Verse 23. Therefore he said that he would destroy them. The threatening of destruction came at last. For the first wilderness sin he chastened them, sending leanness into their soul; for the second he weeded out the offenders, the flame burned up the wicked; for the third he threatened to destroy them; for the fourth he lifted up his hand and almost came to blows ( Psalms 106:26 ); for the fifth he actually smote them, "and the plague brake in among them"; and so the punishment increased with their perseverance in sin. This is worth noting, and it should serve as a warning to the man who goeth on in his iniquities. God tries words before he comes to blows, "he said that he would destroy them": but his words are not to be trifled with, for he means them, and has power to make them good.
Had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach. Like a bold warrior who defends the wall when there is an opening for the adversary and destruction is rushing in upon the city, Moses stopped the way of avenging justice with his prayers. Moses had great power with God. He was an eminent type of our Lord, who is called, as Moses here is styled, "mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth." As the Elect Redeemer interposed between the Lord and a sinful world, so did Moses stand between the Lord and his offending people. The story as told by Moses himself is full of interest and instruction, and tends greatly to magnify the goodness of the Lord, who thus suffered himself to be turned from the fierceness of his anger.
With disinterested affection, and generous renunciation of privileges offered to himself and his family, the great Lawgiver interceded with the Lord to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them. Behold the power of a righteous man's intercession. Mighty as was the sin of Israel to provoke vengeance, prayer was mightier in turning it away. How diligently ought we to plead with the Lord for this guilty world, and especially for his own backsliding people! Who would not employ an agency so powerful for an end so gracious! The Lord still harkens to the voice of a man, shall not our voices be often exercised in supplicating for a guilty people?
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 23. Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach. Moses stood in the gap, and diverted the wrath of God; the hedge of religion and worship was broken down by a golden calf, and he made it up: Numbers 16:41-42 , the people murmured, rose up against Moses and Aaron, trod down the hedge of authority, whereupon the plague brake in upon them; presently Aaron steps That into the gap, makes up the hedge, and stops the plague, Numbers 16:47-48 which they did was honourable; and they were repairers of breaches. We, through infinite mercy, have had some like Moses and Aaron, to make up our hedges, raise up our foundations, and stop some gaps; but all our gaps are not yet stopped. Are there not gaps in the hedge of doctrine? If it were not so, how came in such erroneous, blasphemous, and wild opinions amongst us? Are there not gaps in the hedges of civil and ecclesiastical authority? Do not multitudes trample upon magistracy and ministry, all powers, both human and divine? Are there not gaps in the worship of God? Do not too many tread down all churches, all ordinances, yea, the very Scriptures? Are there not gaps in the hedge of justice, through which the bulls of Bashan enter, which oppress the poor, and crush the needy? Amos 4:1 : Are there not gaps in the hedge of love; is not that bond of perfection broken? Are there not bitter envyings and strife amongst us; do we not bite and devour one another? Are there not gaps in the hedge of conscience? Is not the peace broken between God and your souls? Doth not Satan come in oft at the gap, and disturb you? Are there not gaps also in your several relations, whereby he gets advantage? Surely, if our eyes be in our heads, we may see gaps enough. --William Greenhill.
Verse 23. The breach. This is a metaphor taken from a city which is besieged, and in the walls of which the enemy having made a "breach" is just entering in, to destroy it, unless he be driven back by some valiant warrior. Thus Moses stood, as it were "in the breach", and averted the wrath of God, when he was just going to destroy the Israelites. See Exodus 32:1-35 . --Thomas Fenton.
Verse 23. If Christians could be brought to entertain a just sense of the value and power of intercessory prayer, surely it would abound. It is a terrible reproof against the lying prophets of Ezekiel's time: "Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord" ( Ezekiel 13:5 ). Compare Exodus 32:9-14 . --William S. Plumer.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 23. Moses, the intercessor, a type of our Lord. Carefully study his pleading as recorded in Exodus 32:1-35 .
- Mediation required: "He said that he would destroy them", etc.
- Mediation offered: "Moses stood before him in the breach."
- Mediation accepted: "To turn away his wrath", etc. Exodus 32:1-35 . --G.R.