“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain,
the people gathered around Aaron and said to him,
“Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us;
as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
we do not know what has become of him.”
“And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he
planned to bring on his people.”
Spirit Soundings, Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace, October 16, 2015
Click here for a downloadable PDF of Ruth’s reflection: SantanaGraceSpiritSoundings16_OCT_2015
To be Loved by Such a God
The drama in this chapter is familiar to most of us who have grown up in the faith. It is a scene captured in movies. Moses has gone up to Mount Sinai, where God has given him the two tablets of the covenant. It is clear to us as readers that Moses has been up on the mountain longer than anticipated. After all, forty days and forty nights can seem like an eternity. In the midst of the uncertain waiting, the people of Israel have grown impatient and nervous. Clearly not unlike us, our ancestors did not deal with waiting well either. Some are wondering, “what has become of him?” In other words, is he ever coming back? They surrender to their fear and in desperation turn to Aaron, imploring him to make gods for them. As we know, this communal panic leads to the creation of the famous golden calf – a human-made god that they could actually touch and see.
Meanwhile up on the mountain, God says to Moses that he should go down at once (32:7). God informs Moses of “his” people’s actions. In what is clearly a moment of wrath and anger, God says to Moses “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” The part I never really read before is the response to God from Moses – it is powerful. In verse 11, Moses implores God by saying “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, It is with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from your fierce wrath, change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants and they shall inherit it forever.”
In spite of how often I have read this story in Exodus, I have never fully seen nor heard this honest exchange between Moses and God. I am struck by the intimacy of the relationship between the creature – Moses, and the creator – God. Their relationship is able to sustain the power of this candid and emotional exchange. I remember thinking as a child that the God of the Old Testament was so mean and distant – not anything like the God revealed to us in the New Testament. As I have helped others grow in the faith, I have come to cherish the consistency of that very same God throughout both the Old and New Testaments. I have come to value the invitation to such honest and spiritual intimacy.
As I read the words in verse 14 “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” I am touched deeply by God’s heart being open to the words and heart of his servant Moses. I am touched by God’s faithfulness to his covenant – in spite of the brokenness of his people. I am touched by the depth of God’s willingness of hear the voice of Moses. This moment reminds us that you and I are fiercely loved by a God of love; that we are part of a relentless love story. Now don’t get me wrong, being loved fiercely by this God should not be mistaken with ‘cheap grace’ or ‘no accountability.’ Reading further in Exodus, we understand there was a judgment for the wrongdoing. But at this critical moment when God could have destroyed them all, he chose to do otherwise. I’ve often referred to these moments as the “agony of a God who gets angry.” This my friends, is very different from an “angry God.” Our God by nature is a God of hope, a God of redemption, a God of love – who out of such fierce love becomes one of us in the incarnation of Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but it is pretty amazing to belong to such a God, a God who listens to our hearts; a God who hears our cries; a God who walks with us every step of our wilderness journeys. May we but do the same with one another.