Standing In The Breach
June 2nd, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
STANDING IN THE BREACH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-2-85 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us on radio the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Standing in the Breach.
In the sermons following the tremendously gifted prophet Ezekiel, we have come to chapter 22; chapter 22, and verse 30. Chapter 22 of Ezekiel, verse 30: God says to His people, "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]. He uses two phrases there, "I sought for a man that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap." Those phrases there are identical with the phrases that he uses in the thirteenth chapter of Ezekiel, and the fifth verse: "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]. That’s an unusual phrase here in Hebrew: gadar gader, "to wall a wall"; translated here "make up the hedge"; to wall a wall, to build a wall. And the word for "ga," perets, "gap," perets, it’s the word that is translated "breach" in so many other places in the Bible.
In Nehemiah 6:1 he says, that, "He built the wall that there was no breach therein." In Isaiah 58:12, he says of the coming kingdom of our Lord, "They shall build the old waste places; they shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called the Repairer of the Breach." Each time its perets, "gap" translated in Ezekiel; "breach" in these other places. For example, over here in Amos, the last chapter and the eleventh verse: "In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof" [Amos 9:11] – that’s that word translated "gap" in Ezekiel:
And I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old,I sought for a man among them, that should wall a wall, build a wall around them of security and blessedness and deliverance, and for a man who would stand in the breach before Me, that I should not destroy them: but I found none.
[Amos 9:11; Ezekiel 22:30]
Therefore, He destroyed the land, and the nation, and the capital, and the temple; and they all went into the tragic Babylonian captivity. That’s an unusual thing: "I sought for a man to stand in the breach before Me" [Ezekiel 22:30]. He is most evidently not speaking of the fact that there was no godly man in Jerusalem or in Judah, because Jeremiah was there. Jeremiah was in a pit, placed there to die [Jeremiah 38:6]. It is most evident that He is talking about the court, and the king, and the priesthood, and the leadership of the nation.
Before weak, vacillating Zedekiah, the present king he’s talking about, there were some great godly men who stayed the judgment of God upon the people, like Hezekiah, good King Hezekiah, and good King Josiah. And in their days God withheld His hand of judgment. But they were the last good kings; there was none other to follow them. And this present king is a vacillating time-server, who was unable to stay the judgment of Almighty God. And that is the meaning of the text: "I sought for a man among them, to stand in the breach: and I found none" [Ezekiel 22:30]. Therefore the judgment of God fell upon the nation and upon the people [Ezekiel 22:31].
First of all, do you notice that it is singular? "I sought for a man, a one somebody to stand in the breach before Me." Isn’t it an unusual providence in history that any nation, any city, any institution, any people, any one is actually the length and the shadow of a somebody one; one, a man. Like Babylon is the length and life and shadow of Nebuchadnezzar; like Persia is the length and life and building and influence of Cyrus; like Hellas, Greek philosophy and civilization, is the link and shadow of Alexander the Great; like Rome is that of Caesar; any nation, any people, any institution is like that: a man. What would England be without a Gladstone or a Churchill? What would America be without a Washington or a Lincoln? What would Texas be without a Sam Houston? What would the Lutherans be without a Martin Luther? What would the Presbyterians be without a John Calvin or a John Knox? What would the Methodists be without a John Wesley? What would the Quakers be without a George Fox? What would the Baptists be without a John Smith, or a Roger Williams, or a Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or a George W. Truett? These institutions of the world are length and shadows of a man.
It is no less so with Israel. What would Israel be without a Moses? When I turn to the Book of Psalms, recounting the life of the people of Israel, in Psalm 106:23: "Therefore God said that He would destroy them" – now this is the passage you read in the thirty-second chapter of Exodus – "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." Moses said, in the reading that you shared in a moment ago, "Lord, they have sinned a great sin, making themselves naked, dancing around that golden calf. But, Lord, if You do not forgive their sin, then blot my name out of the Book of Life. I do not want to live either" [Exodus 32:31-32]. And God listened to the intercession of the man of God, of Moses. And the Lord spared the people for Moses’ sake, standing in the breach [Exodus 32:34].
There is a wonderful poem:
Give me a man of God, one man,
A mighty prophet of the Lord,
And I will give you peace on earth,
Bought with a prayer and not a sword.
Give me a man of God, one man,
True to the vision that he sees,
And I will build upon your broken shrines
And bring the nations to their knees.
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 heaven’s fire,
And I will flame the darkest hearts
With high resolve and clear desire.
["Give Me a Man"; George Liddell]
Do you notice the text? "I sought for a man to stand in the breach" [Ezekiel 22:30]. That’s an unusual thing, how it is that God and one are a majority, just one and God. It was so in the days of Noah. Noah, out of all of the families in the earth, Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord [Genesis 6:8]; and God spared the utter destruction of this planet for his sake. In the days of Abraham, the entire world was idolatrous, all of it. That’s hard for me to realize. Even Terah, Abraham’s father, was an idolater! [Joshua 24:2-3]. But for Abraham’s sake, God blessed all the families of the world. That’s the way the story begins: "And in thy seed," out of all of the families of the world, "God will bless, through Abraham, the people of the earth" [Genesis 12:3, 22:18]. God and one! It was so in the day of the young lad David, standing before Goliath and the armies of the Philistines. "I come before you," said David, "in the name of the Lord" [1 Samuel 17:45] – one and God. It was so in the days of Paul: facing the idolatry of the whole Greco-Roman Empire with the gospel message of Christ. It was so in the days of Ezekiel, out of whose wonderful prophecy I am preaching.
Ezekiel, in the illimitable, immeasurable depths of despair of the people who had lost their city, and lost their land, and lost their nation, and lost their house of worship, and now were slaves in a foreign country, Ezekiel brought hope. When we get to the latter chapters of the Book of Ezekiel, he speaks in the most glorious ways of the coming millennial kingdom of God [Ezekiel 33:1-37:28]. Well, when he delivered those messages, it was as dark and full of abysmal despair as mind could imagine – one and God, standing in the breach.
That has always captured, through the centuries, the imagination of mankind – where there’s a break in the wall, a hero standing there for the people: one for the many. I was surprised – I don’t know why I didn’t remember this – but Horatius, Horatius, who stood at the bridge, Horatius, the tremendously remembered and glorified folk hero of the Roman people, Horatius lived in the sixth century BC. And do you remember that story, just to capsulate it, the Etruscans were coming down upon the city of Rome, and they were ready to cross the bridge over the Tiber. And they asked for a volunteer to stand at the bridge and hold back the Etruscans until they could destroy the bridge. And Horatius volunteered. It brought forth a famous ballad, written by the English writer Macaulay:
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 ye may;
And I, and two to help me,
Will hold the bridge this day.’
["Horatius"; Thomas Babington Macaulay]
Horatius and the bridge, in the sixth century, and remembered through all of the generations after.
Same thing in our modern history of Stonewall Jackson, when the Federalists, when the Union Army came down, their first incursion into the South, and came to the head of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia; General Lee was there, and had a young colonel by the name of Jackson, and the Confederates were surprised by the attack of the Union Army and disintegrated: but Thomas Jackson stood there. And General Lee pointed to him and said, "Look at Jackson standing like a stone wall." And the Virginians rallied, and the Confederates rallied, and they won that first battle in July 1861 of Bull Run. And that nomenclature, that epithet, stayed with Thomas Jackson forever. This is Stonewall Jackson. And I read this week where General Lee said that he lost the war because he lost General Jackson; he didn’t have his right hand by his side.
Standing in the breach: it has, as I say, captured the imagination of all history and of all people; somebody standing for somebody else. And how infinitely is that true in my text and in the work of the Lord? Standing in the breach, filling the gap. I think of a Sunday school teacher and the pupils before that godly woman or that godly man, and there’s no teaching of the Lord in the house, in the home: the children are brought up away from the knowledge of God; and that teacher stands in the breach, stands in the gap, and makes up what is lacking in the home in the hearts of the parents. The teacher seeks the soul of the child, wins the child to the Lord, and teaches the child in the way of Christ, standing in the breach.
When I was a youth, I would listen on many occasions to L. R. Scarborough as he would preach. And some of the things he would say made an everlasting impression upon me, and this is one. In a revival meeting, the pastor was staying in the home of a family, like I have done I don’t know how many times, and in the house were two boys. And upon a day, the mother said to the preacher, the evangelist, "I cannot understand. Other children are being saved; other boys are finding the Lord. But my boys are indifferent." And Dr. Scarborough said to the mother, "Could I say a word to you, and not offend you, not hurt you?" And she said, "Indeed, yes." And he said, "The reason the boys are unconcerned is because their mother is unconcerned. And the reason the boys are dry-eyed is because the mother is dry-eyed. The reason the boys are without conviction is because the mother is without conviction." It went straight to her heart, and that night, that night, the preacher said, she stayed up all night long praying with many tears for her two boys – standing in the breach – and the next morning, the preacher said at the breakfast table the younger boy stood up and said, "May I be excused?" And he went outside, and somewhere beyond the barn he found the Lord as his Savior, came back in, and said, "Mother, last night you thought I was sleeping. But I heard your prayers, and I heard your crying. And I have given my heart to the Lord." And the preacher said at the ten o’clock service that morning, the second boy arose in the middle of the service, while the preacher was preaching, and said, and said to his mother, "Mother, I can’t wait until the preacher has done his sermon. Last night I heard you crying, and I heard you praying. And I’ve given my heart to the Lord."
Standing in the breach, one for somebody else – that I think is God’s call to all of us in some area of our lives. God may not have called me to be a general; He may have called me to be a private. He may not have called me to be the hub of His mighty wheel; He may have called me to be a spoke. He may not have called me to be a towering tree; He may have called me to be a small shrub, but where I am, there can I be a great intercessor, a great prayer, a great lifting up of hands holy to God, standing in the breach, one for somebody else.
And that brings me to this last avowal: in that intercession, and in that praying, and in that appealing unto God, there is always victory and blessing, always. Prayer is not an exercise in futility; nor is it without meaning, a waste of time. When we pray, we invest our moments and our hours in the finest, noblest work that we could do ever before God.
Look at this: when the people of the Lord were coming out of Egypt and going through the wilderness and into the Promised Land, Amalek, the Amalekites, met them, and stopped them in the way. And there was a war; there was a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites. And do you remember the story? Moses stood on the mount with the rod in his hand, and as long as Moses could raise his hands, Joshua, who was leading the army of the Lord, Joshua prevailed; but when Moses lowered his hands, Amalek prevailed. Well, Moses’ hands grew tired: so Aaron stood on one side of him, and Hur stood on the other side of him, and held up the hands of Moses in prayer and intercession. And God blessed, and gave victory to Joshua and the people of the Lord [Exodus 17:8-13]. Is there not some vital connection between the holding up of the hands of intercession of Moses on the mountain and the victory of Joshua in the valley? Is there not some connection?
Take it again: in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke it says, "And when Jesus ceased praying, His disciples came unto Him, and said, Lord, teach us to pray" [Luke 11:1]. What does that mean? Simply this: that the disciples, in watching the Lord Jesus, saw some vital connection between His praying and His marvelous miraculous life. There’s a connection between the two.
Take again; you listened in this pulpit to Paul Cho from Korea. A man came up to him and said, "How is it that I have a Sunday school of 500, and you have an attendance of 50,000 each Sunday?" And Cho asked him, "How long do you pray?" And he says, "I pray at least fifty minutes a day." And Cho replied, "I pray five hours a day. And the difference is between 500 in the service of the Lord and 50,000 in the service of the Lord, the difference between fifty minutes and five hours in intercession." There is a vital connection, I am saying, between praying and the victory and the blessing.
A man came up to Charles Haddon Spurgeon and said to him, "Mr. Spurgeon, what is the secret of your marvelous ministry?" And Spurgeon humbly replied, "My people pray for me. My people pray for me."
May I make an aside? I think the most beautiful sentence I have ever heard in my life is this: Spurgeon said to a dear friend, Spurgeon said to him, "Dear friend, someday when you have the ear of the great King, would you call my name?" There is a vital connection between prayer and our lives, between prayer and our work, between prayer and our church, between prayer and the ministry by which we seek to offer our highest to the Lord.
The Lord encouraged us to be importunate, to stay with it in prayer. In the Book of Leviticus, He wrote, "The fire is never to go off of the altar, it is never to go out" [Leviticus 6:12]. And in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the apostle Paul writes, "Pray without ceasing." It is to be a life of intercession. God has made it that way. He made it that way. I cannot live without breathing; God made it that way. I cannot live without drinking water; God made it that way. I cannot live without food; God made it that way. Nor can we live in the power, and blessing, and victory, and triumph of the Lord without praying, without intercession. This is the way that God blesses His people.
Daniel, in Babylon, where Ezekiel is, they lived there together, Daniel three times a day prayed for his people with the window open toward Jerusalem [Daniel 6:10]. Could that have had something to do with God’s compassionate forgiveness of those captives, and opened the door for them to return back to their beloved homeland? There’s a connection between intercession and praying. That’s God. That’s the Lord God.
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;
It covers earth, it fills the air,
This urgent need for urgent prayer.
To bended knee! To bended knee!
God’s call to you, God’s call to me.
For 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 o’er come if we watch and pray!
Awake! Awake! Ye saints awake!
Your place of prayer, believe and take.
Stand in the breach, stand in the breach for Jesus’ sake,
Lest souls be lost – too late, too late.
[Author and Work Unknown]
Praying for somebody else, standing in the breach [Ezekiel 22:30].
I close with this eternal truth: that’s what Jesus is doing for us – present – is doing for us. Hebrews 7:25 avows, "Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us." Look at that just for a moment. In the life of our Lord, there were thirty-three years in the days of His flesh. There was one mighty act of dying for the sins of the world [Matthew 27:27-50]; and there have been two thousand years of intercession since then. And that’s what Jesus is doing for us: He is interceding for us, He is praying for us, He is asking God’s blessings upon us, and without that intercession we would never make it to heaven. Our promise that we’ll get there, that we’ll be there, that we’ll answer our name in the roll call there, our assurance of heaven is that Jesus is praying for us, standing in the breach for us.
I don’t want us to speak about prayer and we not pray. For just a moment – the time is far passed – just for a moment, I want us to do two things. I want us to cover our face with our hands, I want us to bend as low as we can, and I want us to pray whatever God would lay upon your heart: "Lord, remember me, help me"; or, "Lord, remember my children"; or, "Lord, bless my husband"; or, "Lord, help me in our home"; or, "God bless the pastor and bless this wonderful church." Just praying, just praying, just for the moment. Cover your eyes with your hands, and bend forward before the Lord, and talk to the Lord Jesus, pray to the Lord Jesus.
O, O, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Savior, who prayed for us in the days of His flesh, who prays for us in heaven, our Lord, hear our prayers that we offer before Thee now; standing in the breach. Is it for a child? Is it for the home? Is it for a husband or wife? Is it for a friend or neighbor? Is it for our dear church? Is it for the pastor and his staff? Is it for the work of God in the kingdom? Lord, there is such great need for intercessors. "I look for a man to stand in the breach: and I have found none. Therefore I wasted and destroyed the nation" [Ezekiel 22:30-31]. O God, spare us, we pray. Hear our praying people, and answer from heaven, and bestow Thy rich blessings, victory and triumph, salvation and assurance upon us. Lord, bless and change our cold, indifferent hearts; and make us quickened and alive to the presence and the Spirit of God. And our Lord, we pray that as we sing a song of appeal and open our arms and hearts in welcome to these that God hath called, that the Lord will bestow upon us a precious harvest this morning, in Thy saving and keeping and endearing name, amen.
Now we’re going to stand and sing our song of appeal. And as the Spirit of the Lord shall press the invitation to your heart, would you answer with your life? "Pastor, today I want to take the Lord Jesus as my Savior. Publicly, openly, I’m coming to accept the Lord." A couple: "Pastor, we are moved of God to give our lives to the precious Savior; and we’re coming today." A family: "This is my wife and these are my children; we are all coming today," or just one somebody you, as God shall press the appeal, "I am answering with my life." In the balcony round, there is time and to spare; down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And may angels attend you in the way and God welcome you. Come, while we stand and while we sing.