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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

 

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INTERCESSION

in-ter-sesh'-un (pagha`, "to make intercession"; originally "to strike upon," or "against"; then in a good sense, "to assail anyone with petitions," "to urge," and when on behalf of another, "to intercede" (Ruth 1:16; Jer 7:16; 27:18; Job 21:15; Gen 23:8; Isa 53:12; Jer 36:25). A similar idea is found in enteuxis, used as "petition," and in the New Testament "intercession." The English word is derived from Latin intercedo, "to come between," which strangely has the somewhat opposed meanings of "obstruct" and "to interpose on behalf of" a person, and finally "to intercede." The growth of meaning in this word in the various languages is highly suggestive. In the Greek New Testament we find the word in 1 Tim 2:1; 4:5; entugchano, is also found in Rom 8:26-34):
Etymology and Meaning of Term
I. MAN'S INTERCESSION FOR HIS FELLOW-MAN
1. Patriarchal Examples
2. Intercessions of Moses
3. The Progress of Religion, Seen in Moses' Intercessions
4. Intercessory Prayer in Israel's Later History
5. The Rise of Official Intercession
6. Samuel as an Intercessor in His Functions as Judge, Priest and Prophet
7. Intercession in the Poetic Books
8. The Books of Wisdom
9. The Prophets' Succession to Moses and Samuel
10. The Priest and Intercession
11. Intercession in the Gospels
12. Intercessory Prayers of the Church
13. Intercession Found in the Epistles
II. INTERCESSION PERFECTED IN CHRIST'S OFFICE AND IN THE CHURCH
III. INTERCESSION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Etymology and Meaning of Term:
The meaning of the word is determined by its use in 1 Tim 2:1, "I exhort, therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all and men"; where the different kinds of prayers appear to be distinguished. Considerable discussion has arisen on the exact meaning of these words. Augustine refers them to the liturgy of the Eucharist. This seems to be importing the significance of the various parts of the ceremony as observed at a time much later than the date of the passage in question. "Supplications" and "prayers" refer to general and specific petitions; "intercessions" will then have the meaning of a request concerning others.
Intercession is prayer on behalf of another, and naturally arises from the instinct of the human heart--not merely prompted by affection and interest, but recognizing that God's relation to man is not merely individual, but social. Religion thus involves man's relations to his fellow-man, just as in man's social position intercession with one on behalf of another is a common incident, becoming, in the development of society, the function of appointed officials; as in legal and courtly procedure, so in religion, the spontaneous and affectionate prayer to God on behalf of another grows into the regular and orderly service of a duly appointed priesthood. Intercession is thus to be regarded: (1) as the spontaneous act of man for his fellowman; (2) the official act of developed sacerdotalism; (3) the perfecting of the natural movement of humanity, and the typified function of priesthood in the intercession of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
I. Man's Intercession for His Fellow-Man.
1. Patriarchal Examples:
Many such prayers are recorded in Scripture. The sacrificial act of Noah may have been partly of this nature, for it is followed by a promise of God on behalf of the race and the earth at large (Gen 8:20-22). Such also is Abraham's prayer for Ishmael (Gen 17:18); Abraham's prayer for Sodom (Gen 18:23-33); Abraham for Abimelech (Gen 20:17). Jacob's blessing of Joseph's sons is of the nature of intercession (Gen 48:8-23). His dying blessing of his sons is hardly to be regarded as intercessory; it is, rather, declarative, although in the case of Joseph it approaches intercession. The absence of distinct intercessory prayer from Abraham to Moses is to be observed, and shows how intensely personal and individual the religious consciousness was still in its undeveloped quality. In Moses, however, the social element finds a further development, and is interesting as taking up the spirit of the Father of the Faithful. Moses is the creator of the national spirit. He lifts religion from its somewhat selfish character in the patriarchal life to the higher and wider plane of a national and racial fellowship.
