God's Pleasure in Intercession.

Isaiah 53:12.

The closing phrase of this remarkable chapter is "He made intercession for the transgressors," and it is a prophecy of the cry of the Lord Jesus on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Because of these words, the nation of Israel was accounted as having slain Christ in ignorance, even as Peter said in Acts 3:17, "And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers." Those who repented, and turned to God, were treated as the manslayer of old; they were allowed into the city of refuge God had provided. This we have in the Epistle to the Hebrews; "We might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus" (Heb. 6:18-20). After the rejection of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the nation, as such, is treated differently. Stephen, at the close of his solemn address, says, "Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before the coming of the Just One; of Whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:51-52). While the guilty nation passed on to its judgment, when Jerusalem was razed to the ground, those who fled for refuge found a sure and stedfast hope in Christ risen and glorified at God's right hand.

Abraham's intercession for Sodom, recorded in Genesis 18, must have given pleasure to the heart of God. How touching are the words in which the Spirit of God has penned this for us, "And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt Thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? — Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And the Lord said. If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes." Then Abraham proceeds to intercede, bringing the number down to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, and finally to ten. Never once is he discouraged by God. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and when we read Abraham's intercession in the light of the Lord's intercession on the cross, we can realise that God must have delighted in it. Lot could not intercede with God as did Abraham; he did not know what it was to draw near to God; he was too deeply involved in Sodom's affairs to have communion with God. We cannot intercede with God on behalf of evildoers unless we are separate from them, and know the intimacy of communion with God.

The intercession of Abraham did not save Sodom, for there were not even ten righteous within the city; but the intercession of Moses for guilty Israel had different results. While Moses had been communing with God on the mount, learning His mind about the tabernacle, Israel were corrupting themselves in idolatrous worship at the foot of the mountain. They had bound themselves in a covenant of blood to keep the whole law, and so soon after they had broken the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." God said to Moses, "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them: and I will make of thee a great nation" (Exodus 32:10). How great was the mercy of God that stopped to consider the feelings of His servant in this great crisis. He knew well what the thoughts and desires of Moses would be; He already feels the pleadings of the heart of His dear devoted servant before they are uttered, for He says, "Let Me alone." Israel's sin had called down upon them the righteous anger of a holy God, but intercession caused mercy to be mingled with judgment.

How unselfish is Moses! God's purposes concerning His people could still have been fulfilled in the children of Moses; His promises would not have fallen to the ground; but Moses manifests his unselfish care of those committed to his trust by Jehovah: he would not be made a great nation at the expense of poor sinful Israel; he was not an ambitious man, but the meekest man in all the earth, with low thoughts of self. He reminds Jehovah of how He had brought Israel out of Egypt with great power, and would not have the Egyptians say, "For mischief did He bring them out, to slay them in the mountains." Then he reminds God of the oath to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Was not this wonderful? A man pleading with God to turn from His fierce wrath, and God listening to the intercession of His creature, with the result that "The LORD repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people."

When Moses returned to God's presence after seeing the sin and nakedness of the people, he said, "Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold." There was no endeavour to minimise the seriousness of the offence, but he pleads with God to forgive them. He realised that God was righteous and holy, and that He could not overlook the enormity of Israel's transgression and rebellion against Him. Therefore he offers to stand in the breach, so as to bear the weight of the divine judgment himself. But, great and devoted as Moses was, he could never be acceptable with God as a sacrifice for sin. Only One, the blessed Son of God, Jesus Christ the Righteous, could stand before God as a sacrifice for sins; and having completed the glorious work of redemption, He is our subsisting righteousness in the presence of God. Yet how great must have been the pleasure of God in hearing Moses thus offer himself as a substitute for sinful Israel. It was a faint foreshadowing of the deep feelings of the heart of Christ, Who said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God — sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin Thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law."

Another delightful case of intercession is that of Job's. Satan had moved God against this righteous man, to destroy him without cause, and God had allowed Satan to take away all his children, and all his possessions; yet the response to all this evil from this "perfect and upright" man is, "Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD" (Job 1:20-21). At the second attack of Satan, when he is covered with boils, and sitting among the ashes, his wife says, "Curse God and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips" (Job 2:9-10).

