Standing In The Breach
June 2nd, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
STANDING IN THE BREACH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-2-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message from the Book of Ezekiel entitled Standing in the Breach. It is a message on intercessory prayer; our text is Ezekiel 22, verse 30; Ezekiel 22, verse 30. In speaking of the coming judgment of God upon Israel, upon Judah, God says, "I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none" [Ezekiel 22:30]. Therefore, the wrath of God was poured out upon the nation. It was destroyed. The city was destroyed, the temple was destroyed, and the people went into captivity.
Those phrases there: I sought for a man to make up the hedge, and stand in the gap, are the exact phrases that He uses in Ezekiel 13:5, "Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither have you made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord." That’s an unusual little idiomatic expression here, "Make up the hedge," gadar gader. Gadar gader, a wall around a wall, to wall a wall; a little expression in Hebrew meaning "to build a wall" of security and assurance around a city or a life.
And this word, to stand in the gap, peretz, "stand in the gap" [Ezekiel 22:30], in other places it is translated "breach." For example in Nehemiah 6:1, Nehemiah says that he has "builded the wall, and there was no breach left in it." In Isaiah 58:12, speaking of the coming blessing of God on the people: "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called the Repairer of the Breach," where there was a torn place and the enemy could pour through. "You are going to be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Paths to Dwell In." You find it, just among many others, in the last chapter of Amos and the eleventh verse: "In that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof"; the torn places thereof, "And I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old" [Amos 9:11]. It’s a beautiful and wonderful expression; standing in the gap, standing in the peretz, standing in the breach, making up the hedge, filling up the torn place, pouring out your life for somebody else, interceding for someone dear to your heart.
Now, He did not mean, I sought for a man to stand in the breach and found none [Ezekiel 22:30]; He did not mean that there was no godly man in Judah; Jeremiah was there. Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived at the same time. But Jeremiah was in a pit to die [Jeremiah 38:6]. What He is speaking of is that in the leadership of the nation there was no one to make intercession for the people. Before Zedekiah, who was the king of this passage, before Zedekiah, there was the godly Hezekiah, and there was the godly Josiah.
And in their days, there was no pouring out of the judgment and wrath of God upon the people. They were godly leaders. But in this day, in the day of this text, in the day of Ezekiel, there was no godly man in the king’s court or among the priesthood or among the leadership. And there was no one to intervene in the coming consummation of ruin and disaster and judgment. And that’s the meaning of the text. "I sought for a man among all the leadership of Israel, of Judah, to stand in the breach, that the land should not be destroyed, and I found none" [Ezekiel 22:30]. Therefore, the judgment fell, and the nation and the city and the temple were destroyed, and the people were carried into bitter captivity [2 Kings 25:8-17].
Now, we are going to look at that text minutely. "I sought for a man to stand in the breach." One, "a," singular: "I sought for a man to stand in the breach" [Ezekiel 22:30]. That’s an unusual thing: that an institution, or a nation, or a people, or a movement is always the length and shadow of a man. But that’s true in all history and in all life. Babylon is the length and shadow of Nebuchadnezzar. Persia was the length and shadow and life of Cyrus. The wonderful civilization of the Greeks is the length and shadow of Alexander the Great. Rome is represented by Caesar.
All of national and institutional life is like that. What would England be without a Gladstone or a Churchill? What would America be without a George Washington or an Abraham Lincoln? What would Texas be without a Sam Houston?
What would the Lutherans be without Martin Luther? Or the Methodists be without John Wesley? Or the Presbyterians be without John Calvin and John Knox? What would the Quakers be without George Fox? What would the Salvation Army be without William Booth? What would our Baptist people be without John Smith, or Roger Williams, or Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or George W. Truett? In every age, and in every nation, and in every institution, and in every movement in life there is always the vast repercussion of one man, a man.
