Then the Lord said to Moses, “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, 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.”
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.
Today’s Old Testament reading finds God’s people eating, drinking, and indulging in revelry. Actually, it was debauchery unmatched until America in the 1960’s. Unlike the children of the drug culture, who were lost in a purple-hazed search for God, the children of Israel literally had God in the midst.
He had brought them through ten devastating plagues in Egypt. He gave them the riches of Egypt on their way out. He had promised them a land “flowing with milk and honey.” He guided them through the desert with a pillar of fire at night; a pillar of cloud in the day. When the Egyptians pursued, God covered Pharaoh and his troops in a fog so thick they couldn’t move. When the Israelites had no apparent way out, with their backs against the Red Sea, God parted the waters and they all walked through on dry land. When the Egyptians attempted the same path, they were wiped out. The same water that had been salvation for the Jews was destruction to the Egyptians.
Just a short time later, God summons Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai. Because of His profound love for His people, God is going to give Moses an autographed copy – actually it was the original – of the Ten Commandments. Moses ascends; the Israelites take off their clothes, get drunk, and dance around a golden calf. You’d think the Jews would have gotten the picture that God was not one to be trifled with. If there’s anything worse than a bunch of ingrates its a bunch of ingrates with short term memory loss.
He tells Moses to “leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.” He even promises Moses to make him into a great nation.
If I allow myself to stand in Moses’ sandals for a moment, my first thought is “I didn’t want this job in the first place. Do whatever you want. And you’re gonna make lil ole me a great nation! Hmmm. Consider yourself left alone, God. Call me when you’re done.” But Moses didn’t do that. In fact, he did the exact opposite.
He didn’t leave God alone. Moses argued with God. Moses won: “the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”
As is often the case with Scripture, there is so much in so little space. Our prayers move God. Moses was bold in the face of God. And God moved, changed His mind. That’s a head full right there. Moses appealed to God, raising various arguments. God said OK. And this is not just an Old Testament kind of thing. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews directs that we should “boldly approach the Throne of Grace to find help in time of need. So pray like you mean it. And watch God move.
Sin is rebellion against God and it always – always – ends disastrously. God is a jealous God. The whole golden calf thing was a really, really bad idea. And it ended disastrously. Not as disastrously as God was planning, but bad. Even after Moses came down from Sinai and after he made the people drink some pretty bitter water, some were still standing in opposition to the true God. Thousands died at the edge of the sword, swords wielded by their own brethren. Then a plague fell on the Israelites. At least we don’t have a golden calf. Or do we? “Sin is pleasant for a season, but the end is as bitter as wormwood.” And there is always and afterward.
Moses held back the waters of the Red Sea. Moses also held back the incinerating wrath of a holy God. Can you imagine telling God if He wouldn’t forgive someone else, He would have to kill you first. Moses did. And a few thousand years later Christ, pleasingly offered by his own Eternal Father, did the same thing. Christ inserted himself, took our place, gave us a way out of the wilderness of our own idolatry and rebellion.
Maybe not literally, but we’ve been delivered from bondage, brought through the desert, and carried through the sea on dry land. We know what God’s love for us looks like. What does our love for Him look like. You know, if there’s anything worse than a bunch of ingrates its a bunch of ingrates with short term memory loss.