By Philip Cottraux
For its terrible sins, God was ready to bring judgment on Jerusalem. Throughout the entire 22nd chapter of Ezekiel, the guilt is pronounced and the sentences are given. Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst therof (Ezekiel 22:21). But perhaps most surprising is when He gives the real reason why the city is doomed: And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none (verse 30).
Intercession. We tend to think of it in terms of gathering to pray for special needs, or perhaps a church member standing in for someone else at the altar while we lay hands on them. But have we truly gone deep in the Word to understand the true nature of this Biblical principle?
God’s wrath was about to fall on Jerusalem, but just one person could have saved it. To “stand in the gap” means to place oneself between the punishment and the perpetrator, filling in the narrowing space between the two, stopping that judgment dead in its tracks. God’s hand is stayed by one of His beloved children standing in the way, showing such courage that they will risk being destroyed themselves to save others.
The Lord told Abraham He was ready to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but for his nephew Lot’s sake, he bargained with the God to spare the wicked city. The number started with fifty righteous men, but was eventually whittled down to ten. And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake (Genesis 18:32). Those ten would have been intercessors; but not even such a precious few could be found, even among Lot’s family.
Because of the children of Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness, God twice nearly wiped them out. Exodus 32:9-10: And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. Moses was certainly as exhausted with the people’s grumbling and complaining as God, and was even given the opportunity to become the father of a mighty nation. But he couldn’t bear to see them all consumed in the wrath of the Almighty. Verses 11-12: And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.
And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people (verse 14). God honors intercession. If we truly want to see Him save a loved one, we must be willing to stand in their place.
But the spirit of rebellion was strong in the wandering children. It wasn’t long before an all-out uprising began, led by Korah. Moses devised a test, with he and Aaron on one side of the camp and the rebels on the other, offering incense, to see whom the Lord would choose to continue leading the people. It didn’t take long for frightening judgment to fall on Moses’ enemies. And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods (Numbers 16:32). But the Lord wasn’t done yet. And there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense (verse 35).
The site was so horrifying that the children of Israel ran in terror. But by morning, they had lost that fear. After watching God’s wrath utterly destroy the wicked, they had the audacity to murmur against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord (verse 41). God was immediately ready to kill them all for this insult. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces (verses 44-45).
He was so angry that even repentance couldn’t stop His judgment. But Moses knew what to do, and instructed Aaron to take quick action.
Verse 46: And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun. Representing the intercessor standing in the gap, Aaron grabbed the incense and ran into the midst of the people to make an atonement sacrifice. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed (verse 8).
The Lord calls us to be intercessors; but intercession is a more frightening responsibility than we realize. It’s one thing to pray for someone from a distance, uninvolved in their struggles. It’s an entirely different matter to stand in front of the wrath of God, speeding towards you like a freight train, refusing to move until the Lord slams on the brakes of His judgment.
Moses and Aaron would rather have died horrible than see their people consumed into fiery ashes blowing away in the desert winds. Intercession means being willing to take on the punishment for someone else. Sound extreme? It’s exactly the attitude that hung Jesus to the cross. Being a Christian means being willing to take on the personality of Jesus, and His most definable trait was His willingness to die for the sins of all humanity. John 10:17-18: Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
It’s one thing for me to pray for a drug addict to be delivered. But it’s another thing entirely for me to pray that that judgment will fall on me instead of him, even though I’ve done no wrong. I can pray for the sick all I want, but until I adopt the Christ-like attitude of being willing to suffer a person’s afflictions for them, I haven’t discovered what intercessory prayer really means. John 15:13: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
But none of us are Christ, and couldn’t bear the responsibility of all the sins of the world. So how can we do this? How do we become true intercessors, willingly suffering to see souls saved and miracles and healings take place?
The lack of fasting is one of the crucial reasons why the Christian church, and especially the Pentecostal movement, has lost so much power. The disciples were unable to perform miracles or cast out devils, and when they asked Jesus why, He answered Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). If fasting was crucial to Jesus’ ministry and to the Early Church, who in the world are we to claim that we don’t need it?
Fasting is not just skipping meals for an extended period of time; it is intensely praying and reading the Word, feeding the spirit instead of the flesh. But its true nature is about sacrificing the needs of our own bodies on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
When going on a long fast, I (only using myself as an illustration) will have a list of petitions before God. They will be for unsaved loved ones to find Jesus, or people in my church who are sick and afflicted. And I will pray that God will take the suffering off them and put it on me instead. I will willingly endure agonizing hunger for many days, praying that He will take that exact amount of pain off of them. And they will be healed, because God honors fasting.
If I know of someone who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, I am taking on the hell that they are going through by fasting so that God will sober them up enough to realize they must come out of it, and find deliverance through Him. “Open their eyes” is the cry of the intercessor. It is a cry that the church is missing today. We pray for the sick and for the lost, but our prayers are from a selfishly comfortable distance. Fasting puts us in the real bloody trenches of spiritual warfare, where we can truly stand in the gap and reach the attention of the Father.
Twice, someone interceded and saved the children of Israel. But no one was there for Jerusalem, and Ezekiel’s prophecy fell on deaf ears. The same was true of Sodom. But what will be the case for America today? The Christian church? Will we suffer the same fate as Sodom, or Jerusalem? Hebrews 7:25: Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.