Three friends came to mourn with Job and to comfort him, but alas, they knew not what had taken place when Satan had presented himself among the sons of God in the presence of Jehovah. They knew not that God had said, "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" They told Job of their great knowledge and experience, and concluded that Job must really have been a wicked man to bring down such judgments upon his head. Their false reasonings provoked Job to say many things, and to protest his integrity. Ultimately God intervenes, and Job confesses to Him, "I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not — I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:3, 5, 6).

But God had something to say to the three friends who had so falsely accused His tried servant. He said to Eliphaz, "My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept." What a great favour God conferred on His servant in enabling him to intercede for those who had so greatly abused him, and in accepting his intercession on their behalf. God would have no pleasure in punishing the three self-confident friends of the patriarch, but what pleasure He would have in listening to his prayer for them. And how good for us to see how God connects Job's intercession with his return to prosperity, for we read, "And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends" (Job 42:10). Earlier, Job had known what it was to offer burnt offerings for his sons, lest perchance they had cursed God in their hearts (Job 1:5); now he was an intercessor with a God he had learned in a new way, One Who spoke to him, and Whom he had seen. Without doubt, God would have pleasure in the sacrifices made for his sons; but how much greater the pleasure in the intercession from a heart that knew Him as Job now did.

In the New Testament, where Stephen so blessedly reflects the features and grace of his Master, at the time of his martyrdom, we have another lovely example of inter-cession. At the beginning of his address, "All that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." What a rebuke this should have been for those who falsely accused him of speaking blasphemous words against the law (Acts 6:13-15). The law had been given by a ministry of angels, as Stephen later reminds them; and the look on the face of Stephen was their condemnation, for they had not kept the law which they professed to administer. It was the consciousness of their guilt in this very thing, of which they falsely accused Stephen, that produced the gnashing of their teeth. They had not kept the law; they had slain the prophets who foretold Christ's coming: they had betrayed and murdered the Just One; and they had rejected the testimony of the Holy Spirit. What a solemn list of crimes against the leaders of the favoured nation! Instead of repenting, they are cut to the heart, and manifest their deadly hatred against the servant of the Lord.

Full of the Holy Ghost, Stephen now looks stedfastly into heaven, reminding us of the Lord Himself, although in a different scene, where, in John 17, we read, "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven." In heaven, Stephen saw "The glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." What a sight to strengthen the Lord's servant for the closing moments of his life and testimony on earth! His testimony was brief and simple, but how much it contained: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." This was the Spirit's witness to the One they had betrayed and murdered: God had given to Him the highest place in heaven. They cried out with a loud voice to drown the testimony of the Spirit of God; they stopped their ears, for they had no desire to hear it; and in an endeavour to silence forever what God was saving, they ran upon His witness with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him. Like his Master, he sealed his testimony with his blood; as Hebrews puts it, resisting "unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb. 12:4).

When all was over for the Lord Jesus, on the cross, He said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit and Stephen, coming out like his Master, calls upon God, "and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." But the last words of Stephen reflect again so beautifully his Master's spirit, when he cries "with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Had not Jesus said, on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do? How wonderful the intercession of the Lord for His enemies! how great the grace given to His servant Stephen to reflect His moral glory in similar circumstances. The Lord Jesus not only died to make propitiation for sins; He also died as a martyr; and in this latter way, His servants can follow Him, even unto death. What deep pleasure there must have been for God and for the Lord in the intercession of Stephen! He could not say, as the Lord said, "They know not what they do;" yet he prayed for his murderers.

What marked the servants of the Lord we have considered, is to mark the saints in this day. No doubt Abraham, Moses, Job and Stephen, were outstanding men of God; but the privilege that was theirs as intercessors is open to all the saints of God today. This we have in 1 Timothy 2:1, where Paul says, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men." Paul knew what was "good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 3, 4). His desire for the blessing of his brethren, after the flesh, was so great that he wrote, "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." This was the spirit manifested in Moses when he interceded, saying, "If Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written" (Ex. 32:32).

