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 an 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
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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
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Real Leaders Have to Be Willing to Let Leaders Lead

The Bible contains some pretty good advice for leaders. Moses was wearing himself out trying to do all the work, and his father-in-law Jethro gave him some wise counsel. “Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.

Some Old School Leadership Advice

Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.

Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Exodus 18:17-22 NASB)

godly leaders

Wise Observation

Moses’ father-in-law is introduced in Exodus 2:16-18 as Reuel, which means “friend of God”. Such a title makes sense since he was a Midianite priest. He was also called Jethro, which was probably a title of respect, meaning “excellency.” Reuel was a devout man who celebrated Moses’ return from Egypt with burnt offerings,. Because of what he saw, he said in Exodus 18:11, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

It must have been a bit of a surprise to him that Moses left as one of his shepherds and came back as the ruler of thousands and thousands of Israelites… And as he observed his son-in-law try to manage things, Jethro could see that Moses needed some help. As the senior member of the family, he greeted Moses with enthusiasm and then offered him this wise counsel in verses 17-22.

The Bible is full of good, practical advice about leadership, and it offers wise counsel about good management technique. (For example, Paul gave some leadership advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2). In this case, Moses was doing what many bosses assume: “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. As a result, Moses was wearing himself out being the sole judge for all of the Israelites. Conducting daily hearings to help settle disputes among all of the people was more than one man could do.

A Short But Good List

Jethro, his father-in-law, counseled him to:

1) educate the people about God’s statutes and laws;

2) select godly leaders who loved the truth, and

3) lighten his workload by sharing the burden of leadership.

If you have a leadership position, if God has given you a task, then think like Jethro and act like Moses. Surround yourself with honest, godly people who will use their gifts to share the burden and lighten the load. Just make sure you look for the right qualifications. If there is any doubt about those qualifications, Jethro even spells them out for Moses (and for us).

Jethro said, “…select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain.” That’s actually a pretty strong list, and if you applied those qualifications to a business, or a church, or to, say, Congress, how many leaders would ACTUALLY be left to lead? I think Moses’ first problem today would be in finding enough able men who fear God, love truth, and hate dishonest gain.

Standards Are Important

His second problem in a world governed by relativism would be how to measure those leaders against a standard. He would have to have a means to evaluate men’s behavior and make judgments that did not tolerate arrogance, dishonesty or greed. He needed accuracy about the candidates’ character, and accountability to judge their behavior. In a life-and-death world where leaders’ decisions can result in human loss, Moses had to ask himself if the men he was considering were qualified to lead.

But asking if others have those qualifications as leaders is really the SECOND question. The first question is, would YOU qualify? If you lead anyone, anywhere—if you are a mom, a dad, a boss, a teacher, a friend, whatever—those are the qualities you should pray for! And we should hope we see them not just in others but also when we look in the mirror.

Godly Leadership

Jethro watched the way that Moses managed
And felt that he was somewhat disadvantaged.
He said, My son, Don’t try to do it all,
You’ll soon discover you will hit the wall,
And jeopardize your mission and your health:
Instead of doing all the work yourself,
Select some honest, godly men to lead
And they will give you all the help you need.”
Moses followed Jethro’s plan to lead,
And found a better platform to succeed.
If working hard’s not getting us what we need,
Perhaps that’s something all of us should heed.
Choose on godliness, if you can see it;
And best, for godly leadership, just be it.

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
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Being Courageous has Nothing to Do with Being Big and Strong

There are times in life when people need courage, and we see that wherever bad leaders wield their strength to oppress regular people. Sometimes it’s because people have chosen to face danger, and sometimes it’s because danger has chosen them. We are often inspired by their courage; we hope that we ourselves could stay strong in the midst of adversity. The Bible’s message on this is pretty simple: You, too, can be Strong and Courageous, and it has nothing to do with your strength or resources.

courageous

[Moses said] “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV)

An Exhortation We can Make; An Exhortation We Can Hear

As Moses transferred leadership to Joshua, this was his advice. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, where the inhabitants appeared to be stronger than they felt themselves to be. They were leaving the familiar and going into the unknown. They were facing uncertainty, hardship, change, and difficulty. So in this sermon, Moses told them to be strong and courageous—and why? Was it because they had a better army? Stronger men? Better logistics?

