The Powerful Dash In Moses’ Prayer: What Does It Mean? Why Is It There?

There is a weird place in a prayer in the Old Testament, which I had read several times without even noticing. Maybe you caught the meaning of the dash, but if you didn’t then today’s thoughts will show you something new:

Look for the Dash

“The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin— (why is this dash here?) but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:30-32, NIV). There is something important in this verse that’s easy to overlook. It’s the dash.

dash

Best Summer Ever

The summer of 1972 I had the privilege of working as a counselor at the Navigators’ Eagle Lake Boy’s Camp near Colorado Springs. It was a rustic, beautiful camp high in the mountains where boys would come from all over the nation to experience hiking, rappelling, pioneering and living in a teepee for a week (made all the more authentic by the fact that our “facilities” were outhouses). The camp staff was an awesome group of guys, and the experiences were second to none. We rappelled, built stuff with logs and twine, and had mountaintop experiences every day.

What has stayed with me longest from that summer are the lessons learned from several of the Navigator leaders like Lorne Sanny and Leroy Eims who came out from Glen Eyrie and taught us from time to time. (I later realized that since we met at 6:00 am, these godly men must have gotten up at 4:00 am to be there to teach us!) Their insights into Scripture and the practical way they applied it are still foundational for me almost 50 years later.

Insights from the Mountain

Leroy Eims taught us this particular passage, and pointed out the almost humorous exchange between God and Moses in Verses 7 and 10. “And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For YOUR people whom YOU brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” Moses’ answer was classic, almost like two parents whose child has done something wrong, so that neither parent wants to claim responsibility.

“Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “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?” The way Moses interacted with God is marvelous, and certainly provides us some solid principles about how to pray: be candid; be fully expressed; be persistent.

Even more than these verses, though, is the principle revealed by the dash. Mr. Eims pointed out that in verse 32, there was this odd grammatical anomaly: “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” He read that verse, and then he asked us, “What’s the dash for?”(Of course, none of us had ever really noticed the dash or given it any thought.)

The Mystery of the Dash

He told us, “The dash represents a pause by the speaker, but it doesn’t really explain why. It’s there, but it doesn’t tell us WHY it’s there. I believe that as Moses was praying for his people, as he contemplated the consequences of what they had done, he was overcome with emotion and broke down, unable to continue. He was so overcome with grief and empathy that he couldn’t even complete his sentence. When he regained his composure, he finished by putting his own eternal security on the line for his people.”

Leroy Eims told us about the secret of the dash. It represented powerful emotions! It showed how much Moses cared about the children of Israel! When was the last time you broke down in tears and were unable to complete a sentence because you were praying so passionately? And who do you care about SO much that you can’t lift them up to the Lord without getting teary-eyed? Who is in your dash? Yes, Moses prayed with honesty and persistence. So should we. But he also prayed with passion and emotion. So should we.

The Dash in the Prayer

The people of Israel made them a calf
So Moses prayed on their behalf
And asked the Lord His judgment to withhold
Because they had worshipped a idol calf of gold.
While he was praying and asking for grace,
Tears were streaming from Moses’ face
As he considered his nation’s fate
Which was just too awful to contemplate.
And in his prayer there was a pause;
Maybe it’s in there just because,
But really it’s kind of a mystery
That’s written in Scripture for all to see.

That little dash in the incomplete prayer:
What does it mean, and why is it there?

It’s there because Moses couldn’t take
The way they would pay for their mistake;
While praying, his shoulders began to shake:
How could Israel be so dumb?

As Moses prayed he was overcome,
And couldn’t continue because of his tears,
His love for them, and his greatest fears,
And he asked for his own life to be traded
In hopes that judgment could be abated.

That little dash in the incomplete prayer:
The emotional power residing there
Is more than words could ever show.
Why is the dash there? We don’t know,
But someday I will ask Moses why,
And if he broke down and began to cry…
Help me, Lord , have some prayers with a dash in;
Help me to pray with emotion and passion.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Trading Places: Who Would You Trade Your Eternal Life For?

In the 1983 comedy Trading Places, a street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine trades places with the blue-blooded Louis Winthorpe III in a somewhat misguided social experiment. It’s a humorous ( and sometimes inappropriate) look at class and Darwinism, and what might happen if people from different walks of life had to survive in new surroundings after trading places. The Bible also takes a look at trading places, with a slightly different take:

trading places

Bargaining With an Angry God

It starts way back in Exodus, when the Israelites made themselves a golden calf. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:7-8, NIV

This creates a fascinating bit of tension and opportunity in the life of Moses. Suddenly he was clear and free of the obstinate, rebellious people who complained and rejected his leadership. Suddenly his future and that of his descendants was secure; all he had to do was to accept God’s offer and idolatrous Israel would become the un-chosen people. If he was open to trading a little bit with the Lord, he could leave Israel to judgment and go on his merry way…

The Art of Negotiation

Yet what did Moses do? “The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:30-32, NIV).

Moses basically said, “Please forgive these knuckleheads, Lord. But if you can’t, “then blot me out of the book you have written.” Let that one sink in for a minute. Who at this time knew more about God’s glory than Moses? Out of everyone on earth, who was most familiar with what heaven was going to be like? Who could anticipate eternity’s rich rewards better than Moses? (NO ONE) And yet Moses offers to trade in his own eternal life on Israel’s behalf, and asks the Lord to include him in the consequences if judgment is to fall.
QUESTION: Who do you love so much that you would trade your eternal life for theirs?

Now consider Paul. In Romans 9:2-3, he says “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Think about Paul for a minute: Who had been confronted on the road to Damascus and called to a personal interaction with Jesus? Who had been caught up into the third heaven to see glories and visions of the heavenly kingdom? Who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?

The Trade of the Century

And yet Paul offered to trade his place in heaven for his people. He was willing to be cursed from Christ if only his fellow Israelites could be saved. Let THAT sink in for a minute. Moses offered to trade his eternal life for his people; Paul offered to be cursed from Christ for his people. Do you sense a trend here?

Finally, consider Jesus. In Luke 19:41-42, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he WEPT over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…” Jesus got emotional about Jerusalem, and of course we all know that he made the ultimate trade on their behalf… It seems that the closer someone gets to the Lord, the more his or her heart becomes filled with greater empathy and a greater desire to see others enter the Kingdom. The closer we get to the Lord, the more our heart will beat like His.

How is your heart? Who do YOU weep for? And who comes to mind when you consider giving away your own eternal life if only they could be saved? Hmm… You might not think of yourself as a minister, but that might just be your call to ministry, right THERE.

The Worst Trade and the Best Trade EVER

Israel sinned before the Lord, with judgment sure to fall;
Moses offered up his life if it could save them all.
It’s there in Exodus 32 and you can take a look:
“Please save them Lord; if not, then you can blot me from your book.”
Paul once said, ‘For me to live is Christ, to die is gain!”
But then he also said these words, that almost sound insane:
He loved his kinsmen so, he said he would be cursed from Christ
If they could find God’s grace by means of what he sacrificed!

Think of everyone you know, and picture all their faces;
For which of them would you consider trading eternal places?
We might think of one we love, and trade our life for theirs,
But what about a jerk? A thief? A crook who never cares?
Consider Christ, and think about the sacrifice he made:
He saw my face, unworthy; and he made the ultimate trade.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread