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
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

You are a Leader; So You Better Walk the Walk

“Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” (Philippians 3:17 NKJV) Paul’s statement recognizes that there are two kinds of people. People who talk, and people who walk. (That principle is eloquently reflected by the Sundance Kid when he said, “Keep talking there, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.”)

Walk in the Right Pattern

My freshman year at Southwest Texas State University in 1972 I was on a Navigator team of five guys who were committed to making disciples. The Navigators are an international ministry founded by Dawson Trotman back in 1933. The book “Daws: A Man Who Trusted God” (by Betty Skinner) tells the story of how Dawson recognized a need to go deeper than “hit and run” evangelism to build disciple-making relationships.

The Navigators have been accused of being too radical, and have even been called a cult. Their military-like commitment to training and discipleship can seem radical to some outside of their ministry, I guess. From the inside, I found them to be a group of sincere, authentic guys who helped teach me how to live out my faith. They spoke often about “walking the walk” rather than just “talking the talk.”

walk the walk

Walking With Focus

Our group worked together daily on being not just believers but disciples. Part of our commitment was that we wouldn’t date if we were on the team because we were going to be investing our time in making disciples, not spending it on dating. It was a big challenge for all of us on a campus where there were four girls in the student population for every guy. I still think SWT had the prettiest girls in the whole state.

When the guys on the team would talk about “heart problems”—spiritual challenges that got in and messed with your head—avoiding temptation from female companionship always made the top of the list. The girls at the BSU (Baptist Student Union) teased us by calling us the “Never daters”, and for most of my freshman year, we didn’t. (That Spring I was released from my “no dating” pledge because the team was in transition, and I got involved with Campus Crusade, where, of course, there were girls…)

Walking on Campus

But for most of my freshman year, David Sneller, Bill Henry, Randy Dietz, and Tommy Ledbetter spent time showing me how to do evangelism in the dorms, conduct Bible Studies, and memorize Scripture. We did service projects (we helped my parents move one weekend, painted someone’s house another, and did various acts of service as a team…)

It wasn’t all just militant discipleship. They were a fun and engaging team. We played intramural football together, went canoeing down the Guadalupe, and hung out. What I discovered, and what I could SEE was that these guys didn’t just TALK about the Bible; they really tried to apply it in their lives every day.

Walking on Campus

I’m not gonna lie, the no-dating thing was hard for all of us, but in many ways life was simpler. We were on a mission. (Ha, as I write this, I still can’t believe we really did that. So if you are skeptical I understand, but it made sense at the time and it was really a very rewarding year!). Here in Philippians, Paul was so secure in his walk that he offered himself as a pattern to follow.

I’m thinking there are very few folks whose actions allow them to do that… But the guys on our Navigator team at SWTSU in 1972 were guys like that. They were authentic, transparent men who walked the walk. Dave Sneller told me my first week on campus, “If you really want to be accountable this year, spend the first few days standing on the Quad wearing a big sign. Have the sign say, If you want to see what a Christian really looks like, watch me”.

I, for one, didn’t have the courage to do that, but imagine the help you’d get if you did, and the accountability you would create by saying, I am the pattern—watch me.

walk sign

Walk Wherever You Are

Gives a whole new meaning to “Here’s your sign”, doesn’t it? Christian, where’s YOUR sign? Is anyone watching you? Have you offered yourself as a pattern to anyone? I learned a lot about following Jesus from those guys. In fact, I have been incredibly blessed with authentic people throughout my life who have helped me understand about walking with God.

Over the course of my life, I have learned about authenticity from my parents, teachers and friends I had in high school, and of course that Navigator team in 1972… After college, I have found accountability from guys in Young Life like Mark Krimm, Dave Martin, Joey Turner and Christian Hemberger. I have also found loving accountability from my lovely wife, who has shown me more about Jesus than anyone else I’ve ever known. If Paul’s message means anything to us, then he is saying: be a pattern. I would enlarge upon that by saying, No, wait: you already ARE a pattern. Be a good one

Walk the Talk

Paul told the Philippians that his life was a sample
Of how to walk with God, and they should follow his example.
“Talk is cheap” the Proverb says, and when you get right to it,
There are lots of folks who talk, but never really do it.
So here’s another Proverb for the ones who talk the talk:
If you are going to say it, then you better walk the walk.

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