What would Israel be without Moses? In Psalms 106:23, when they made that golden calf and took off their clothes and danced naked like heathen around that image, God said: I will destroy them [Exodus 32:4, 8-25]. Then, one hundred and sixth Psalm and twenty-third verse: "Therefore God said that He would destroy them, had not Moses His chosen stood before Him in the breach, to turn away His wrath, lest He should destroy them [Psalm 106:23]. That’s the passage that you read. God said to Moses in that thirty-second chapter of [Exodus], "Now Moses, you stand aside, you stand aside and let My wrath burn against these people. I will destroy them out of My sight: and out of thee will I raise up a nation to do My will" [Exodus 32:9-10]. And it was then that Moses stood in the breach and as you read, he interceded, saying, "If these people cannot live, I do not want to live. If You blot them out of Your Book of Life, blot my name out of the Book of Life" [Exodus 32:32]. And God spared the nation for Moses’ sake. He stood in the breach [Psalm 106:23]. There is a wonderful poem that just expresses that so beautifully and vibrantly:
Give me a man of God, one man
Whose faith is master of his mind,
And I will right ten thousand wrongs
And bless the name of all mankind.
Give me a man of God, one man,
Whose tongue is touched with heavens fire,
And I will flame the darkest hearts
With high resolve and pure desire.
Give me a man of God, one man,
One mighty prophet of the Lord,
And I will give you peace on earth
Bought with prayer and not a sword.
Give me a man of God, one man,
True to the vision that he sees,
And I will build your broken shrines
And bring the nations to their knees.
["Give Me a Man of God," George Liddell].
That’s an unusual thing in this earth. God and one man are always a majority. That was so in the days of Noah when the whole earth was filed with violence. "But Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord" [Genesis 6:8], and the earth was spared.
That was true in the days of Abraham. It’s hard for me to realize in the days of Abraham the entire earth was idolatrous. Even Terah, the father of Abraham, was an idolater [Joshua 24:3]. And God called him out, one man, and said, "In thee, in thee" as of one, Paul says. "In thee," as of one, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed [Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8]. That was true in the days of the story of the young lad David. He stood in the presence of Goliath, and the great Philistine army back of him, and David said: "You come to me with a shield, and a spear, and a sword: but I come to you in the name of the Lord God that you have defied" [1 Samuel 17:45]. One and God; true in the days of the apostle Paul, facing the entire world, the civilized world, the Greco-Roman world of paganism and heathenism and idolatry, facing it with the gospel of Christ. That’s an unusual thing.
And it is so here in the Book of Ezekiel. The people are hopelessly buried in slavery and captivity, and Ezekiel rises with the Son of the living God in his soul and the message of salvation and hope in his heart. And later on, as we shall see, he brings forth prophecies of the blessings of God on the people that are messianic and millennial, incomparably glorious. That’s God! One man and the Lord.
Now, He speaks not only of a man among them, but He speaks of that man as standing in the breach, standing for somebody else [Ezekiel 22:30]. Where there’s a torn place in the wall, this is the place where the hero gathers the people in victory and triumph and glory, standing in the breach. That has captured the imagination of the generations that have followed after: one man standing for the whole people standing in the breach. I was amazed this last week. I’ve heard of Horatius and the bridge, Horatius standing at the bridge, all my life.
I did not know until this week that this is a hero in the folk story of the Roman people who lived in the sixth century BC. In the sixth century BC, Horatius lived, but his name and his valor kept alive in folk story for these hundreds and hundreds and now thousands of years. I haven’t time to recount the story, just the summation. The Etruscans were pressing against the city of Rome, and they came to the bridge at the Tiber River. And the Roman government made appeal for somebody to stand at the bridge until they could hew it down.
Macaulay, the tremendously gifted essayist and literary genius of England, Macaulay wrote it like this:
Then out and spoke Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how shall men die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his country,
And the temples of his gods.
Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed you may;
I, and others to help me,
Will hold the bridge this day.
[from "Horatius," Thomas Babington Macaulay]
And the story, of course, is while Horatius held the bridge, they hewed it down. And then one story, that his life is taken away; another that he jumped into the river and swam across to his people in safety.
