God goes on a tirade
Exodus 32:1â€“14; Luke 15:1â€“10
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Exodus 32 is too monumental not to mention. And while the lectionary assigns 32:7â€“14, itâ€™s important to include verses 1â€“6 as well.
I suggest we stop calling this text the â€śgolden calfâ€ť incident and begin calling it the â€śGod changes Godâ€™s mind at the request of Mosesâ€ť incident. Incident? Yes. Incidental? No. By this point it is not shocking that the Israelitesâ€™ impatience while waiting for Moses leads to idolatry. What is shocking is Godâ€™s anger and, even more, Mosesâ€™ ability to quell Godâ€™s anger.
Given Godâ€™s own admission of jealousy (Exodus 20:5), perhaps we should not be too surprised at Godâ€™s anger. But the tirade in verses 7â€“11 is not for the meek. It is a good thing the Israelites were not privy to it, as they most certainly would have run to their gods for protection against God.
God refers to the Israelites as those whom Moses brought out from the land of Egypt. That is interesting since elsewhere God says God brought them out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 20:2). God calls them names. Worse, God want to be left alone to wallow in anger and to â€śconsumeâ€ť the idolaters.
If that is not enough, God seems to bribe Moses to leave him alone (v. 10). If Moses does so, God will make of him a great nation. Anger, tirade, blame, name-calling, destruction, bribery; this is not God at Godâ€™s best. The bottom line is that idolatry is a serious offense that God will not ignore.
This resolute behavior, seemingly unfit for the divine, makes it even more shocking when Moses is able to change Godâ€™s mind. He does so by reminding God that it was God who brought the people out of the land of Egypt. He reminds God of Godâ€™s power and might. He reminds God of the promise to Abraham, Isaac and Israel to multiply their descendants. Killing the Israelites now would not foster offspring and certainly would give the Egyptians the edge.
Mosesâ€™s threefold imperativeâ€”â€śTurn from your fierce wrath,â€ť â€śChange your mind,â€ť â€śDo not bring disaster on your peopleâ€ťâ€”is bold but effective. God does change Godâ€™s mind.
A stimulating exercise for this weekâ€™s preacher might be to consider how this depiction of God gels or clashes with the God depicted in Luke 15.