Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Intercessory Prayer—A Matter of Life or Death!

Exodus 17:8-13 portrays the critical nature of intercessory prayer. The well-known story of Moses on the mountaintop lifting his hands towards God while Joshua and the Armies of Israel fight the Amalekites below may be applied in various ways, but the “Intercessory Prayer” application is a valid and enduring one.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 parallels this event in the New Testament. Paul and his associates are on the battlefield as missionaries and they are losing (verses 8-9, New American Standard Bible, NASB).

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;
9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; . . .

The pressures were greater than they were able to endure (“we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength”, καθ’ ὑπερβολὴν ὑπὲρ δύναμιν ἐβαρήθημεν) and they expected to die. In verse 10, however, Paul writes of their deliverance from death and of his confidence that God will continue doing so in the present and future.

who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, . . .

This deliverance possibility is expanded upon in verse 11 by means of a genitive absolute grammatical construction. The grammar of the text provides a striking parallel to the Old Testament story of Exodus 17.

A genitive absolute consists of a participle (verbal adjective) and a substantive (noun or noun substitute), both in the genitive case. The entire construction is grammatically disconnected from the main clause but is logically essential to that clause. Note the following NASB translation of verse 11 with the absolute clause in bold typeface (English does not distinguish the genitive case, but the clause is absolute being grammatically disconnected from the main clause.):

He shall continue to deliver [me] while you regularly help also on my behalf by prayer.

The Greek term for helping (συνυπουργούντων) answers the contextually-burning question of how Paul and his associates survived a burden too great for them to bear (verse 8). Consisting of a verb meaning to render service or work (ὑπουργέω), derived from a noun meaning work (ἔργον), and prefixed with two prepositions meaning underneath (ὑπό) and together with (σύν), this composite word paints the picture of the Corinthian believers sliding underneath the burden alongside the desperate missionaries helping to hold up its weight so that the apostles do not get crushed. In this context intercessory prayer is depicted as a life or death issue.

The disconnected nature of the genitive absolute construction parallels Moses on the mountaintop. As victory was assured for Israel on the mountain and not on the field of battle, so victory will be assured for Christians in the same distant arena—intercessory prayer.

Finally, because of the visual and audible nature of the Greek case system, the genitive absolute practically leaps off of the page as one translates the text. In English without visual and audible indicators it is easy to overlook the absolute construction and consequently miss the rhetorical and illustrative force of the underlying Greek text. Oh the beauty of the New Testament in all of its original glory!