A conversation at our monthly Bulkley Valley Ministerial Association meeting last week shined new light on an old text. Pastor Dwayne Goertzen from Smithers Evangelical Free Church continued our series on a pastor’s calling, drawing from the life of Moses.
Our text: Exodus 32 records when Moses, up on Mount Sinai, received from the Lord the two tablets of the covenant law only to discover that down below the Israelites were worshipping an idol cast in the shape of a golden calf. Moses was angry enough to smash the two tablets into pieces. God seemed even angrier: He said to Moses, “These … 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” (32:9-10).
Our million dollar question: Was God serious about destroying the whole nation? I always assumed He was. He certainly had the power, as demonstrated by how he wiped out the earth’s corruption with the flood in Noah’s day. What’s more, God would still be keeping His promise to Abraham to make him into a great nation since Moses was Abraham’s descendent.
But what if my assumption was wrong and that was not actually God’s intention? What if this were a test for Moses, perhaps something like Abraham’s test of loyalty centuries earlier?
Was this a temptation that God knew Moses needed to face and defeat? Perhaps the idea of ditching the stiff-necked multitude once and for all appealed to Moses. Maybe he sometimes dreamed of creating a new culture of faith within his immediate family instead of fighting to change the existing culture that existed within the whining, fickle Israelite community.
If this was designed to be a test, Moses passed with flying colours when he pleaded with God, “Why should Your anger burn against Your people?… Turn from Your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (32:11, 12). Moses’ response to God revealed Moses’ heart. Moses’ attempt at mediation not only reminded God of His commitment to Israel; the words Moses said also demonstrated Moses’ commitment to – dare I say love for? – Israel. This event allowed Moses to beat temptation and rise to being the leader God already saw him to be.
If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, this story also serves to foreshadow the pleading of another Mediator, Someone who magnanimously stands between a holy God and a sinful people. Jesus is our perfect Mediator, who gave Himself as a ransom for humanity to avert God’s wrath on us. Through Jesus, the heart of the Father is revealed – a heart that desires to be reconciled with His people. This desire and means to have a relationship with His you and me is completely consistent with God’s character, going way back to Moses (and earlier) and the test God helped Moses pass.