Standing in the gap; it’s a heroism that has captured the imagination of all history. May I just take one other? In our modern life, in the War Between the States, the Union army surprised the Confederates with their attack upon the Virginians at the head of the Shenandoah Valley in July 1861. And the Confederates fell into disarray under General Lee, but there was a man there, a colonel at that time in the army named Thomas Jackson. And he stood there.
And General Lee shouted to all the troops up and down the line, "Look, look, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall." And the troops rallied, and as you know, they won the battle that day, the first battle of Bull Run. And to this day, nobody knows Jackson except [as] Stonewall Jackson, standing in the breach. Stonewall Jackson. And I read this week, Lee, General Lee, saying that he lost the war because he lost General Stonewall Jackson, his right-hand man. It has captured, I say, the imagination of all history, a somebody standing for somebody else.
How much more is that viably and spiritually and dynamically true in the life of the people of God, standing in the breach, interceding for somebody else?
I see that in the dedicated teachers of our Sunday school. There are people, children, world without end, that are never taught the faith at home. They are never prayed with. They are never brought into the saving knowledge of Christ by their parents. But these godly Sunday school teachers stand in the breach, and taking the place of their parents who are negligent and derelict, these Sunday school teachers guide these young boys and girls into the way and into the path and into the salvation of the Lord. It is a beautiful thing to see it: Sunday by Sunday and during the days of the week, standing in the breach, interceding for these boys and girls.
It is true in home life; someone in the family standing in the breach, standing for other members of the family. When I was a youth, I listened many times to Dr. L. R. Scarborough, a wonderful preacher and evangelist. One of the things that he said that lives as vividly in my mind this moment as when I sat there and listened to him tell it: he was in a town in a revival meeting, and staying in the home of a family, as I have done many, many times. And in that home were two boys. And one day the mother said to the preacher staying in her home that she couldn’t understand why it was that other boys in the families of the town were being converted, but her boys were not. Other boys were being moved, but hers were not. Other boys were under conviction, but her boys were not. And the preacher said, "May I say a plain word and you would not misunderstand and you would not be hurt?" And she said, "I would love to have you speak, say it." And he said to her, "The reason your boys are not burdened is because their mother is not burdened. The reason your boys are not under conviction is because the mother is not under conviction. The reason your boys are dry-eyed is because the mother is dry-eyed."
And it went home to her heart. And that night, she stayed up all night long, praying and wept before God for her two boys. And the next morning at the breakfast table, the younger boy asked to be excused and went out beyond the barn. And soon came back and said to his mother, "Mother, last night you thought I was asleep. But I heard you praying for me and weeping before the Lord. And Mother, I have given my heart to Christ. I’m saved."
And the preacher said at the ten o’clock service the next morning, at the ten o’clock service that morning, that in the middle of his sermon, while he was preaching, the older boy stood up, and going to his mother, said, "Mother, I can’t wait until that man is done his sermon. Last night, I heard you praying and calling my name and weeping before the Lord. And Mother, I have found the Lord. I have been saved." Standing in the breach; there is a ministry in which all of us can share, interceding for someone else. We may not all be called to be generals; some of us may be called to be privates. We may not all be called to be towering trees; some of us may be called to be shrubs. We may not all be called to be the hub in the mighty wheel of God; some of us may be called to be a spoke. But however the humble station in which God hath placed us, we have a marvelous ministry assigned to each one of us. Standing in the breach, praying, interceding for somebody else; and the whole world needs somebody praying for it, families, children, homes, God only knows how much, how deep, and how far.
May I make this other observation about that text of standing in the breach [Ezekiel 22:30]. It is the way of God for blessing and for victory, praying, interceding as Ezekiel calls it: standing in the breach. Prayer is not an exercise in futility. Nor is it a waste of time and of labor. Prayer has a vast immeasurable repercussion in human life. It just does; God made it that way. I don’t know how else God could have made it, but I cannot not live without breathing. God did that. I must breathe to live. I cannot live without drinking water; God made it that way. I cannot live without water. I cannot live without food; God made it that way.
Neither can we find victory and blessing apart from intercession and prayer; God made it that way. That’s the way God put this world together, the inside spiritual world and the outside world in which we live. Prayer is the instrument and the agency and the medium by which God does His work, His saving work in the earth.