2. Intercessions of Moses:
The progressive character of the Divine leading of man is found thus in the development of the intercessory spirit, e.g. Moses' prayer for the removal of plagues (Ex 15:25 f); for water at Rephidim (Ex 17:4); for victory over Amalek (Ex 17:8-16); prayer for the people after the golden calf (Ex 32:11-14,21-34; 33:12 f); after the renewal of the tables of stone (Ex 34:9); at the setting forth and stopping of the Ark (Nu 10:35 f); after the burning at Taberah (Nu 11:2); for the healing of Miriam's leprosy (Nu 12:13); after the return of the spies (Nu 14:13-19); after the destruction by serpents (Nu 21:7); for direction in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad (Nu 27:5); for a successor (Nu 27:15); recital of his prayer for the people for their entrance into Canaan (Dt 3:23 f); recital of his prayer for the people after the worship of the golden calf (Dt 9:18 ff); recital of prayers for the rebellious people (Dt 9:25-29); a command to him who pays his third-year tithes to offer prayer for the nation (Dt 26:15); Moses' final blessing of the tribes (Dt 33).
3. The Progress of Religion, Seen in Moses' Intercessions:
This extensive series of the intercessory prayers of Moses forms a striking illustration of the growth of religion, represented by the founder of the national life of Israel. It is the history of an official, but it is also the history of a leader whose heart was filled with the intensest patriotism and regard for his fellows. None of these prayers are perfunctory. They are the vivid and passionate utterances of a man full of Divine enthusiasm and human affection. They are real prayers wrung from a great and devout soul on occasions of deep and critical importance. Apart from their importance in the history of Israel, they are a noble record of a great leader of men and servant of God.
4. Intercessory Prayer in Israel's Later History:
In the history of Joshua we find only the prayer for the people after the sin of Achan (Josh 7:6-9), although the communications from God to Joshua are numerous. A faint intercessory note may be heard in Deborah's song (Jdg 5:31) though it is almost silenced by the stern and warlike tone of the poem. Gideon's prayer History of seems to reecho something of the words of Moses (Jdg 6:13), and accords with the national and religious spirit of the great leader who helped in the formation of the religious life of his people (see Jdg 6:24), notwithstanding the evident lower plane on which he stood (Jdg 8:27), which may account partially for the apostasy after his death (Jdg 8:33 f). Manoah's prayers (Jdg 13) may be noted.
5. The Rise of Official Intercession:
(The satisfaction of Micah at securing a priest for his house, and the subsequent story, belong rather to the history of official intercession (Jdg 18; see below), as also the inquiry of the people through Phinehas at Shiloh (Jdg 20:27 f), and the people's mourning and prayer (Jdg 21:2 f).)
6. Samuel as an Intercessor in His Functions as Judge, Priest and Prophet:
Samuel is the real successor of Moses, and in connection with his life intercession again appears more distinct and effective. Hannah's song, though chiefly of thankfulness, is not without the intercessory spirit (1 Sam 2:1-11). So also of Samuel's prayer at Mizpeh (1 Sam 7:5), and the recognition by the people of Samuel's place (1 Sam 7:8 f; see also 8:6,21; 10:17-25; 12:19) (for the custom of inquiring of the Lord through a seer see 1 Sam 9:6-10); Samuel's prayer for Saul (1 Sam 15:11); Saul's failure to secure inquiry of God, even through intercession (1 Sam 28:6); Saul's final appeal through the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:7-20); David's prayer to God (2 Sam 7:18); David's Judge, prayer for deliverance of the people from pestilence (2 Sam 24:17); Solomon's prayer for wisdom to govern the people (1 Ki 3:5-15); Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Ki 8:12-61); Jeroboam's appeal to the man of God to pray for the healing of his hand (1 Ki 13:6); Elijah's prayer for the widow's son (1 Ki 17:20); Elijah's prayer for rain (1 Ki 18:42); Elisha's prayer for the widow's son (2 Ki 4:33); Elisha's prayer for the opening of the young man's eyes (2 Ki 6:17); Hezekiah's appeal to Isaiah (2 Ki 19:4); Hezekiah's prayer (2 Ki 19:14-19); Josiah's command for prayer concerning the "book that is found" (2 Ki 22:13). In Ch we find David's prayer for his house (1 Ch 17:16-27); David's prayer for deliverance from the plague (1 Ch 21:17); David's prayer for the people and for Solomon at the offering of gifts for the temple (1 Ch 29:10-19); Solomon's prayer at the consecration of the temple (2 Ch 6:1-42); Asa's prayer (2 Ch 14:11); Jehoshaphat's prayer (2 Ch 20:5-13); Hezekiah's prayer for the people who had not prepared to eat the Passover (2 Ch 30:18); Josiah's command for prayer concerning the book (2 Ch 34:21). In the Prophets we note Ezra's prayer (Ezr 9:5-15); Nehemiah's prayer (Neh 1:5-11); the prayer of the Levites for the nation (Neh 9:4-38).
