The Tragedy of Fruitless and Futile Praying

Praying Through the Bible #77

TEXT: Isaiah 16:12-13: “And it shall come to pass, when it is seen that Moab is weary on the high place, that he shall come to his sanctuary to pray; but he shall not prevail. This is the word that the LORD hath spoken concerning Moab since that time.”

Our passage for today comes from the prophetic book of Isaiah. In this chapter, Isaiah is both rebuking and lamenting over the people of Moab who were the descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. This nation was born when Lot and his daughters were escaping from God’s judgment on the homosexual city of Sodom. Even though Lot was a righteous man, he still had some corruption in him which apparently influenced his daughters as well. When they got to safety in the mountains, Lot’s daughters began to worry about their family’s posterity. Tragically, they decided to get their father drunk, and they committed incest with him. One of the nations that descended from this relationship was the nation of Moab. At times, the Moabites had a negative relationship with the people of Israel. It was the king of Moab who hired the prophet Balaam in hopes that he would curse God’s people. Later on, during the period of the judges, another Moabite king, Eglon, oppressed the Israelites. In Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites that they were not to wipe out the Moabites because they too were children of Abraham. But, because of this nation’s persistent wickedness, we find that Isaiah has been commanded to pronounce God’s judgment on Moab.

In verse 12, Isaiah predicts that, as they are being judged, the Moabites will “go up to their high places” to pray, but that their prayers will be fruitless and futile. In other words, their prayers will be in vain. The Clark Sisters sang a song that included these words: “Is my living in vain? Is my giving in vain? Is my praying in vain? Is my fasting in vain?” The Moabites would have to answer “yes” to at least one of those questions.

James Coffman writes in his commentary on this passage, God’s “rejection of Moab appears here to have been founded upon compelling reasons… Throughout this passage, the pride, arrogance, boastfulness and stubbornness of Moab are repeatedly stressed.” What a tragedy it would be if God said that your prayers or my prayers were fruitless and futile. Today, I want us to look at some of the marks of fruitless and futile prayers from this passage.

1. A fruitless and futile prayer is one that is addressed to the wrong somebody. The verse reads, “And it shall come to pass, when it is seen that Moab is weary on the high place, that he shall come to his sanctuary to pray…” Whose sanctuary is spoken of in this verse? Scholars agree that the sanctuary spoken of in this verse is the sanctuary of the false god Che-mosh. The Moabites, who were being punished by God, ran to their holy places and offered prayers to a false god. Of course, praying to someone or something that does not exist, that cannot hear and answer you, is fruitless and futile.

2. The second type of prayer that is fruitless and futile is a prayer prayed with an unrepentant attitude. In this passage, Isaiah addresses how the Moabites approach God. He says in verse 6: “We have heard of the pride of Moab; he is very proud: even of his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath…” Not only were the Moabites trying to fix their spiritual dilemma by praying to a non-existent god, but they were going about it in a proud and haughty way.

3. A third kind of prayer that is fruitless and futile is a prayer that is prayed with a wrong motive. Listen to these words of finality from Isaiah’s prophecy regarding Moab. Isaiah says that when Moab prays “he shall not prevail. This is the word that the Lord hath spoken concerning Moab…” One reason why the Moabites would not have their prayers answered is because they prayed with the wrong motives.

No one has to pray prayers that are fruitless and futile. If you direct your prayer to right Person, if you pray with the right attitude, and if you pray with the right motive, God will hear and answer your prayers just as He has promised.

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