5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite community, “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. 9 Only don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:5-9)
After the twelve spies came back with their report about giants in the land, the people rebelled. They decided it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to have to face the enemies in the Promised Land.
I was struck by the very different responses to the rebellion between Moses and Aaron and Caleb and Joshua. Moses and Aaron went to the Lord. Joshua and Caleb went to the people.
Verses 6-7 tell us that Joshua and Caleb immediately tore their clothes (a sign of mourning), and then went to the people, begging them not to rebel against God.
Meanwhile, Moses and Aaron “fell facedown” (14:5).
It might be tempting to say that the two old guys did nothing, while the two young guys sprang into action. But this could not be further from the truth.
To fall facedown was the posture of intercession. If you jump to verse 13, you will find Moses praying one of the most intense prayers of intercession you will find anywhere in Scripture.
13 But Moses replied to the Lord, “The Egyptians will hear about it, for by your strength you brought up this people from them. 14 They will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, Lord, are among these people, how you, Lord, are seen face to face, how your cloud stands over them, and how you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you kill this people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of your fame will declare, 16 ‘Since the Lord wasn’t able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them, he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 “So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as you have spoken: 18 The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love, forgiving iniquity and rebellion. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generation. 19 Please pardon the iniquity of this people, in keeping with the greatness of your faithful love, just as you have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:13-19)
Moses reminds God of His promises (verse 16). He quotes God back to God (verse 18; compare Exodus 34:6-7). And he begs God to forgive His people, consistent with His character (verse 19).
This is front line, stand in the gap, next level intercession. Moses contends for the people before God. At the same time, Joshua and Caleb are using all their powers of persuasion and all their gifts as leaders to try to convince the people to change course. They are putting their own reputations on the line. They are risking their lives in order to persuade the rabble to repent and believe God’s promises.
Realize that these two responses are NOT a contrast between action and inaction. And they are not a contrast between elderly weariness and youthful enthusiasm. Instead, they are a picture of different people acting within their giftedness and assigned roles in order to effect change. Moses and Aaron were Levites. Job one for them was intercession on behalf of the people to God. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, were leaders of men. They came with a military mindset.
God’s people need both. Prayer warriors are every bit men and women of action as coaches and generals are. For the body of Christ to function well, it needs to be led by visionaries AND intercessors. Men and women who talk to God about people; AND men and women who talk to people about God. Priests and Generals.
That doesn’t mean that if you are a priest you should never be a general, and vice versa. Moses did plenty of leading, and Joshua would do plenty of praying. But I think this is a beautiful snapshot of how God uses all of us.