7. Intercession in the Poetic Books:
The poetic books furnish a few examples of intercessory prayer: Job's intercession for his children (Job 1:5); Job's regret at the absence of intercession (Job 16:21); the Lord's command that Job should pray for his friends (Job 42:8). It is remarkable that the references to the Poetic intercession in the Psalms are few; but it must not be forgotten that the psalm is generally a lyrical expression of an intense subjective condition. This does not seem in the consciousness of Israel to have reached an altruistic development. The Psalms express very powerfully the sense of obligation to God, consciousness of sin, indignation against the sin of others. Occasionally the patriotic spirit leads to prayer for Israel; but only rarely does any deep sense of interest in the welfare of others appear to possess the hearts of Israel's singers. In Ps 2:12 there is a hint of the intercessory office of the Son, which reflects, perhaps, the growth of the Messianic spirit in the mind of Israel; Ps 20 is intercessional; it is the prayer of a people for their king. In Ps 25:22 we find a prayer for the redemption of Israel, as in Ps 28:9. In Ps 35:13 the Psalmist refers to his intercession for others. But the "prayer returned into mine own bosom," and the final issue of the prayer becomes rather denunciatory than intercessional. The penitence of Ps 51 rises into a note of prayer for the city (51:18). Sometimes (Ps 60, and perhaps Ps 67), the prayer is not individual but for the community, though even there it is hardly intercession. A common necessity makes common prayer. In Ps 69 there is the recognition of the injury that folly and sin may do to others, and a kind of compensatory note of intercession is heard. Ps 72 is regarded by some as the royal father's prayer for his son and successor, but the reading of the title adopted by the Revised Version (British and American) takes even this psalm from the category of intercession. In Asaph's Masehil (Ps 74), intercession is more distinct; it is a prayer for the sanctuary and the people in their desolation and calamity. Asaph appears to have caught something of the spirit of Moses, as in Ps 79 he again prays for the deliverance of Jerusalem; while a faint echo of the intercessory plea for the nation is heard in Ethan's psalm (Ps 89). It sounds faintly in Ps 106. In Ps 122 we seem to breathe a larger and more liberal spirit. It contains the appeal to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (122:6), as if the later thought of Israel had begun to expand beyond the mere limits of personal penitence, or desire for deliverance, or denunciation of the enemy. In one of the Songs of Degrees (Ps 125), there is the somewhat severely ethical prayer: "Do good, O Yahweh, unto those that are good." The yearning for the salvation of man as man has not yet been born. The Christ must come before the fullness of Divine love is shed abroad in the hearts even of the pious. This comparative absence of intercessory prayer from the service-book of Israel, and its collected expressions of spiritual experience, is instructive. We find continued references to those who needed prayer; but for the most part these references are descriptive of their wickedness, or denunciatory of their hostility to the Psalmist. The Book of Psalms is thus a striking commentary on the growth of Israel's spiritual life. Intense as it is in its perception of God and His claim on human righteousness, it is only when the supreme revelation of Divine love and the regard for universal man has appeared in the person of our Lord that the large and loving spirit which intercession signifies is found in the experience and expressions of the pious.
