Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Read Exodus chapter 32: The Israelites made a Golden Calf, and God was going to destroy them in his anger, then Moses prayed an intercessory prayer to God that he not destroy them that the world would then think that the only reason God brought the Israelites out of Egypt was to destroy them. God listened to Moses and changed his mind about destroying the Israelites. In this story God was angry and Moses prayed on behalf of his people that God’s anger would be calmed and that God would not be so angry.
When I look at God’s righteous anger over the idolatry of his chosen people it tells me that God has a limit to his patience. Here we have God who has taken this group of people out of slavery, using Moses as their leader. Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God and because he is gone a while these people get all worried that he has abandoned them, or God has killed Moses, or something. So they decide that they cannot worship what they cannot see, and demand that Aaron make them a new god. This same Aaron, who was Mose’s brother and the spokesperson whom God gave to Mose’s because of his stumbling tongue, or other difficulty with words. This Aaron who should have been large and in charge and reassuring the people tells them to get him their gold and then proceeds to give the people what they wanted…a Golden Calf to worship.
When Moses gets back down the mountain, and finds all of Israel worshipping this Golden Calf, he asks Aaron what happened. Aaron’s response is to deny his own responsibility! This is a typical response we find in our own society today….”it’s not my fault…they/he/she did/wanted/said…therefore…it’s their fault that this (fill in the blank) bad thing happened!” Most of us want to throw up our hands whenever we encounter this response from a person when we are trying to find out what happened…or how a situation came about. It is most frustrating, isn’t it! We should ask ourselves…why is it like this? Well, in the case of the Israelites they had been slaves…so they were living in fear for their lives at all times. If they did something wrong and they were at fault the circumstances could be dire either beating or death, or both. They were not used to being allowed to take responsibility and it not end very badly. They were literally, as far as life went, and as far as following God went…children in their level of maturity.
That being said, in God’s eyes what they had done would be the equivalent of a child running out into the road, or sticking their hand into a fire! This situation of idol worship was not something to take lightly, it was not just a life threatening problem….it was a soul threatening problem. God had chosen these people to teach them about who he was in order that they would worship him and only him, so that they could show the world who God truly was…that God was a loving and caring God who was worthy of worship; but also that God was a jealous God who did not allow for the worship of any other Gods besides him!
Moses had just received these rules and before he could even deliver them to the children of Israel they had already broken the first and second rules! No wonder he threw them to the ground and broke them, they were already broken! How frustrating that these people who supposedly had Mose’s right hand man there to keep them straight couldn’t hang out and wait patiently until Moses returned without getting into trouble. They were led out of Egypt, but they had not really left emotionally, as the calf was one of the gods of the Egyptian people. They were sticking with what they knew.
How many of us do that all the time…we give up a bad habit, because to do so sounds like a good idea, but then the first time we have an idle moment we fall right back into that same habit. In my case, I have a sweet tooth, and so I decide to diet, then immediately am confronted with someone flashing a sweet in front of me, and it is “abandon all hope” of not eating it! lol! I do love sweets! It takes a lot of effort to turn it down. We all have weaknesses like this.
So we look back at Moses who grew up around these people and he knew what they were doing, but he had a bad temper and had frustration from the situation. God tells Moses that he is just going to destroy these people as they are hopeless, and stiff necked…essentially that they cannot be taught. God says, “Hey! Moses! I think I will destroy them and just start over again with you…I will just use your offspring to make a great nation instead of this group!”
This might have been pretty tempting to Moses. Don’t you think? Maybe that was why God said it…to get Moses to take a look at himself and see if Moses was really that fed up with the people he was leading…essentially with his own relatives! Sometimes, when you are upset and someone says something really outrageous that is a bit further than you would ever really go with your thoughts, that can snap you right back to your senses, can’t it?!!! I think this is what happened to Moses….Moses was upset and tossed the first set of the ten commandments tablets to the ground and God jumped in there and went right along with Mose’s thoughts and said that he was fed up himself, and that they were stiff necked and unteachable and he would just wipe them all out and start over with Moses! How shocking…so Moses then says, “Oh, No! You can’t do that, God! If you do that, then the whole world will believe that you led these people out of Egypt just to kill them in the desert! What would that say about you? Is that the kind of God you want to be known as? The whole world will believe that you brought them out for an evil purpose.”
Another way to look at this is that Moses was telling God that the world would be thinking that he was a God of evil and not good! I find it wonderful how Moses was immediately looking out for God’s best interests rather than his own! This really tells us a lot about Moses’ character, doesn’t it?!!
Now Moses, standing in front of the people tells them that whoever among them is for the Lord to come and stand next to him. All of them, but 3000 did so, and then Moses ordered that those who had come back to the Lord kill the group who were not willing to turn away from their sin. We are told that the penalty of sin is death…that is still true today…those who do not turn away from sin and turn toward the Lord suffer the penalty of death, and those who turn to the Lord gain everlasting life. It is just that in Mose’s time this group suffered from a painful lesson about how real the God who led them out of Egypt was and how immediate the penalty of turning away from him. There was no “king in the land” no “parliament” no “congress”…judgement and justice were swift and final. Moses was their leader and he was trying to get God’s anger to subside…so that only the unrepentant were slain.
When Moses approached God again after this slaying of 3000 of his brethren, his words to God were, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
Moses was saying that if after all of this that his brethren who were guilty were forced to slay those who were also guilty, but who were unrepentant, if after all of this, then if God would not forgive them, then to just take Moses name out of the book of life also! Moses was saying to just blame him because he had not led them well enough. Moses, who was with God the whole time and hadn’t done anything wrong, was telling God to just put the blame on him too!
This was Mose’s powerful intercessory prayer with God for his people….Moses is a type of savior, to his people. He offered himself in intercessory prayer to God in the place of his people. Interestingly, on the day that God handed the Law down to Moses 3000 people were killed, and on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent to live in the hearts of God’s people 3000 people were saved!
God did not kill the entire group, but said that whoever sinned against him would be blotted out of his book, and when the time comes to punish he would punish for sin.
Now, this could be taken that God was telling Moses that his method was wrong because although in Exodus 22:20 Moses had already heard the penalty of idol worship…the people of Israel had not. After all, Moses still had a lot to learn about God’s character himself, even if he was their chosen leader. God sent a plague on them, but it doesn’t say that any of them died from that plague.
Sometimes a plague may just make people miserable…you know plagues of locust, plagues of boils, etc. About 45 min. or so North of us there was the outbreak of the 17 year locust….now many of those people would call that a plague. One of my cousins was very plagued by them, they were on her car, on and in her house…they were every where…they were a pain, but no one died from them!
Due to Mose’s intercessory prayer and willingness to lay himself out before God on their behalf, God was willing to forgive. It tells us that God relented…God changed his mind. You could say that God decided to go with his original plan and being a God who comes through on his promises…he continued to follow through with the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to make them a great nation. We learn so much from this story of Mose’s and the Golden Calf….God is gracious to show us our own faults and to help us to recognize who he is, and to be swayed by our prayers for others….but there are also God given penalties for unrepentant people and those God given penalties will not be avoided without repentance.
There are also man made penalties for breaking the law of the land, which are separate from God given penalties. Ex. If someone steals money from another person, and asks God with a repentant heart for forgiveness God would forgive them. The same person usually cannot avoid the legal penalty for their earthly crime against society.