Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord !” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, `Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, `I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.'” So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. Exodus 32:9-14
So God said, “These people are wicked and sinful and I’m done with them. I’ll wipe them out and start over with just Moses.”
Moses replied, “Don’t do that, Lord! And here is a list of reasons why…”
And then God said, “Hmm…okay. I’ll not do that.”
That’s my summary/paraphrase of the interaction between Moses and God. Am I reading this right? Did God actually change his mind? Does God change his mind?
Just as times in the past , I was tempted to just skip right past this piece of Exodus and go to the next thing. Sometimes it’s easier (in the short run) to ignore potentially perplexing passages. (Wow that’s a bit of a mouthful!) But I think it’s important to acknowledge and consider what’s going on here.
Does God change his mind? I think there are a lot of us with the tendency to just automatically—without thinking it through—respond with a resounding NO! But here we see Moses interacting with God and God says this is what I’m going to do and then Moses speaks and God changes his mind.
The more I think about this the less troublesome it is to me. At first glance the idea sparks all kinds of issues and concerns. Namely, if God is the same yesterday, today and forever then how could he change his mind? Doesn’t this call his entire character—and Scripture—into question? The simple answer is no. Think about this with me: if you make an announcement about something you are going to do and someone comes up to you with concerns or just to plea for a different approach, would changing your mind imply that you—as a person—had somehow changed? That you were no longer who you used to be? Certainly not. What it means is that you are in relationship with people. That there is give and take in your world.
Secondly, is the whole concern about God revealing that his decision had not been right? Can God ever be wrong? Doesn’t changing his mind once Moses speaks reveal that God had been incorrect? Again, I think the answer is no. It would be completely right for God to demand payment for the sinfulness of the Israelites. They had been worshipping an idol. To decide that he was done with them is completely within God’s rights and completely in sync with his character, which cannot stand sin. On the other hand, to show grace and mercy is also completely within his character. To hear Moses making a plea for the people and to respond to the mercy of Moses does not somehow imply that God realized he had been wrong. Instead it shows something far more valuable and important.
God is listening to Moses.
He’s not patronizing him by sitting there while Moses rants and pleads only to pat him on the head when it’s over and say, “Thanks for your thoughts, now I’m going to do this.” God was actually listening. Hearing Moses. And taking into consideration what Moses had to say.
This is relationship. God and humanity. Give and take. God is charge and in control, but for some reason he offers us a voice in things. He will hear our words and actually consider our desires. He does not need to do this, he chooses it. And it doesn’t mean he’ll always do what we want. I could make a long, long list of all the people in the Bible that wanted something different than what God ultimately did. (I could also make a long list in my own life.) But this passage gives us hope and encouragement.
God is listening. God is hearing. And he is even considering the words we speak. Why he would be so gracious to us, I’ll never know, but he is and I am grateful. So as you encounter God today, as you approach him remember: he is listening, this is a relationship, your input is valued by God.