8. The Books of Wisdom:
In the Wisdom books there is little, if any, reference to intercession. But they deal rather with ethical character, and often on a merely providential and utilitarian basis. It is noticeable that the only reference to pleading a cause is said to be by the Lord Himself as against the injustice of man (Prov 22:23): "Yahweh will plead their (the poor's) cause." Action on behalf of others does not appear to have been very highly regarded by the current ethics of the Israelite. A kind of negative helpfulness is indicated in Prov 24:28: "Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause"; and it is significant that the office of advocate was not known among the Jews until they had come under the authority of Rome, when, not knowing the forms of Roman law, they were obliged to secure the aid of a Roman lawyer before the courts. Such practitioners were found in the provinces (Cic. pro Coelio c. 30); Tertullus (Acts 24:1) was such an advocate.
9. The Prophets' Succession of Moses and Samuel:
In the prophetical books the note of intercession reappears. The prophet, though primarily a messenger from God to man, has also something of the character of the intercessor (see Isaiah's call, Isa 6). Isa 25; 26 exhibit the intercessory characteristics. The request of Hezekiah for the prayers of Isaiah (Isa 37:4), and the answer of the Lord implied in 37:6, recall the constantly recurring service of Moses to the people. Hezekiah himself becomes an intercessor (37:14-21). In Jer 4:10 intercession is mingled with the words of the messenger. The sin of the people hinders such prayers as were offered on their behalf (Jer 7:16; compare 11:14; 14:11). Intercessory prayers are found in Jer 10:23 ff; 14:7 ff,19-22. The message of Zedekiah requesting Jeremiah's help is perhaps an instance of seer-inquiry as much as intercession (Jer 21:1 f; compare 1 Sam 9:19). In Jer 42:4, the prophet consents to the request of Johanan to seek the Lord on behalf of the people. The Book of Lam is naturally conceived in a more constantly recurring spirit of intercession. In the prophecies Jeremiah has been the messenger of God to the people. But, after the catastrophe, in his sorrow he appeals to God for mercy upon them (Lam 2:20; 5:1,19). Ezekiel in the same way is rather the seer of visions and the prophetic representative of God. Yet at times he appeals to God for the people (Ezek 9:8; 11:13). In Dan we find the intercession of his three friends sought for in order to secure the revelation of the king's dream (Dan 2:17); and Daniel's prayer for Jerusalem and her people (Dan 9:16-19).
In the Minor Prophets intercession rarely appears; even in the graphic pictures of Jonah, though the work itself shows the enlarging of the conception of God's relation to humanity outside of Israel, the prophet himself exhibits no tenderness and utters no pleas for the city against which he had been sent to prophesy, and receives the implied rebuke from the Lord for his want of sympathy, caring more for the perished gourd than for the vast population of Nineveh, whom the Lord, however, pitied and spared (Jon 4). Even the sublime prayer of Hab 3 has only a suggestion of intercession. Zec 6:13 relieves the general severity of the prophetic message, consisting of the threatenings of judgment, by the gleam of the promise of a royal priest whose office was partially that of an intercessor, though the picture is darkened by the character of the priesthood and the people, whose services had been selfish, without mercy and compassion (Zec 7:4,7). Now the spirit of tenderness, the larger nature, the loving heart, are to be restored to Israel (Zec 8:16-23). Other nations than Israel will share in the mercy of God. In Mal 2:7 we find the priest rebuked for the loss of his intercessory character.
10. The Priest and Intercession:
How far intercession was regarded as a special duty of the priesthood it is not very easy to determine. The priestly office itself was undoubtedly intercessory. In the Priest and offering of the sacrifice even for the individual, and certainly in the national functions, both of the regular and the occasional ceremonies, the priest represented the individual or the community. In Joel 2:17 the priests are distinctly bidden to "weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Yahweh." Mal 1:9 appeals to them for intercession to God, and the graphic scene in 1 Macc 7:33-38 shows the priests interceding on behalf of the people against Nicanor.
