Exodus 32:7-14 (online here)
This is a remarkable reading! God sounds amazingly vindictive, ready to wipe out the very people God had just freed from slavery—all of them, with the sole exception of Moses.
Just as amazingly, Moses has the nerve to lecture this exceedingly angry deity. To summarize, he says, “Look, if you do this the rest of the world will say you’re evil. On top of that, you’ll be breaking your promise to Abraham. You’re God, right? Then keep your word. Start living up to your name.”
And perhaps most amazingly, the argument works. It changes God’s mind, or so the story says. (The King James Version says that God “repented”!)
Do you think God really needs to be lectured on how to behave?
I doubt that. Not if God is love (1 John 4:16), “not wanting any to perish” (2 Peter 3:9).
Early Protestants like John Calvin argued that God was basically play-acting, just looking vindictive while secretly planning all along to do what Moses begged.
Hmmm. So God is manipulative? That’s a sure way not to be taken seriously, like the time on a long-planned trip with my two teenage sons when I said, “If you guys don’t stop arguing we’ll just turn around stay home!” The older one responded, “Yeah, right.” I never tried that warning again.
Instead, what if this story is an early example of God’s people wrestling with their own cultural assumptions about God? That’s how this reading speaks to me. (I know, that won’t work if you’re a conservative evangelical, but that’s not the only way to be Christian.)
We still wrestle with what has to be true of any God worthy of the name.
Like Moses, we should refuse to believe that God could finally be vindictive or temperamental.
And we should refuse to listen to preachers who invoke that kind of God to scare the rest of us into supporting their cause.
Even if we heard a threatening, vindictive voice thundering from the sky, we should refuse to believe that it could be the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
This is a remarkable passage, one we’d do well to remember.