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A Jewish Look at Intercession

August 1, 2011

by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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Many Christians believe that true intercessory prayer was born with the Church. There are certainly many references to intercession in the New Testament and clearly, standing in the gap for others in need is a part of Christian tradition. However, like so many other aspects of the Christian faith, the concept was firmly entrenched in Judaism from its most ancient beginnings. It was an idea with which many in the early Church would have been more than familiar because of its Hebraic foundation.

Jewish tradition teaches that the first instance of intercessory prayer in the Bible is found in Genesis 8:20. Here Noah builds an altar to the Lord and sacrifices burnt offerings after God saved him and his family from destruction. The Lord smells the soothing aroma and declares that He will never again curse the ground or destroy the earth by flood.

The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures are rife with other examples of those who would sacrifice to stand boldly before the Lord on behalf of the nation of Israel and the people God had chosen as His own. From Moses who was willing to be blotted out of God’s book (Exod. 32:32), to David who was willing to die himself in order to save the people of Israel (1 Chron. 21:17), to the prophets who repeatedly identified with a sinful nation in order to plead for its salvation, there are countless examples of the kind of selfless, passionate, believing prayer that moved the heart of God.

According to Nekrutman, there is no better model of intercessory prayer in all of the Tanach(Gen.–Mal.) than that found in Daniel 9. Here, all of the characteristics of the passionate intercessor and his effective prayer come together as Daniel cries out to the Lord on behalf of the people of Israel. He recognizes that God has made promises to the nation that are about to be fulfilled, and the cry of his heart is that the Lord will be merciful to His people, allow them to rebuild their nation, and use them to glorify His name.

  • The prophet prays in accordance with the revealed will of God.
  • His prayer is passionate and fervent.
  • It is marked by self-denial.
  • Although the Bible makes it clear that Daniel was a righteous man in every way, he unselfishly identifies with God’s people who have been unfaithful to the Lord.
  • His prayer is one of confession, fully embracing the iniquity of the nation and willingly accepting God’s justice in dealing with them.
  • He reminds God of His faithfulness to Israel in the past.
  • In sincere humility, he is clearly aware that he has no right to demand anything, acknowledging his own unworthiness and dependence on the covenant mercies of the Lord.
  • The ultimate goal of Daniel’s prayer is the glorification of God.

Today, the nation of Israel finds itself in a similar situation. The Lord is fulfilling ancient promises as the Jewish people rebuild their nation. And as much as the Israelites needed the mercy and protection of the Lord to fulfill that purpose, the modern state does as well. Daniel recognized the need for intercessory prayer so that, ultimately, God’s name would be glorified through His relationship with Israel. That need is as critical today as it was then, says Nekrutman, and the responsibility falls as it did in Daniel’s day, to all those who call upon the name of the Lord (Isa. 62:6).

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