Question: "What does it mean to stand in the gap (Ezekiel 22:30)?"
Answer: In Ezekiel 22:30 the Lord says, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” The word picture painted in this verse is that of a wall with a hole or a gap in it. A wall was the best means of protection in ancient times. A breach in the wall would let the enemy through. If there was a breach in the wall, defenders would have to swarm to that location and hold the breach. The gap would need to be repaired as soon as possible. If a breach was left unattended or unrepaired, the city would fall.
Ezekiel 22 summarizes the sins and abuses of the nation. As punishment for Israel’s sins, God says He will disperse them among the nations. He says in verses 30–31, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.” The “gap” here represents the danger facing Jerusalem: God’s wrath is about to break through in judgment on the sinful city. Was there no one who would, in righteousness, intercede on behalf of the city and seek God’s mercy? God searched for such a defender, but He could find none. It seems that, if someone had been willing to “stand in the gap,” the destruction of Jerusalem could have been avoided. Since no one was available or willing to defend the breach and rebuild the wall, judgment fell.
Similar wording is found in Psalm 106:23. This psalm summarizes the sins of Israel in the wilderness, primarily concerning the golden calf. Verse 23 explains, “So [God] said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.” Moses “stood in the gap” and saved the people of Israel with his petition on their behalf. In standing in the gap, he “stepped between the LORD and the people” (Psalm 106:23, NLT). Moses had been chosen for that very purpose.
The original story of Moses standing in the gap is found in Exodus 32:9–14: “‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’ But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.”’ Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” To stand in the gap is to intercede and plead for God’s mercy.
In Ezekiel 22:30, God uses language that reminds the people of Moses’ actions centuries before. At Moses’ intercession, God had relented of His wrath in the wilderness. In Ezekiel’s day, there was no Moses. No one interceded for Israel. No one understood the danger God’s people were in. With no intercessor to stand in the gap, the destruction of Israel would be carried out.
To make matters worse, in Ezekiel 13, the false prophets in Israel are condemned because they had not repaired the breach in the wall. Instead of standing in the gap, they simply denied that judgment was going to come.
Besides Moses, there are several who have had the courage and insight to “stand in the gap” and intercede for others. In Genesis 18 Abraham intercedes for Sodom. Stephen prayed for those stoning him (Acts 7:60). Paul prayed for Israel’s salvation (Romans 10:1). And of course, the Lord Jesus is the master of standing in the gap, praying from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), and continuing to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).
In the New Testament, we are told to pray for others (1 Timothy 2:1). In God’s wisdom and sovereignty, He has chosen to use the prayers of people to accomplish His will. He still seeks those who will stand in the gap for friends and family, for people groups and nations. Like Abraham and Moses, we should be willing to stand in the gap, asking God to spare and to save.