Prayer is an elusive activity for many. It’s one of the spiritual disciplines that many people struggle with. Yet, so many people in the Bible used it effectively. The prayers of Moses for example in the book of Numbers, show us at least one man who seemed to have his prayer life in order.
There is no denying that Moses was a prayer warrior. Time and time again he went to God with questions, with concerns, with pleas for help and mercy. And some of the prayers of Moses were not ordinary. On several occasions when he approached God, people’s lives were literally on the line.
So why was Moses so passionate about prayer? What drove him to his knees so often?
Let’s take a look at the prayers of Moses in Numbers, what he prayed for and what we can learn from his example.
Why Did Moses Pray So Much?
Generally speaking we pray more often when things are difficult. It’s not that we don’t pray when times are good. It’s just that our prayer life ramps up when we are facing a challenge of some kind.
Moses’ whole life was a challenge, from growing up in Pharaoh’s court, to fleeing Egypt for his life, to being called by God at the burning bush, to leading the people out of Egypt and through the barren wilderness. His life was one exciting roller coaster ride of events all the way up to the time of his death.
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Not only did Moses have a lot of responsibility, but the conditions he worked under were harsh. The wilderness is a nasty place. There were not many resources to come by to sustain so many people. They had to rely on God to see them through. Moses showed his reliance on God through his prayer life. Their survival depended on it.
Lastly, you have to look at the people he dealt with. The nation of Israel was filled with complainers. There were people who challenged his authority. Some challenged God’s plan and direction. Still others rebelled on multiple occasions.
And in these times of rebellion and discontentedness is where we see the prayers of Moses being most passionate. If he had not been the mediator for the people to God, most likely God would have wiped them out himself.
So all these circumstances led Moses to pray – a lot! And his prayers were pretty effective.
11 Prayers of Moses in Numbers
Here is the list of the prayers of Moses in the book of Numbers:
Prayer #1 – Numbers 10:35
The Situation – In their journeys, the Ark of the Covenant went before them to find a resting place to camp.
Moses’ Prayer – “Rise up, O Lord! Let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.”
Request: That the enemies of God [and thus Israel] would be driven away.
Outcome: None stated [although we can surmise from other passages that this did happen.]
Prayer #2 – Numbers 10:36
The Situation – When the ark returned to the camp.
Moses’ Prayer – “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.”
Request – That God’s presence would be in the camp among the people.
Outcome – God’s Spirit did dwell with the people in the Tabernacle.
Prayer #3 – Numbers 1:2
The Situation: The people complained about their hardships. God was displeased and sent fire that consumed some of the people on the outskirts of the camp.
Moses’ Prayer – “…When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down.”
Request – That the fire would leave the camp.
Outcome – The Lord took the fire away.
Prayer #4 – Numbers 11:4-15
The Situation: The people complained loudly about food. Specifically, they were tired of the manna (bread) that God provided. They wished they had meat and other foods to eat like they had when they were slaves in Egypt. We are told that God was “exceedingly angry” about this. Of all the prayers of Moses, this is probably his most desperate.
Moses’ Prayer: “Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favor in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!”
Request: Moses wanted personal relief and help for the people that God had put under his leadership.
Outcome: God appointed 70 elders to help Moses manage the people. He also miraculously fed them with quail. But God also sent a plague because the people had complained.
Prayer #5: Numbers 12:13
The Situation: Moses’ sister Miriam along with her brother Aaron questioned their role in leadership. In essence, they challenged Moses’ authority. As a result, God afflicted Miriam with leprosy. A grief stricken Aaron confessed their sin and pleaded with Moses to ask God for healing.
Moses’ Prayer: “So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘Please heal her, O God, I pray!’”
Request: That Miriam would be healed from her leprosy.
Outcome: Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days until she was healed.
Prayer #6: Numbers 14:13-19
The Situation: Ten spies returned from scouting the Promised Land and gave a negative report to the people. In the end, the people rebelled, refused to enter the land and asked to go back to Egypt.
God was not pleased and said he would strike the people with a pestilence and start a new nation through Moses. Again, when it comes to the prayers of Moses, this one may be his most passionate.
Moses’ Prayer: “And Moses said to the Lord: “Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people; that You, Lord, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness.’
And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression…Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”
Request: For God to forgive the people.
Outcome: God forgave them. However, the punishment for rebellion was that everyone 20 years old and above would not enter the Promised Land. The people would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died off.
