Jehovah saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech You.
And Jehovah said to Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received.”
Moses again saved the nation of Israel after they refused to go up into Canaan after the 12 spies brought back the news of their Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, but in which some giants lived:
Numbers 14:17-20“And now, I beseech You, let the power of my Lord be great, according as You have spoken, saying, Jehovah is long-suffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation.
I beseech You, pardon the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your mercy, and as You have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now.
And Jehovah said, I have pardoned according to your word.”
Prayer from Moses also saved his people as God was set to consume them all, the whole congregation. However, the prayer of Moses made atonement.
Numbers 16:15“And Moses was very angry, and said to Jehovah, Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.”
Numbers 16:46 “And Moses said to Aaron, Take a fire-pan, and put fire in it from the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly to the congregation and make an atonement for them. For wrath has gone out from Jehovah. The plague has begun.”
As the plague began to take its toll, judgement was brought down on Korah as a direct result of the prayers of Moses. Korah was jealous of Moses and fought against him and Aaron. As a result, 250 were swallowed up into the ground or devoured in fire:
Numbers 26:10“And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, when the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men.”
Prayer brought water out from a rock to sate the thirst of the 2 million Israelites in the wilderness:
Numbers 20:1-11 “Then the sons of Israel came, the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month. And the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation. And they gathered themselves against Moses and against Aaron. And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying, Oh that we had died when our brothers died before Jehovah!
And why have you brought up the congregation of Jehovah into this wilderness, so that we and our cattle should die there?
And why have you made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us into this evil place? It is no place of seed or of figs or of vines or of pomegranates. And there is no water to drink.
And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces. And the glory of Jehovah appeared to them.
And Jehovah spoke to Moses saying, Take the rod, and gather the assembly, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes. And it shall give forth its water, and you shall bring forth to them water out of the rock. So you shall give the congregation and their animals drink.
And Moses took the rod from before Jehovah as He commanded him.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said to them, Hear now you rebels. Must we bring water for you out of this rock?
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he struck the rock twice. And the water came out plentifully, and the congregation and their animals drank.”
As usual in the wilderness, the people were complaining such that the Lord was angry with them as sent poisonous serpents into the people which killed many. It was the prayer of Moses which overcame this affliction, as God told them to make a serpent and put it on a pole, so that those who were bitten, could look upon it and live:
Numbers 21:5-8 “And the people spoke against God and against Moses, Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water. And our soul hates this light bread.
And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people. And many people of Israel died.
And the people came to Moses and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against Jehovah and against you. Pray to Jehovah that He take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
And Jehovah said to Moses, Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole. And it shall be when everyone that is bitten, when he looks upon it, he shall live.”
When Moses has tough and difficult problems to answer, he called upon God in prayer to seek answers. This example relates to the inheritance of land, which normally passed down the male lineage and was in dispute. The father of the daughters of Zelophehad had no male offspring, meaning they could become disinherited from their father’s land and eventually be made destitute:
Numbers 27:5-7 “And Moses brought their cause before Jehovah.
And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right. You shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers. And you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them.”
Finally, in answer to the prayer of Moses, the will of God became known to him and Joshua was selected to be the successor to Moses, and to lead the people into the Promised Land:
Numbers 27:15-18“And Moses spoke to Jehovah, saying, Let Jehovah, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in, so that the congregation of Jehovah may not be as sheep which have no shepherd.
And Jehovah said to Moses, Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand upon him.”
The relationship which Moses had with God was unique in the Bible, save only for that of Jesus and His Father. When Moses spoke, God answered. When God spoke, Moses answered. Yet, we also see that God did not always act until Moses spoke and acted – such as in raising his rod to part the waters in Exodus 14:16 and other examples elsewhere. Certainly it was in the will of God that the waters be parted, but it was also in the will of God that the actions or the prayers or the words of Moses, would cause God’s will to be done. This happens today also, where we pray for something, but it never happens. While we may have prayed sufficiently to allow God to perform the required action or result, unless we declare it into existence, it may not ever happen. Sometimes God has sufficient prayer to act, he just needs our declaration of His will to enable His will.
What can we learn from the examples cited above, about how Moses prayed? Let’s list a few simple and obvious characteristics of his recorded prayer life:
- Moses prayed as he spoke. He did not use a special prayer language. He did not use flowery language or stilted clichéd phrases.
- Moses changed his prayer style to suit the prayer. Sometime he seemed to be standing, sometimes kneeling, sometimes prone and in travailing prayer. One manner did not suit all prayers.<
- Moses prayed any time.
- Moses prayed any where.
- Moses prayed for big and small issues.
- Moses was humble in prayer.
- Moses was respectful in prayer.
- When problems arose beyond his expertise, he delegated it to God in prayer immediately. He did not try to solve things himself and make matters worse or go against God’s sovereign will. For example in the resolution of the claim of the daughters of Zelophehad, we need to remember that God had dictated the heritance laws and thus only He could amend them.
- Moses submitted to the will of God, but was prepared to “negotiate” – up to a point.
- Moses received immediate and apparently audible replies to his prayers. Typically we will need to keep eyes, ears and mind open and attentive to hear from God.
- Moses did not go to God with a shopping list of prayers. He went to God as and when relevant issues arose.
- Most examples cited above appear to be from public prayer. To have the public prayer life and the relationship with God which he had, Moses must have had an active private and personal prayer life too, with God.
- When Moses prayed in public and for the Lord’s people, he was representing 2 million souls and the response from God reflected that. Then Moses prayed in private he was representing in his private prayer 1 soul, or a few more perhaps when praying as the head of his family. However we need to remember there that in public or in private, both God and Moses are the same and as Exodus 33;17 says: “I will do this thing also that you have spoken. For you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”
God knew Moses by name as he had found grace in the sight of God. Now that is something to which to aspire in life!!
Amen and Amen.