Debating God

While Moses was receiving the ten commandments from God on top of Mount Sinai, the Israelites despaired of his ever returning. As his time with God stretched from days to weeks, the people began to lose hope and asked Moses’ brother Aaron to do something. So Aaron made a couple of calf idols and the people began having orgies.

God told Moses what was going on and said:

“Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“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.” (Exodus 32:7-10)

Interesting how the people were now Moses’ people, whom Moses’ had brought out of Egypt. “Go talk to your son,” said the father to the mother.

But notice something interesting. Moses didn’t just acquiesce to God’s plan. Instead, he told God no. “Don’t do that.”

Based on some traditional notions of God, one might expect Moses to now become a smoking pile of ash. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, God listened to Moses–and he spared the disobedient Israelites:

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. (Exodus 32:11-14)

God does not ask for blind obedience. It’s apparently okay to question God, disagree with him, discuss things with him, and ask him to change his plans. And remarkably, sometimes God listens and does what he’s asked. One might argue that God’s plans all along were to spare the Israelites, and that God said what he said to Moses in order to elicit the reaction he got. But that’s not how the story reads, is it?

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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