11. Intercession in the Gospels:
In the New Testament, all prayer necessarily takes a new form from its relation to our Lord, and in this intercessory prayer shares. At the outset, Christ teaches prayer on behalf of those "which despitefully use you" (Mt 5:44 the King James Version). How completely does this change the entire spirit of prayer! We breathe a new atmosphere of the higher revelation of love. The Lord's Prayer (Mt 6:9-13) is of this character. Its initial word is social, domestic; prayer is the address of children to the Father. Even though some of the petitions are not original, yet their place in the prayer, and the general tone of the Master's teaching, exhibit the social and altruistic spirit, not so pervasive of the older dispensation. "Thy kingdom come" leads the Order of petitions, with its essentially intercessory character. The forgiveness of others, which is the measure and plea of our own forgiveness, brings even those who have wronged us upon the same plane as ourselves, and if the plea be genuine, how can we refuse to pray for them? And if for our enemies, then surely for our friends. In Mt 7:11 f, the good things sought of the Father are to be interpreted as among those that if we desire from others we should do to them. And from this spirit the intercessory prayer cannot be absent. We find the spirit of intercession in the pleas of those who sought Christ's help for their friends, which He was always so quick to recognize: the centurion for his servant (Mt 8:13); the friends of the paralytic (Mt 9:2-6), where the miracle was wrought on the ground of the friends' faith. Of a similar character are the requests of the woman for her child and the Lord's response (Mt 15:28); of the man for his lunatic son (Mt 17:14-21). There is the suggestion of the intercessory spirit in the law of trespass, specifically followed by the promise of the answer to the prayer of the two or three, agreed and in fellowship (Mt 18:15-20), with the immediately attached precepts of forgiveness (Mt 18:21-35). A remarkable instance of intercession is recorded in Mt 20:20-23, where the mother of Zebedee's sons makes a request on behalf of her children; the added expression, "worshipping him," raises the occasion into one of intercessory prayer. our Lord's rebuke is not to the prayer, but to its lack of wisdom.
It is needless to review the cases in the other Gospels. But the statement of Mk 6:5 f, that Christ could not perform mighty works because of unbelief, sheds a flood of light upon one of the important conditions of successful intercession, when contrasted with the healing conditioned by the faith of others than the healed. One of the most distinct examples of intercessory prayer is that of the Lord's intercession for Peter (Lk 22:31 f), and for those who crucified Him (Lk 23:34). The place of intercession in the work of Christ is seen clearly in our Lord's intercessory prayer (see INTERCESSION OF CHRIST), where it is commanded by definite precept and promise of acceptance. The promise of the answer to prayer in the name of Christ is very definite (Jn 16:24). Christ's high-priestly prayer is the sublimest height of prayer to God and is intercessory throughout (Jn 17); Jn 16:26 does not, as some have held, deny His intercession for His disciples; it only throws open the approach to God Himself.
12. Intercessory Prayers of the Church:
Acts introduces us to the working of the fresh elements which Christ gave to life. Hence, the prayers of the church become Christian prayers, involving the wider outlook on others and on the world at large which Christianity has bestowed on men. The prayer of the assembled believers upon the liberation of the apostles breathes this spirit (Acts 4:24-30). The consecrating prayer for the seven was probably intercessory (Acts 6:6; compare Acts 1:24). How pathetic is the plea of Stephen for his murderers (Acts 7:60)! How natural is intercession (Acts 8:24)! Peter at Joppa (Acts 9:40); the church making prayer with-out ceasing for Peter (Acts 12:5,12); the prayer for Barnabas and Saul at Antioch (Acts 13:3); Paul and Barnabas praying for the churches (Acts 14:23); the church at Antioch commending Paul and Silas to the grace of God (Acts 15:40); Paul and the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:36), are all examples, more or less defined, of intercessory prayer.
13. Intercession Found in the Epistles:
In the Epistles we may expect to find intercession more distinctly filled with the relation of prayer through Christ. Paul gives us many examples in his Epistles: for the Romans (Rom 1:9); the Spirit's interceding (8:27); Paul's prayer for his race (10:1); his request for prayers (15:30); the help that he found from the prayer of his friends (2 Cor 1:11); prayer for the Corinthian church (2 Cor 13:7); for the Ephesians (Eph 1:16-23; 3:14-21; see also Eph 6:18; Phil 1:3-11,19; Col 1:3,9; 4:3; 1 Thess 1:2; 5:23,15; 2 Thess 1:2); a definite command that intercession be made for all men and for kings and those in authority (1 Tim 2:1,2); his prayer for Timothy (2 Tim 1:3); for Philemon (1:4); and prayer to be offered for the sick by the elders of the church (Jas 5:14-18: see also Heb 13:18-21; 1 Jn 5:14 ff).