If however we are to intercede, we must be in a suitable moral condition for it. Is not this why the Apostle says in 1 Timothy 2:8, "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting?"

Women can pray, but not "everywhere" as men can; in public they are to "learn in silence" (1 Tim. 2:11). Lot could not intercede like Abraham for Sodom; he could not lift up holy hands when his hands had been linked with the sinners of Sodom. Those who are immersed in the affairs of the world, or engaged with its pleasures, are not in the moral condition suitable for intercession. Abraham had been in the path of separation, and in communion with God: Moses had been on the mount with God, and morally apart from the guilty nation; Job was perfect, upright, one that feared God, and eschewed evil; one who had come through the furnace of affliction to purge him from all the dross of self-righteousness; Stephen was "full of the Holy Ghost," and occupied with the Son of God in heaven. These are the features that will enable us to be true intercessors with God on behalf of others.

Where was Aaron when Israel sinned? Was he not the High Priest ordained for the work of intercession? Alas! alas! he allowed himself to become involved in the people's sin, for which he had to be rebuked by Moses. Where were the High Priest and the chief priests, when the Lord Jesus was apprehended? As one has said, "Instead of pleading for the guilty, they are found pleading against the guiltless." So often those who should be interceding with God are so defiled, and unconscious of it, that they are utterly unfit to plead with God on behalf of others. God will not listen to us interceding "if our heart condemn us;" that is if we have a bad conscience; but "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God" (1 John 3:20-21). The prayer and supplication of Daniel (chapter 9) is full of instruction for us on this subject. He was intelligent in the mind of God through His word (Dan. 9:2); he had the true attitude of heart in approaching God (Dan. 9:3); he first confesses his own sins, then says "we have sinned" (Dan. 9:4-15); then supplicates God on behalf of Jerusalem.

Coming now to our verse in Isaiah 53, Jehovah says of the Lord Jesus, "Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong." This day is yet in prospect, it is the day of Christ's glory, for which we wait in patience. In this wonderful chapter, the prophet has seen Him "despised and rejected of men;" now Jehovah divides Him a portion with the great. Who are the great? Are they the great men of this world? Nay, they are those who, like their Master, have been "despised and rejected of men." And who are the strong with whom He shall divide the spoil? They are "the weak" that God has chosen "to confound the mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). What a day will that be for Christ when "He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them than believe" (2 Thess. 1:10).

Then we have God's reason for giving Christ the supreme place in the glory and triumphs of the coming day. First, "He hath poured out His soul unto death." Secondly "He was numbered with the transgressors." Thirdly, "He bare the sin of many." Finally, He "made intercession for the transgressors." The first speaks of the deep sorrow of His heart; the second of the shame of the cross; the third of the judgment He bore for our sins; the last of the intercession through which God was able to take account of Israel's sin as a sin of ignorance, rather than as a wilful sin, for which there was no sacrifice. Is it any wonder that God is going to give a public answer to the cross? All the deep sorrow of His heart will find an answer in the supreme joy of "that day." The shame of the cross has already an answer in glory, but He will be publicly seen in the coming day, not with "transgressors" with whom men numbered Him, but with the "many sons" He has brought to glory, "the great" and "the strong." The many, whose sins He bore, will be with Him, to share His joy and His glory, every one in a robe spotless white, made meet for His companionship through His death for them.

His intercession for the transgressors crowns this wonderful picture. It was after Jesus said "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," that we read of the dying malefactor saying to his fellow, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss;" adding, "Lord remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom." His intercession was speedily efficacious for that poor sinner, who entered with Him that day into the Paradise of God, and shall indeed be remembered in His kingdom glory. But how great the pleasure for the Father when His Son interceded for the transgressors, even for those engaged in His crucifixion. What a great company shall surround Christ in the day of His glory, every one there because He said, "Father forgive them." But the intercession of Christ has not ceased! On His Father's throne, while awaiting the day of sitting on His own throne, Christ intercedes for His saints, even as we read, "Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:34).
Wm. C. Reid.