19 November 2014

Exodus 32:1-14

"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 for ever.'” (v. 13)


While Moses was on the top of Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights receiving instruction on the form of worship and the equipment required (Exodus 25-31) the people of Israel became anxious. They needed reassurance that God truly was with them in the wilderness and would be with them in the journey ahead, and they sought that reassurance in physical form. The irony is that what they asked of Aaron - a physical structure to represent the presence of God with them and an altar at which to worship God - was precisely what God was giving Moses instructions for on the mountain-top (the tabernacle and the altar before it).

The people were not intending to reject Yahweh, they were just not prepared to wait for Yahweh's timing. Instead of being content to be dependent on God for their reassurance, they took matters into their own hands and sought to meet that need by their own efforts. This was what incurred the wrath of Yahweh; who had just entered into a covenant with them in which Yahweh promised to protect and take care of them and to dwell (tabernacle) with them, and almost immediately they showed a lack of faith in this promise and an arrogantly independent (stiff-necked) attempt to protect themselves. God is limited only by the free will that has been given to humans, which means that God can only save people if they let God.

We often find it problematic to think of God 'changing his mind' (verse 14) because classical theology teaches us that because God is perfect, God is therefore unchanging. However, although God's eternal purposes remain the same, human beings can change their position and attitude in relation to God. In this passage Moses as the representative of the whole people was able to change the position of the whole people in relation to God, just as, in the New Testament, Jesus as the representative of humankind is able to change the position of all of humanity in relation to God. Moses, like Jesus, restores the people to a position of humbly allowing God to be God and therefore to save them.

To Ponder

  • Do you ever feel uneasy when waiting on God? Are there any physical objects help you to feel close to God? What are they? And how/why do they help?
  • What helps you to rely completely on God to meet your needs, rather than striving to be self-reliant?
  • Changing our position in relation to God is an ongoing process - we constantly need to return to our reliance on God. What helps you to do this?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.