II. Intercession Perfected in Christ's Office and in the Church.
This review of the intercession of the Scriptures prepares us for the development of a specific office of intercession, perfectly realized in Christ. We have seen Moses complying with the people's request to represent them before God. In a large and generous spirit the leader of Israel intercedes with God for his nation. It was natural that this striking example of intercessory prayer should be followed by other leaders, and that the gradually developed system of religious worship should furnish the conception of the priest, and especially the high priest, as the intercessor for those who came to the sacrifice. This was particularly the significance of the great Day of Atonement, when after offering for himself, the high priest offered the sacrifice for the whole people. This official act, however, does not do away with the intercessory character of prayer as offered by men. We have seen how it runs through the whole history of Israel. But it is found much more distinctly in the Christian life and apparently in the practice of the Christian assembly itself. Paul continually refers to his own intercessory prayers, and seeks for a similar service on his own behalf from those to whom he writes. Intercession is thus based upon the natural tendency of the heart filled by love and a deep sympathetic sense of relation to others. Christ's intercessory prayer is the highest example and pattern of this form of prayer. His intercessions for His disciples, for His crucifiers, are recorded, and the sacred record rises to the supreme height in the prayer of Jn 17. In this prayer the following characteristics are to be found: (1) It is based upon the intimate relation of Jesus to the Father. This gives to such prayer its justification; may it be said, its right. (2) It follows the completest fulfillment of duty. It is not the mere expression of desire, even for others. It is the crown of effort on their behalf. He has revealed God to His disciples. He has given to them God's words; therefore He prays for them (Jn 17:6,7-9). (3) It recognizes the Divine, unbroken relation to the object of the prayer: "I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep," etc. (17:11). (4) The supreme end of the prayer is salvation from the evil of the world (17:15). (5) The wide sweep of the prayer and its chief objects--unity with God, and the presence with Christ, and the indwelling of the Divine love. The prayer is a model for all intercessory prayer.
See, further, INTERCESSION OF CHRIST; PRAYERS OF CHRIST; OFFICES OF CHRIST.
III. Intercession of the Holy Spirit.
In connection with the subject of intercession, there arises a most interesting question as to whether the Holy Spirit is not presented in Scriptures as an intercessor. The text in which the doctrine seems to be taught is that of Rom 8:26 f: "In like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." By far the larger number of expositors have understood by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The older commentators, in general, refer to the Holy Spirit. Tholuck, Ewald, Philippi, Meyer, most of the American theologians and English commentators, as Shedd, Alford, Jowett, Wordsworth, interpret it in the same way. Lange and Olshausen refer it to the human spirit. Undoubtedly, the "groanings" have led to the denial of the reference to the Holy Spirit. But the very form of the word translated "helpeth" indicates cooperation, and this must be of something other than the spirit of man himself. The undoubted difficulties of the passage, which are strongly urged by Lange (see Lange's Commentary on Rom 8:26), must be acknowledged. At the same time the statement seems to be very clear and definite. An explanation has been given that the Holy Spirit is here referred to as dwelling in us, and thus making intercession. The Divine Spirit is said to be a Spirit of supplication (Zec 12:10). The distinction which is made between the intercession of Christ in heaven in His priestly office and that of the Holy Spirit interceding within the souls of believers, referred to by Shedd (see Commentary on Romans), must be carefully used, for if pressed to its extreme it would lead to the materialization and localization of the Divine nature. Moreover, may not the intercession of our Lord be regarded as being partially exemplified in that of the Spirit whom He has declared to be His agent and representative? If Christ dwells in believers by His Spirit, His intercession, especially if subjective in and with their spirits, may properly be described as the intercession of the Holy Ghost.
L. D. Bevan

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'INTERCESSION'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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