In the life of Moses, do you remember the story when the people of God came out of Egypt, and on the way to the Promised Land in the Sinaitic Peninsula, they were interdicted by the Amalekites, by Amalek and his people? And Amalek went to war against those pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land, and in the war, Joshua was in the valley fighting the Amalekites, and Moses was on the mountain with his hand holding the rod of God lifted toward heaven. And as long as Moses was able to hold his hands in intercession before God, Joshua was victorious in the valley. But Moses’ hands weakened. He became weary and tired, so Aaron stood on one side of him and Hur stood on the other side of him, and they held up Moses’ hands in intercession and appeal and prayer until Joshua won the victory [Exodus 17:8-13]. Now what do you think about that? Do you think that there is some kind of a connection between Moses interceding on the mountaintop and Joshua fighting down there in the valley? God says that there is. He says that there is.
Take again in the life of our Lord. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke, it says, "When Jesus ceased praying, His disciples came unto Him and said: Lord, teach us to pray" [Luke 11:1]. Do you see that? The disciples, as they watched the Lord Jesus, the disciples came to the conclusion that there was a connection, a repercussion between the prayer life of our Lord and His miraculous power. No man ever had that ableness under God as the Lord Jesus Christ: raise the dead [John 11:43-44], heal [Luke 4:40], speak [Mark 2:4-12] – ah, and the disciples came to the conclusion that it was His prayer life that gave, that made possible that marvelous, miraculous power that they found in the Lord Jesus. There was a repercussion in His life from His intercession, from His praying.
Take in the modern world; here in this pulpit where I stand, Paul Cho from Korea spoke for about an hour and fifteen minutes one time. This thing happened to that wonderful Korean pastor. A man came up to him and said to him, "Paul Cho, I cannot understand why it is that I have a Sunday school – I have an attendance, a worship hour – of five hundred, and you have fifty thousand."
And Paul Cho said to him, "How long do you pray?"
And he said, "I pray about fifty minutes a day."
And Paul Cho replied, "I pray five hours a day. Five hours a day. And maybe the difference between the five hundred you have and the fifty thousand I have is the difference between fifty minutes and five hours."
Now, with all of the pragmatic, empirical attitudes that the American has toward life, we would think, "What a waste of time! Five hours a day in prayer? Why, think of what you could do! Think of the homes you could visit, think of the work you can do, think of the errands you can run." Five hours a day to spend before God in prayer, to us, imperious as we are, it is unthinkable!
Not so in the sight of God! It’s just not so in the sight of God. There is a vital repercussion and connection and interlinking between our praying before God and the power and the work that we seek to do here in the earth. For blessing, for sweet benedictory remembrance; these things come to us through intercession. The great, wonderful preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon was asked, "How is it that the blessing of God is so mightily upon your ministry?"
And he replied simply, "My people pray for me. My people pray for me."
I have thought that the sweetest sentence I ever heard in my life was this of Spurgeon’s: turning to someone, he said, "Dear friend, some day when you have the ear of the great King, would you call my name? Would you pray for me? Would you call my name?"
That is a wonderful thing to do, in a day when we are bowed before the Lord and God bows His ear down to hear us, that we call somebody’s name. A precious thing to do, a beautiful thing to do, and that’s the instrument by which, the medium by which, God blesses us.
We are to be untiring, and unwearying, and we are to be importunate in our praying. In the Book of Leviticus, the fire is never to die off the altar [Leviticus 6:13]. It’s to burn day and night and forever. And Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: "Pray without ceasing." We’re not to be weary in our intercessions. And the blessings of God for His people come through those praying remembrances, standing in the breach [Ezekiel 22:30].
In this day in which I’m preaching in the Book of Ezekiel, Daniel was also living in the same time Ezekiel did. Ezekiel was a slave down there by the River Chebar when Daniel, of course, was next to the king himself in the court. But three times every day, we are told, with his window open toward Jerusalem, Daniel interceded for his people [Daniel 6:10].
