Now Leave Me Alone So That My Anger

May Burn Against Your People

32: 7-14

    DIG: Why did God distance Himself from the Hebrews? Was He justified in doing so? On what basis did Moses intercede on behalf of the Israelites? Did the LORD change His mind when He did not bring disaster on His people as He had intended?

    REFLECT: How quickly has failure come on the heals of success in your life? How did you handle it? What did you learn from it? Has it saved you from grief since then? Never waist your sorrows. How have you helped others in the same situation? Is there an area of your life that you are being stiff-necked with YHVH? What needs to change?

    The biblical writer takes us back to the top of Mount Sinai and records a conversation between God and Moses. ADONAI who is sovereign, all-seeing and all-knowing, describes to Moses what the Hebrew people are doing at the foot of the mountain.662

    God gave the Torah to Moses after the revelation concerning the building of the Tabernacle. This was the order. In Chapter 20, Moses was first verbally given the Ten Commandments, and then in Chapters 21 through 23 he was verbally given the Torah. In Chapter 24 he came down from Mount Sinai and wrote the Torah down in the Book of the Covenant. He told the people what it said and the people said that they would follow it. Then Moses went back up the mountain and the LORD told Moses to build the Tabernacle. Only then was he physically given the Ten Commandments. But while Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, the people rebelled and fashioned a golden calf to worship.

    Then ADONAI told Moses to go down to the base of the mountain, because your people have become corrupt. The word translated corrupt is the Hebrew word sihet, which has the idea of going to ruin. It is the same word that is used in Genesis 6:12 to describe the corruption of the world of Noah’s day. The rebellion of the Israelites was not only a process of corruption, but also a turning away of clearly revealed truth of the exodus itself.

    The anger of ADONAI is reflected in His separating Himself from the Israelites. All through the exodus experience God had referred to them as My people (3:7, 5:1, 6:7, 7:16, 8:21). In addition, up to this point the LORD had taken credit for bringing the Hebrews up out of Egypt, but then speaking to Moses, He said . . . whom you brought up out of Egypt. 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. Not only that, they gave the idol credit for the exodus. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said: These are your gods, O Isra'el, who brought you out of Egypt (32:7-8). A holy God was distancing Himself from the Hebrews.

    Then ADONAI said to Moses His servant: I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people. Their condition was one of rebellion against God’s leadership. The phrase stiff-necked people is a common expression likened to a horse that stiffens his neck when the driver pulls the reign right or left thus refusing to go the way that it should. This expression was frequently used to describe the rebelliousness of Israel in her subsequent history (Exodus 33:3-5, 34:5; Deuteronomy 9:6, 10:16; Second Chronicles 30:8, 36:13; Psalm 75:5; Jeremiah 17:23 and Acts 7:51).663

    Therefore, ADONAI said: Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. God was going to populate a new nation and start over with Moses (32:9-10). In an earlier time Moses had refused to be known as Pharaoh’s son, choosing instead to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasure of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:24-26). So again, he refused to be made the head of another nation, choosing instead to be identified with the stiff-necked people of God.

    But rebellion was followed by intercession. Moses, like Abraham before him (Genesis 18:23-33) and Amos after him (Amos 7:2 and 5), prayed earnestly for the Israelites and used the phrase Your people as he spoke to the LORD on their behalf.664 Moses appealed to ADONAI with three reasons why His wrath ought to turn away from the Hebrews. He appealed to the grace of God, the glory of God and the faithfulness of God. This is one of the greatest prayers in the entire Bible.

    First, he appealed to the grace of God. Moses sought the favor of ADONAI his God. “ADONAI,” he said, “why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand (32:11)? It was grace, pure and simple, that had been the basis for the deliverance of the Hebrews from the bondage out of Egypt. They had done nothing to gain His favor. Nor was divine grace shown at the expense of justice, because grace reigns through righteousness to bring eternal life (Romans 5:21). So it was in Egypt. The Passover lambs had been slain and their blood had been applied. It was to this that Moses made his first appeal. Israel had sinned and sinned badly, and Moses made no effort to deny any of it. Nevertheless, they were God’s people – bought with a price. Unworthy? Yes. Unholy? Yes. But still His redeemed.665

    Secondly, he appealed to the glory of God. Where would the glory of ADONAI be in the sight of the Egyptians if He killed the children of Israel in the desert of Sinai? If God wiped out the Israelites, it would vindicate Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. 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? Would not the enemy rejoice over their destruction and thereby over the LORD Himself? The thought was more than Moses could bear. Therefore, Moses pleaded for God to turn from His fierce anger and relent from bringing disaster on His people (32:12).

    Thirdly, he appealed to the faithfulness of God. Moses interceded on the basis of the earlier covenant that ADONAI had made with Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom He had sworn by Himself: 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 (32:13). God has exalted His name and His word above all things (Psalm 138:2). If He were to destroy the Hebrews in the desert, He would be viewed as One who broke His promises.666

    The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16). Moses was such a man and ADONAI relented. This seems to contradict other passages of Scripture that say God cannot change His mind, because His plan is absolute. But we must understand the difference between the human viewpoint and the Divine viewpoint. From the Divine viewpoint, the LORD never intended to wipe out Israel, because He is a covenant keeper, He cannot violate His promise. From the divine viewpoint there was no change of plan. From the human viewpoint it appeared that He had changed His mind. But every change in God’s program, such as one dispensation forbidding to eat pork and another allowing pork to be eaten, is thought out ahead of time. While it appears from our perspective that the LORD changed His mind about pork, from the divine viewpoint there was no change of plan because it was always part of the plan. The prohibition against pork was never intended to be permanent.

    Therefore, ADONAI did not bring on His people the disaster He had intended (32:14). What an encouragement to our faith. If there ever was a time when it seemed impossible that prayer would be heard, this was it! But the faith of Moses rose above all the difficulties and grasping the hand of God, his prayer was granted.667


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