“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.” (Exodus 32:9-10).
Do you think Moses was tempted to accept God’s offer? Were there reasons why Moses might have wanted to step aside and let God’s anger could burn against the people? Think about the amazing offer – “I will make you into a great nation.”
An obstinate people
It’s not too hard (on a human level) to imagine Moses accepting the offer. These people gave Moses a hard time with their endless complaints and dramatic accusations. Consider a survey of their complaints:
- Exodus 14:10-12 – “…the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”
- Exodus 15:23-25 – “When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”). Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded.”
- Exodus 16:2-3 – “the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron. “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
- Exodus 17:1-3 – “Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. So once more the people complained against Moses. “Give us water to drink!” they demanded. “Quiet!” Moses replied. “Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?” But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?”
Standing between God and the people
Instead of lowering himself to their level, Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people. “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (32:12).
But Moses’ prayer wasn’t ultimately about the people or himself. His concern was really about God. His prayer fit the model Jesus taught. It focused on honor for God’s name, establishing God’s kingdom and doing God’s will.
Moses could have made it about himself or the people but he lived for greater concerns. Moses wasn’t appealing to God because the people “really aren’t that bad.” Yes, Moses lovingly put the people before himself, so much so that later he offered to have himself removed from God’s book rather than the people (see: 32:30-33). But Moses’ main appeal was for God’s honor.
Here we have a great example of intercessory (and effective) prayer based on a passionate commitment to God and His glory! In a way that reminds us of the Middle Eastern practice of haggling at the market, Moses appealed to God based on three considerations.
1. God’s redemptive work for His people
“Lord,” 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)
2. God’s reputation
“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’? (32:12)
3. God’s covenant promises
“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.’” (32:13)
What was the outcome of this prayer?
“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (32:14).
Four life lessons
- Moses gives us great example of selfless leadership fueled by a deep commitment to God’s ultimate glory!
- God has chosen to operate His world through secondary agents whose actions affect actual outcomes. When God said to Moses, “leave me alone,” He revealed how He works through His servants. But we shouldn’t picture God as a reluctant deity who forgot about his redemption, reputation and promises. Instead, God ordained that His purposes be accomplished through our participation. God’s offer is a test for Moses. What kind of leader will he be? As God uses secondary means, In the process, we are tested; we learn and we are lead to attach our hearts to concerns greater than ourselves.
- When our hearts become passionate for God’s name, kingdom and honor, everything changes. It requires focused devotion to make life about something greater than ourselves or the burdensome people we might be called to lead. But when it becomes our focus, the mundane becomes richly meaningful in ways that reach into eternity. When we can say, “God you matter too much to me to make this about me (“I will make you into a great nation”) and although the people don’t deserve mercy (and frustrate the life out of me), the associations of your name and honor is far more important to me.
- “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16). By contrast, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
I have so much to learn!