“When men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord, the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Reading through verses 16-31 here leaves a couple of strong impressions, both of which are important for us today.
The first is that the people of Israel were stupid. There were times they were misled and times they were weak or short-sighted and even times when they were deceived. But on many occasions they made the wrong decision in full awareness of the consequences and without any prodding from the enemy. They were stupid. They turned away from the Lord constantly. And they did it in spite of what we can now see as His obvious action in their midst. They did it in spite of experiencing the consequences of such actions in ways that were both dramatic and, often, immediate. It’s like they were dead set on going their own way instead of in the direction the Lord was leading them. They couldn’t even receive the good things He wanted to give them. Again, they were stupid.
The second clear impression here is that but for faithful followers of God standing in the gap, the nation would have been destroyed for their incorrigible unfaithfulness. Time and again Moses interceded on behalf of the people. He sought the Lord in the face of their rebellion and cooled things off. This wasn’t because he somehow changed God’s mind, but rather because God who is always faithful, responded to the faithfulness of one of His servants on behalf of others.
So what’s the connection? There are two. The first connection is, and this is going to sound a little crass, people are still stupid. Given the opportunity, we do the thing that is most to our own detriment more often than reason would suggest makes any sense. People have always done this. It’s almost like we have a built-in self-destruct sequence that begins about the time it looks like everything is going really well.
Actually, we do. It’s called sin. Sin destroys and corrupts. That’s part of its nature. With sin unleashed in our lives and in the world around us, we do indeed always trend toward things that corrupt and those which will destroy the good, true, and beautiful in our lives. We take the good things God gives us and turn them into trash with a regularity that is frightening when we stop and think about it. In this, people have not changed since we left the Garden. Israel was part of a long and unbroken heritage of sinful folly of which we are still heirs today. The Gospel is the one answer to this destruction that has ever achieved any lasting good. Everything else has fallen far short.
Because of this, and this leads us to the second point of connection, people who have embraced and been transformed by the Gospel and its power can still stand in the gap today. It is the people of God in each nation crying out to God on behalf of their nation and following up that cry with the action to which He calls them that have always been stopgaps to the destruction their countrymen would otherwise unleash on themselves.
This kind of a stopgap seems to be all the more necessary today in light of recent events. It is a stopgap to which people turn almost by instinct as demonstrated by the thousands of people who have turned out for prayer rallies in Las Vegas this week. And though some secular cynics may belittle such efforts as doing nothing when what we need to do is something, the truth is just the opposite of what they believe. Prayer is not our last resort when all other efforts have failed, it is the first tool we need to use and the one which will empower and enable the rest of what we might do.
Consider but the single example of William Wilberforce in the story told in Eric Metaxas’ excellent biography, Amazing Grace. His efforts to stand in the gap for the people of England on the issue of slavery brought them back from the brink of total moral decay that embracing slavery always causes in the people who do. After many years, decades even, of prayer leading to his speaking and acting as a prophet, the people of England finally listened and led the way for the rest of the Western world.
What Wilberforce did for a whole nation we can do on a variety of levels as we pursue the Gospel and its implications in the world around us. Perhaps God is calling us to stand in the gap for our nation, but He may also be doing it for our community, our workplace, or even just our families. This can even work in a single life. There is a woman in my church who has made a much quicker recovery from a serious medical condition than doctors expected. Why? A skeptic might say chance and good fortune, but those with eyes to see know that it is because her church family stood in the gap, unleashing the power of the Gospel through prayer.
If left unchecked, sin will wreck havoc on our lives and everything around us. That’s what sin does. If we can stand in the gap with the power of the Spirit, unleashing the power of the Gospel, there is hope and help aplenty. Our culture may seem to be on a collision course for destruction, but we have in our possession the power that can turn the ship around to the right direction. By prayer we can bring things back from the brink and out onto the spacious plains of grace and life of the kingdom of God. Let’s get to work!