He Stood in the Breach

The daily Bible reading plan doesn’t arrange the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament readings by similarity of topic, but there are times like in yesterday’s reading when the texts in different sections of the Bible inform one another.

They made a calf in Horeb

and worshiped a metal image.

They exchanged the glory of God

for the image of an ox that eats grass.

They forgot God, their Savior,

who had done great things in Egypt,

wondrous works in the land of Ham,

and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

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 106:19-23 ESV)

Psalm 106 recapitulates in poetic form the goodness and justice of God in His dealings with Israel, even when the people had been rebellious against Him.  Verses 19-23 above retell the incident of the golden idol at Horeb, while Moses was on the mountain.  But God had already proclaimed the law that would govern the people of Israel under the covenant.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

(Exodus 20:4-6 ESV)

The proverbial ink on the covenant was barely dry, but it was already broken.  For this rebellion, God could have destroyed the people, and would have if Moses had not “stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.” (Psalm 106:23 ESV)

But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

(Exodus 32:11-14 ESV)

Moses could not plead the people’s righteousness, and ultimately could not plead his own.  Instead, he pleaded God’s glory among the nations and His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to rescue the people from God’s holy wrath.

Much later, another would stand in the gap between a sinful people and God’s justice.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

(Romans 5:6-11 ESV)

Moses’ righteousness failed at Meribah (Exodus 20:10-13), but Jesus’ unfailing righteousness, the righteousness of God Himself, was transferred to us through His sacrifice of Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21).  At the cross, Jesus stood in the breach for us, to turn away God’s wrath from destroying unworthy sinners and to obtain the church of God with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

The Expected Prophet

This year, many of us at Heritage have devoted ourselves to daily Bible reading using the plan from the ESV Daily Reading Bible.  A few days ago, we finished reading the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses.

In Deuteronomy, the great prophet Moses delivered his farewell to the people of Israel before his death and the people’s entrance into the promised land of Canaan.  After his death at 120 years of age, his leadership transferred to Joshua son of Nun, one of only two members of the first generation of Israel that left Egypt in the Exodus that would ever enter the promised land.

The God of the Bible is a promise-making God.  Earlier in Deuteronomy, God promised Moses that He would raise up another prophet like him to be shepherd over His people.  Moses related this to the people:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen– just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19 ESV)

At the death of Moses, it would be natural to assume that Joshua, the new leader of the people of Israel, would be this promised prophet.  However, at the end of Deuteronomy we read:

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses. And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:9-12 ESV)

Joshua had the leadership role of Moses, but Joshua was not the prophet like Moses. Moses was the great Lawgiver of the people of Israel, speaking with an authority which God Himself invested in him. The text at hand gives us additional earmarks of Moses’ prophetic office:

  • Moses knew the Lord face to face
  • Moses performed signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt
  • Moses displayed mighty power and great deeds of terror in the sight of all Israel

As great as the prophets were that came before Israel and Judah in the coming years (Samuel, Isaiah, Daniel, etc.), none, even Joshua who walked with him for forty years, were like Moses. Israel would wait in expectation of this coming prophet for hundreds of years: through the conquest of Canaan, the dark years of the Judges, the glorious reigns of David and Solomon, the divided kingdom, the Babylonian exile, the return to the land and the Second Temple period, the long, silent years of the intertestamental period, and the Roman occupation.

After hundreds of years and the long silence since the last of the great prophets of old had spoken and written what God gave them to say and write, people were still waiting… and watching.  Now, a bold proclamation was going forth, and the leaders of Israel took notice.  Repentance and the Kingdom were being proclaimed. (Matthew 3:1-2)  Prophecy was being fulfilled in John’s ministry, preparing the way of the Lord.  Could this finally be the promised prophet like Moses?

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:19-28 ESV, emphasis mine)

No, says John.  Someone greater than me will follow, so much greater that I’m not even worthy to untie his shoes.  The prophet among them (John 1:26) was yet to be revealed.

Soon after, another itinerant preacher, baptized by John himself, arose and began to eclipse John.  Like Moses, this preacher proclaimed a law for His people (Matthew 5-7), and delivered His law not as a student echoes a greater authority, but with authority of His own (Matthew 7:28-29).

Like Moses, He knew God in a personal manner (“face to face”).  At the time of Moses’ death, he had walked with God for over forty years.  Jesus, however, not only knew God as one person knows another, but had been in the Father’s very presence from eternity past.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:1-5 ESV, emphasis mine)

Like Moses, He performed great signs and wonders which God had given Him to do.  During one of these, as He demonstrated His creative power, someone in the multitude made a stunning identification.

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:1-14 ESV, emphasis mine)

But, even though He was expected, many still didn’t believe.  Like their fathers before them, they gnashed their teeth at God’s prophet (Exodus 2:14, Acts 7:27).  Eventually, the very people to whom He was sent rejected Him and condemned Him to death.

After His death on the cross at Calvary and His resurrection from the dead, the promised Holy Spirit descended on the believers at Pentecost.  The believers who had been huddled together in fear suddenly began to boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior… and as the promised prophet in the manner of Moses. After healing the paralytic beggar at the gate of the temple, Peter said to the amazed crowd:

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ (Act 3:19-23 ESV)

As we approach the celebration of His resurrection from the dead, consider: have you seen and believed that this Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Prophet, Priest, and King of the New Covenant?  If you have, see as Stephen did the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, ready to plead your case and intercede for you before His Father (Acts 7:54-56).  His blood will never fail you; it will wash you clean.  If you haven’t yet seen Jesus in this way, pray earnestly that God will grant you eyes to see and ears to hear the good news of the wrath-absorbing, grace-giving sacrifice Jesus made to rescue all those who belong to Him.  Trust in Him and Him alone; He will never cast you out.