Daily Scripture readings for July, set #12:
– Exodus, chapters 32-33
– Psalm 35
– Matthew 15:1-20
– Acts 21:1-26
Much debate surrounds Exodus 32, because in this passage we find what seems to be God changing his mind/plan according to Moses’ requests. God asks Moses to depart from the people in order that God might destroy them all. Moses instead pleads with God to spare the people because they are the offspring of Abraham, whom God had made covenant with. God’s response to Moses is found in verse 14: “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
I’m going to comment on this chapter only today, because there are so many issues wrapped up in this debate. I admit that I don’t fully understand how this passage works or what it should teach us. In light of that I want to just pose a few questions:
1. The beginning of Exodus is clear regarding Pharaoh: he rejects God in the face of the horrible plagues, and he does so because of his hard heart. Exodus is also clear that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened BY GOD and for a purpose. Do Aaron and the people of Israel turn from God to make an idol because they too have hard hearts? And if so, was it God who did the hardening just as he did to Pharaoh?
2. I’m noticing that God does not PROMISE to destroy the people, but only tells Moses that he WANTS to. Then verse 14 says that God “relented from the disaster that he had spoken of.” Is this the same thing as God declaring that he WILL do something and then going back on his word?
3. Moses pleads with God to not destroy the people by reminding him of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This seems to be the ground on which God “relents” from the destruction, but how would that work? Did God actually FORGET his promise to Abraham and therefore need reminding from Moses?
4. The end of chapter 32 finds Moses leading the Levites in a battle against those Israelites who were continuing to worship the golden calf in spite of Moses’ return from the mountain. If we are to interpret Exodus 32:14 as God “changing his mind” and deciding to NOT destroy the people, then what can be made of these 3,000 who ARE destroyed? Is this God changing his mind AGAIN and destroying only some? Is there some correlation between God’s anger in verses 9-10 and the punishment by sword in verses 27-28?
Summary: The debate regarding how God interacts with his people is centuries and centuries old. This text is a common reference in attributing to God an ability to “change his mind” and react to human pleas, but it seems to me that such an interpretation carries too many difficulties to be accurate.