No. Moses told them they could be courageous, not because of their OWN sufficiency, but because THE LORD was going before them, and He would never leave them or forsake them. Pretty good advice, based on an eternal foundation: don’t be courageous based on self-sufficiency or what you know; be courageous because of WHO you know.

The Source of Courageous

John’s epistle said that perfect love casts out fear, and that God is love. It stands to reason that any time we accept God’s love we can become fearless! Are you entering a season of uncertainty and Insecurity? Be strong and courageous, because the Lord is with you. Dealing with change? Be strong and courageous, because the Lord is with you. Having to battle disease or health issues? Then this is pretty good advice for you, too.

This verse doesn’t promise that the trouble will disappear, or that we can hope in circumstances; it tells us to be strong because GOD is with us. When we appropriate His presence by faith, it offers us calm in the storm and assurance in the valley of the shadow. In the places we feel most alone, He will never leave us.

In our greatest uncertainty, we can be sure of Him. We can take courage, not in our own strength and sufficiency, but in the Lord our God, who goes before us and stands beside us. As David said, “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26) When your flesh and heart fail, fall in love with God. Be strong. Take courage from your Father, and be encouraged today!

The Cowardly Lion Could Have Used This

If you face uncertain times, and have to deal with fear,
The Bible has a word for you. I’m going to write it here:
Be strong, and be courageous, not because of what you know,
But because the Lord is with you everywhere you go.
Whatever happens in your life, wherever it may take you,
Your Father’s endless love will never leave you or forsake you.
His love is warm and comforting; in fact, it is contagious.
Allow His strength to help you to be strong, and be courageous.

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
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The Really Dumb People who were Blessed but not Satisfied

Once there were some people who were never satisfied. They complained constantly, and took offense at every slight. They weren’t happy, and they didn’t want anyone around them to be happy either. (Stop Me if You’ve Heard this Before…)

“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:10-12, NIV)

Whining is Unbecoming

The Israelites under Moses’ leadership were a study in contrasts, and no matter what happened, it seems they were never satisfied. They were miraculously delivered from slavery, and yet were ready to go back to their old lives at the first sign of trouble. Then the Hebrews reversed their field and went from rejoicing to rebellion in Exodus 15:24 (“the people grumbled against Moses”), and again in Exodus 16:3 (“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!”). They saw miracles, but lived in doubt. Insecurity plagued their every success, and they became unhappy mere moments after being completely satisfied.

satisfied

They followed Moses like children, but then were ready to kill him in Exodus 17:4. Moses’ followers wanted leadership but rebelled against it early and often. They saw God’s hand at work in their lives in miraculous ways, and then forgot it almost immediately, expressing themselves in both public and private grumbling and complaining. Whatever the Israelites were intended to become, their constant whining prevented them from achieving it. They were blessed but not satisfied.

Always a Long List

They hungered for the way things used to be, with appetites for things of the flesh rather than things of the Spirit. The Israelites blamed their leaders instead of having faith in the Lord. They longed for the comforts of slavery back in the fleshpots of Egypt, and kept turning away from the adventure of a life of faith. At times they wished they were back in bondage to Pharaoh—a god of this world—instead of walking in freedom with God.

Can you believe these guys? How could anybody be so stupid? They were given freedom; how could people be given the gift of freedom only to misuse it? How could they profess to have God in their lives and then totally forget about Him from time to time?

I’m sure you get it by now, but these guys are us. We are blessed but not satisfied; as God’s children we can walk in freedom with God, but often choose bondage to sin instead; we blame our leaders instead of following them; some vaguely hunger for spiritual maturity, but usually choose instead the temporary satisfaction of old habits and persistent, selfish sin. We criticize and marginalize rather than cooperate and build up. The journey of the inconsistent, immature, worldly, unfaithful Israelites is like a mirror given to us so that we can see how to walk with God. How are you doing? Learn. Walk. Be happy.

Satisfied With Less

There were folks who once received a blessing
But still lived life as something just worth messing,
Always stressing, transgressing, needing some confessing, never addressing how distressing it was that they were not progressing…
They walked with God Himself along the way,
And had the chance to see Him every day.
Why, they could go right up to Him and pray!
And yet they usually treated Him casually,
Or intellectually, failing to really see
How much He longed to be close to them, personally.
They left theology for some debauchery,
Sinned with ubiquity, Lived in iniquity–
How could this ever be?? Guess what ?! It’s you and me.

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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread