The National Day of Prayer was created in 1952, but national calls to prayer are found throughout American history. The Continental Congress asked for prayer in 1775. President Lincoln proclaimed a day of prayer in 1863. In 1988, President Reagan fixed the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May. On that day, millions of Americans repent, pray for national righteousness, and intercede for our leaders.
In today’s reading, Moses held a one-man “National Day of Prayer” on behalf of Israel. While he had been meeting with God on Mount Sinai, the people had made a golden calf and began worshiping it. They were impatient and faithless. They willfully ignored God’s miraculous deliverances. They indulged in “revelry,” meaning sexual immorality, along with the idolatry (v. 6). They disobeyed quite a few of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1–17) in spectacular fashion!
Moses had been receiving the Law and was unaware of these events. So God’s news bulletin must have come as a shock. Perhaps his jaw was on the ground as God told what was going on, called the Israelites “corrupt” and “stiff-necked,” and presented a scenario in which they were wiped out and Moses became the father of a great nation (vv. 7, 9). Would this have been just? Yes. Would the Lord still have been faithful to His covenant promises? Yes. Yet especially in light of yesterday’s devotional, we suspect that God’s main interest here is in seeing how His chosen leader would respond. Like Abraham, Moses passed the test and responded with mercy. He didn’t take the bait, though he knew better than anyone how fickle and foolish the Israelites could be. Instead, he interceded for the people, not on the basis of their worthiness—he didn’t say a word in their defense!—but on the basis of God’s glory (vv. 11–14).
Apply the Word
Following the example of Moses, we, too, can pray for our nation and its leaders (1 Tim. 2:1–2). Why limit the National Day of Prayer to one day per year? Like Moses, it would be wise for us to base our prayers not on the worthiness of politicians and other leaders, but rather on the character and glory of God.