Who’s Standing in the Gap?

gapThis article appeared in the September 23rd edition of the Chanute Tribune. 

Therefore he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them (Psalm 106:23).

Several years ago I heard a short devotion based on this passage. The man leading the devotion called those of us who were listening to be like Moses and stand in the breach. There are those who cannot do what they need to do to help themselves. We, therefore, should stand in the gap for them. We should, for example, pray for those who aren’t inclined to pray and intercede on their behalf so that God might extend mercy to them. I’ve heard this passage applied this way before. And while there is truth to the idea that we should pray on behalf of others, I really don’t think it’s the main thrust of this passage.

The overarching message of Psalm 106 is twofold.  First, the Psalmist offers praise to God for extending deliverance to His people despite their waywardness. The Psalmist writes, “Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness. Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power” (Psalm 106:6-8).

We see this theme of the waywardness of God’s people repeated throughout the Psalm. God’s people forgot his wonderful works and failed to wait for his counsel (v. 13). They erected and worshipped the golden calf (v. 19). They essentially forgot about God (v. 21), murmured in their tents against God (v. 25), followed after false gods (v. 28), and did not obey God’s commands (vv. 34-35).

Time after time, however, despite their rebellion, God rescued them. We see a good summary in verses 43-45. The Psalmist writes, “Many times [God] delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity.Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry.For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”

Now, why is the Psalmist recounting the mighty deeds of Yahweh towards the rebellious nation of Israel?  It speaks to their current predicament. This Psalm was written while Israel was being held during the Babylonian exile. Israel was captive to a foreign nation. So the Psalmist cries out saying, “Save us, Yahweh our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise” (Psalm 106:47).

The Psalmist is asking the Lord to rescue His people who were in exile in Babylon because of their rebellion in the same way that He had rescued His sinful and rebellious people in generations past. This is the thrust of Psalm 106.

Now let’s look back at verse 23: Therefore he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

The point of verse 23 isn’t that we should stand in the breach.  Within the broader context of the entire Psalm, the point of verse 23 is that God appointed a man, Moses, to deliver His people despite their rebellion and sin.  Our response to this isn’t so much that we should stand in the gap in the same way that Moses stood in the gap (although there may be times when God calls us to do just that). Rather, our response to this should be to say, “Yes. We have lived sinful and rebellious lives. But we have a God who is merciful to sinful and rebellious people like us.” And while Moses is no longer with us, when we read this through New Testament lenses, we see that God has sent Christ, a prophet like Moses, to stand in the gap by providing ultimate deliverance to his people, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. He lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we should have died.

Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Yahweh! (Psalm 106:48)

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