Thursday 26 July 2018

Bible Book:

“And the LORD changed his mind” (v. 14)

Exodus 32:1-14 Thursday 26 July 2018

Psalm: Psalm 107:1-16


I often catch buses and I dread that situation in which the late arrival forces you to consider when it is the right time to give up waiting and take an alternative but, inevitably, less speedy route. Moses has been gone too long up the mountain. The Israelites were previously dependent on his wise relaying of God’s word, his leadership and the security it offered them; how long can they cope without it? On a less trivial note than my bus dilemma, we often wait for God’s guidance and intervention in some desperate and dark circumstances; we feel alone and abandoned. How long before we decide it might be justifiable to seek some other source of help? The sin the Israelites fall into is one we can readily recognise in our own lives.

By turning away from God, the golden calf threatens the relationship between God and the people, and so the very identity of the people is in doubt. There is a subtle negotiation in verses 1-5. The people want new “gods”, but Aaron makes them one statute and then when they start to worship “gods”; he builds an altar, the acceptable means by which to worship the Lord, and declares, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD” (v. 5). The people are turning away from God, and their leader desperately compromises to keep some order. If we see ourselves and our churches in this episode, then we must pay attention to God’s reaction: wrath and rejection. They are breaking the first three of the commandments given to them through Moses – have no other gods, make no idols, do not worship any idols (Exodus 20:3-5). Can the covenant continue only by limiting the promise to Moses: “I may consume them, and of you I will make a great nation” (v. 10)?

Then comes the most remarkable part of the passage – Moses pleads with God to temper this fierce wrath ... “And the LORD changed his mind”. This is the nature of the God of the covenant – God’s law is applied with holy justice and yet fulfilled with loving mercy. It is not clear how we can make sense of this. Consider the paradoxical description of Exodus 34:6-7 – “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [...] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” As followers of Jesus, we are simply in awe of God’s holy love held at one with holy justice; for this is precisely what is perfectly revealed in his death on the cross for our forgiveness. In Christ, the law is fulfilled and the covenant made new. In Christ, the prayer of Moses for the people is echoed before God, for us for all time: “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

To Ponder

  • What ways have you rebelled against God?
  • Give thanks for ways that God has welcomed you back.
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