Related Content: Lessons From the 12 Spies and Their Vision of God
Prayer #7: Numbers 16:15
The Situation: A man from the priestly tribe of Levi named Korah, two other men named Dathan and Abiram, and 250 other leaders of Israel rebelled against Moses’ leadership. They felt equal to Moses and wanted more authority. Moses told them that he had done nothing wrong and that God would choose who among them was holy.
Moses’ Prayer: “Then Moses was very angry, and said to the Lord, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them.”
Request: For God to reject the offering of Korah and his followers.
Outcome: [see outcome for prayer #8]
Prayer #8: Numbers 16:22
The Situation: The next day when God was about to destroy all of Korah’s followers.
Moses’ Prayer: “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” Then they fell on their faces, and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?”
Request: For God to spare all the people in Israel except for Korah.
Outcome: God caused the earth to open up and consume Korah and the families of Dathan and Abiram. The 250 priests who had followed Korah and were offering incense at the time were consumed by fire. The rest of the congregation was saved.
[Incidentally, God did allow some of Korah’s family to survive. His descendants wrote a number of songs for temple worship (see Psalm 42) – just another example of God’s mercy and grace.]
Prayer #9: Numbers 21:7
The Situation: Again the people became discouraged and complained about no food and water. God sent “fiery serpents” among the people and when they were bitten, many died.
Moses’ Prayer: “Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.”
Request: For the snakes to go away.
Outcome: God told Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and put it on a pole in the middle of the camp. If the people looked at it in faith, they lived. Those who didn’t look, died.[Of all the prayers of Moses, the outcome of this one was the most symbolic, although Moses didn’t know it yet. See Jesus’ words in John 3:14-16)
Prayer #10: Numbers 27:5
The Situation: A man named Zelophehad died and had no sons, only five daughters. The daughters petitioned Moses to have their father’s inheritance pass on to them. This was unusual because usually inheritances were passed down only to sons.
Moses’ Prayer: “So Moses brought their case before the Lord.”
Request: None stated [most likely seeking wisdom to rule on the case]
Outcome: God agreed with the women and granted their request. He then gave Moses a series of rules for passing down an inheritance if the father had no sons.
Prayer #11: Numbers 27:15-17
The Situation: Moses is about to die. God takes him to a mountaintop so that he can see the Promised Land. But because Moses had sinned he could not lead the people in.
Moses’ Prayer: “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”
Request: For God to appoint a new leader.
Outcome: God chose Moses’ apprentice Joshua to be the next leader.
Related Content: Moses’ Sin at Kadesh Was So Human It’s Scary
Lessons From the Prayers of Moses
So, what is our big takeaway from all these prayers of Moses? Several things really stand out.
Firstly, Moses sought the Lord when there was a big decision to make. He didn’t try to figure things out on his own. He knew that God was ultimately in charge and would direct him down the right path.
Secondly, Moses had a heart for people. Time and time again he went to bat for the people before God, in several instances when they didn’t even deserve it. Moses himself did become frustrated with the people on occasion. But he didn’t let that stop him from loving them also and seeking the best for them.
Moses also wasn’t afraid to speak his mind to God. That’s how close they were. It was really like a friendship of sorts, in how you can tell anything to that person. Go back and read the Numbers 11 and Numbers 14 prayers. That’s Moses at his finest laying his whole heart on the line before God.
Finally, we see a consistent prayer life. Moses knew the power prayer could have. God had altered his plans because of the prayers of Moses. Moses had seen lives saved, diseases cured, and people restored. Those things must have been powerful motivators for him to stay consistent in his prayer life.
Can Prayer Work for Us Today?
If Moses was the Old Testament prayer warrior, it was Paul in the New Testament. Every letter he wrote seems to mention him praying for someone or thanking people who were praying for him. And he left us so many instructions about prayer today.
In the New Testament, we are told to come boldly before the throne with our requests so that we can find help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). We are told to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17) and to be steadfast in it (Rom. 12:12). Prayer is encouraged for those who are sick (James 5:14), for the word of God to spread (II Thess. 3:1; Col. 4:3), as a remedy for anxiety (Phil. 4:6) and to keep us from evil (II Cor. 13:7).
In short, “…the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man, avails much” (James 5:16).
So, this can be us today. We can have the same type of interaction with God as Moses and so many other people in the Bible did. All we have to do is pray.
Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: What else do you take away from the prayers of Moses in Numbers? Do you struggle with prayer? How has God answered prayers in your life?
Photo courtesy of Timothy Eberly on Unsplash
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