Holy Arguments in Prayer

Definition: Presenting requests fully based on Scripture and trusting God to grant requests based on his character and promises, not demanding God based on my situation.

There are so many examples of holy arguments in Scripture that we don’t have time nor space to take them all in. We will use three examples, with various verses from the Psalms as examples of things David or others said to present their requests to God. We must remember that holy argument is not about convincing God that our request is righteous; it’s about convincing ourselves by testing our requests against Scripture to see if it is righteous. We must also remember again that if the answer to our request is “No” there is nothing wrong with God. Sometimes, in his wisdom and knowledge, he chooses to not give us something because it will not be best for us (Rom. 8:28). We should thank him, instead, if the answer is no because it will keep us from danger, give us something greater, lead us to something we would have never expected, etc.

Exodus 32:7-14, God wanted to destroy the Israelites after they had built a golden calf after God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. God’s anger was burning “hot against them.” Moses offers these arguments to God for not destroying them:

  1. The Egyptians will say that God had evil intent to rescue the Israelites, just so he could kill them in the wilderness (v. 12). Why give the Egyptians fuel? God’s very character is at stake here-his motives and intentions. It wouldn’t be consistent of God to rescue the Israelites from Egypt and then destroy them in the desert.
  2. God promised the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) that their descendants would be great (v. 13). If God destroys the Israelites now, the Patriarchs will no longer have descendants and therefore, God would be a liar. Again, Moses argues by appealing to God’s character and shows the inconsistency that would exist if God were to destroy the Jews.

This may seem like God changed his mind-or that Moses changed God’s mind. In a sense, God is repenting (= turning) from his first desires. First Samuel 15 talks about this in a different light-not in the sphere of prayer. It says that God regretted (repented of) making Saul the king. Piper says that God still has foreknowledge because, like a father, he can ordain something (like spanking a child) and rejoice in the righteousness of that act, yet at the same time be remorseful because it is a hard thing to do. If a father who is human can have a combination of complex emotions, how much more can an infinite God have that kind of emotional construct?  In this passage, God says to Moses, “Leave me alone.” This is similar to the fight between God and Jacob when God said, “Let me go!” When God says something like that in Scripture, he doesn’t really mean it. He really means, “Stay with me. Don’t give up.”

2 Chronicles 20:5-12, King Jehoshaphat prays for God’s guidance, strength and protection against the Ammonites and the Moabites. The situation was so intense that Jehoshaphat was afraid to set his face to seek the Lord (v. 3). Perhaps, he was afraid of what the Lord might have called him to do. The holy argument comes during his prayer. He argues:

  1. “Are you not God in heaven?” (v. 6), He argued the point that God is the only all-powerful one. If they cannot count on him, who can they count on?
  2. “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel?” (v. 7), Jehoshaphat argued that God had already done something greater-driving the people out of this land to give it to the Jews.
  3. “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? (v. 12), He pleaded with the Lord for judgment. God is a righteous, just God and he cannot handle sin. He will stand for his people and this situation is very urgent for the Israelites.

We must appeal to God’s character. These arguments are very God-centered. Notice, Jehoshaphat does not say things like: “O Lord, we need this. Do this for us because we are afraid!” “God, our people need to be comforted and things are stressful. Do this, Lord!” or “I expect you to do this God because you promised to keep us from the enemy.” Those are very man-centered, non-eternal perspective prayers. God wants us to trust in his character, love, grace, mercy, justice, and wrath in our prayers. He is the reason for everything happening-good or bad things. May we thank him no matter what the outcome.

Matthew 15:21-28, This woman is not doing what we think of as “praying,” yet she is communicating with the Lord Jesus-she is talking to him. Our discussion here about holy argument will be brief, as this passage has already been discussed (see above for how this passages relates to faith in prayer). In Ephesians 2:14, Paul writes that there was a “wall of hostility” between the Gentiles and God’s people before Christ. This episode in Matthew 15 was before Christ had died-Jesus’ first task was to preach to the Jews. This is why he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was not so much that Jesus was ignoring this woman, but rather he was testing her to see what kind of blessing she wanted. If she had wanted the blessing promised to Israel, Jesus would have sent her away, like the disciples asked. Yet, she persisted with (great) faith) and said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” This reveals a few things:

  1. The woman did not expect to get the blessing that was promised to Israel. She was content to benefit from the overflow (the crumbs). “Yes, Lord, I know that I am just like a begging dog-but even a master’s dog needs to survive on the crumbs.” This shows her humility and knowledge that she deserved nothing.
  2. The woman presumed to be a dog at a master’s table-not a mutt dog on the streets digging through garbage. This shows her knowledge that she is not too far gone to be blessed. Paul warned the Colossians against this. In Colossae, people were evidently defrauding (ESV=disqualifying) themselves of worshiping God because they felt too depraved and didn’t think they could go directly to the Mediator, Jesus Christ. Instead, they prayed to angels (Col. 2:16-23) and practiced asceticism, which is the abstinence of any kind of pleasure.
  3. The women understood that it was God’s character to bless those who sought him. This woman’s argument is accepted by the Lord because it falls within the bounds of God’s will to reach the Gentiles after he reached the Jews. Why did God go to the Jews first? Only he knows, for such was “according to his gracious will” (Matt. 11:26, when Jesus rejoiced that the Father had hidden things from some and revealed them to little children). God did not only reach out to Jews throughout the history of redemption. Some of the people God used: Pharaoh’s daughter to raise Moses, Rahab when she protected the Jewish spies in Canaan, Ruth who is named in the lineage of Jesus, King Artaxerxes when he let Nehemiah and other Jews return to Jerusalem after the exile, and so many more. Even Luke, the author of Luke and Acts, was not a Jew. Timothy was not a full Jew either; he was not circumcised as a child. God purpose was to reach Jews first, but the blessings were not limited to them. She knew that if she persisted with faith, Jesus would give her some kind of extra, second blessing.

There are many verses from Psalms that gives us practical holy arguments. Here is a list of verses and a quick explanation:

  1. Psalm 4:1, “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” David is pleading for God to answer him because in the past God rescued him-based on God’s past performance for David.
  2. Psalm 13:3, “Consider and answer me, O Lord, my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” David asks for God’s help because, otherwise, wicked men will prevail and have success; God doesn’t strive with the wicked.
  3. Psalm 35:1, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!” God partners with the righteous and opposes the wicked-David is asking for God to fight for him based on his character trait of his loving righteousness and hating evil.
  4. Psalm 51:1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” David is asking for forgiveness. He appeals to God’s compassion and love. God is a God who forgives if we confess and repent. He cannot not forgive if we do those things.
  5. Psalm 83:1-2, “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads.” Asaph is crying to God for help in the midst of fighting enemies. God will not be challenged or tested by evil men.
  6. Psalm 105:8, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” God remembers what he promises. He has promised surety for those who are in him; we can ask God for that. He has promised joy for those who seek their delight in him; ask him for joy. He has promised comfort to those who are hurting; we can ask for comfort. (The entire chapter 105 of Psalm is about telling of God’s wondering works…we can tell of what God did for the Noah, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, Paul, and Peter.)
  7. Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” David appeals to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to glorify himself. We can apply this to any situation. God will always glorify himself. We can ask for something, but our heart’s motive should be that God is glorified and we receive extreme joy in him. Let not just our mouths say “To Your name give glory” but let our hearts actually mean it with reverence and humility.