The crack of the Challenger tank’s gun startled me; so did its accuracy. On the hillside about a mile away, a bright flash, followed by a black cloud, engulfed an old car. I would not want to be on the receiving end of such formidable weaponry. But I was a guest at an army firepower demonstration—a loud and violent sample of destructive power. On a spring day in England it’s relatively easy to get close enough to hit a car with one shell; held at bay by a well-armed enemy, gunners use other techniques. That set me thinking about the appropriateness of artillery fire as an illustration of intercession.
When big guns are fired over many miles, the soldiers often cannot see the target. Accuracy depends on spotters near the front line who see where the rounds explode and tell the gun crew how to improve the trajectory of the next shell. James Fraser, an early missionary to China, attributed the breakthrough among the Lisu people to intercession. He likened his prayer team in England to an artillery barrage directed at spiritual strongholds thousands of miles away. He was the front-line observer directing their fire.
In the wilderness, hostile Amalekites attacked Israel from the rear.1 Moses’ part in the ensuing battle is often used to explain intercession.
Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”
Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; And Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. (Ex. 17:9–13)
Most messages about this incident focus on Moses’ raised hands thinking that he lifted them in a common Jewish prayer posture. That is a possibility, but don’t forget the emphasis on what Moses held in his hand.2
The staff (matteh) of God was Moses’ badge of office—his symbol of authority. Held aloft, it appealed to God’s power to support all that He had commissioned Moses to do. Moses had just struck the rock at Horeb and life-sustaining water had flowed. Now the chosen nation was threatened; if they were ever to arrive at the Promised Land, God had better act. One definition of intercession describes it as presenting a petition to a king, requesting His resources and authority. The king then sends His army against the enemy. That was perhaps Moses’ main role in this battle.
Alternatively, Moses may have used his staff to signal the commanders below. From the hill, he could see the battlefield and use the observations to advantage. If so, Moses acted like an artillery spotter, directing his troops.
In a sense our prayers are like Moses’ raised staff. We call on the power of God to penetrate a situation as though we were the spotters; we submit our wills to His. But perhaps it is better to look at it the other way round. Intercession is conversation with God. In prayer we should be listening to Him rather than allowing the problem to steal all our attention. God has the best vantage point. If we listen, He shows us how to pray, what to do and say. He directs us in the battle and makes us effective. Think about that next time you ask for a breakthrough.
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