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, the first verse, Paul begins: "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer for my people is, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. Interceding, asking God, praying before the Lord– and dear God, how many there are who are lost, or wayward, or confused, or unhappy, abysmally miserable, needing God. How many homes and lives need the touch of heaven upon them? And who is to intercede for them if we do not?
A call to prayer! I cannot sleep!
A midnight vigil I must keep!
For God doth call! I hear Him speak
"To prayer! To prayer! Prevailing prayer:
The need for such is everywhere;
The urgent need for urgent prayer.
To bended knee! To bended knee!
Gods call to you, Gods call to me.
Because what is and what is to be
Shall reach throughout eternity.
Oh, folks, I say – Again I say –
A truth has burned in my heart this day –
It’s the need of prayer! Let come what may.
We shall overcome if we "watch and pray!"
Awake! Awake! Ye saints awake!
Your place of prayer – believe and take!
"Stand in the breach!" for Jesus’ sake,
Ere a life be lost too late, too late.
["North East Indian Tidings"]
Praying for our children. Praying for the home and family. Praying for the lost. Praying for the church. Praying for the pastor. Praying for our people. Praying standing in the breach [Ezekiel 22:30].
May I close with just this one other point? No thing that we likely forget, we need to be reminded of it. The reason we have any hope of salvation lies in the intercessory ministry of our Lord in heaven. How is it that anyone of us will ever make it to those golden gates? What assurance? It lies in the intercessory ministry of our Lord in glory. Hebrews 7:25: "Wherefore He, our Lord, is able to save to the uttermost, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us." You look at that for just this moment. In His life in the flesh, there were thirty-three years. There was one mighty climatic act of dying, of atonement [Matthew 27:32-50; Romans 5:11; 1 John 2:2]. And there have been two thousand years of intercession [Hebrews 7:25]. You think of the emphasis that places upon praying, upon interceding, upon standing for someone else. Thirty-three years He lived. One great moment did He die. And two thousand years of interceding that we might be saved, that we might make it to heaven. Naming us, He knows our names [Luke 10:20; John 10:3]. He says the very head — the very hairs on our head are numbered [Matthew 10:30]. He knows all about us. Up there before God’s throne of grace, Jesus prays for us by name.
I can hardly realize that. Jesus is in God’s heaven, calling my name, praying for me [Hebrews 7:25]. No wonder we believe in the elective purpose of God, and the perseverance of the saints, and the everlasting doctrine of predestination and election and salvation [Romans 8:28-30]. How could we be lost, we who have found refuge in Christ, when He ever lives to make intercession for us, praying for us? Brother, we are going to see one another in heaven. We’re going to be there. We’re going to answer the roll call for our names because Jesus prays for us. He intercedes for us. We are not ultimately going to fall away. We are going to be there. God has saved us and forever [John 10:27-30].
Dear Lord, how could we praise Thee enough, and love Thee enough, and worship Thee enough, and call upon Thy name enough, and serve Thee enough? Lord, Lord, what a blessedness and a holy privilege just to love Thee, talk to Thee, pray to Thee, tell Thee we love Thee, offer our hearts and hands and lives to Thee. O blessed Jesus, our all in all, our hope and our salvation and assurance forever; and that is the appeal we make to your heart. What a beautiful thing.
What an incomparably precious thing to say to the Lord Jesus: "Lord Jesus, I give my heart and life to Thee. Bless Thou the work of my hands. Bless the home and the family and the house in which I live. Bless me in every dream and vision I have for life. Bless me, Lord, as I grow older and finally die. And then bless me, Lord, bless me, Lord, in that day when I stand before the great Lord God who made me; You stand by me and be my Mediator and Intercessor and Advocate and Savior." Oh, what a beautiful thing for a man to do!
And that is our appeal this solemn and precious hour. With no one leaving during the invitation but all of us standing and sharing in this moment of appeal for our Lord, a family, "Pastor, this day is God’s day for us. My wife and my children, all of us are coming forward today." Or a couple or just one somebody you, out of the balcony, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "God has spoken to my heart this day, pastor, and here I am." On the first note of the first stanza, come. And may angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.