Exodus 32:7-14 (NRSV)
Verse 7The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; Verse 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" Verse 9The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Verse 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation." Verse 11But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Verse 12Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Verse 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" Verse 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
There is a scene in the movie Field of Dreams where Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella barges into reclusive writer Terence Mann’s apartment to make a strange request. When Ray refuses to leave the writer alone, Mann threatens violence. “But you’re a pacifist!” Ray shouts as he backs towards the door. The reminder of who he is stops Mann from acting in a way that contradicts his identity.
It is surprising to find Moses pleading with God to change God’s mind about destroying God’s chosen people. God has had enough of their complaining, ingratitude, and idolatry. But God also hints that Moses has some input in this decision: “Now let me alone” God says, so I can do what I plan to do. Moses refuses and, instead, exercises his role as a prophet who speaks on behalf of God’s people to tell God, “But you’re merciful!” Moses reminds God of God’s promise, and the Lord’s mind is changed, because God will not break promises even when we turn from God.
Gracious God, we too can be stiff-necked people, worshiping gods of our own making. Thank you for your patience with us, and for making us inheritors of the promise of your forgiveness and grace. Amen.