A Bible Study and Contemporary Application of Genesis 11-19 by Anne Turner

KEY VERSE: Genesis 19:29 "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived."

Chapter Eight Appendix: Becoming an Intercessor

The Limits of Human Intercession

The root meaning of the Hebrew word for “intercessor” links it with the concept of “meeting with” or “encountering.” However, the Latin word from which our English is derived means “one who mediates.” The Latin recognizes that when we read of intercessors in the Old Testament, they often were those specially appointed by God to ask for his mercy on behalf of rebellious, sinful people. They stood in the gap between God’s judgment and the annihilation of the masses who deserved to be destroyed.

Moses was the greatest of the Old Testament intercessors. He was raised up for the purpose of delivering God’s people from slavery in Egypt and leading them to Canaan or back to Canaan, in a sense. Along the way, while he was convening with God on Mt. Sinai, receiving the tablets of commandments and other instructions, the people grew tired of waiting on him. Aaron, his brother, made them a golden calf to worship— this despite their miraculous deliverance from Egypt! How quickly we forget the mercies of the Lord.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Ex 32:9, 10)
Rather than accepting this offer, Moses interceded for the Israelites:
“O Lord, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?...Turn from your anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land...’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on the people the disaster he had threatened. (ibid., vss 11...14)

Moses had stood “in the gap” for his brothers. The concept of a gap between God’s intercessor and those in need of their prayers is introduced later in Israel’s history, in the days of the prophets who were responsible to tend the flock.

After Moses went down to the people and saw they were punished, he said to them,
“You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
Then Moses went back to the Lord and said,
“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.” (ibid., vs 32)
The Lord replied to Moses,
“Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.” (ibid., vss 33, 34)

In this we see that there are limits to what intercession can accomplish, and that the Lord reserves the right to discipline his sons and daughters who stray and sin. We may stand in the gap and ask for mercy on behalf of our rebellious brothers and sisters, assisting them somehow in their deliverance from evil, but we cannot stand in their place, either to take their punishment or to save them from it. This passage reminds us that Christ came both to bear our punishment and to save us from God’s judgment.

Yes, there are limits to what intercessory prayers may accomplish. The intercessor may stand in the gap, but Christ alone is Savior.