Exodus 32-40

This final reading from Exodus contains an interesting and troubling incident. From Exodus 25 to 31 and resuming in chapter 35 and continuing until the end of the book are the details on the construction of the tabernacle. Sandwiched in between those two sections is the unfortunate story of the golden calf. Growing impatient with Moses who has spent over a month on Mount Sinai, the Israelites convince Aaron to build them a golden calf that they can worship. They no longer are interested in a God who seems to be spending all of his time up on the mountain with Moses and thundering down commands. During those 40 days, they are left wondering what God and Moses are up to. So they create for themselves gods they can relate to and are soon engaged in orgiastic rituals. Moses is quickly sent down by God to take care of the situation. But before he goes down to see what his people are doing, Moses has a very interesting conversation with God. And that conversation contains two troubling elements. First, God tells Moses that he is so angry at these people that he wants to annihilate them all. Although that is certainly a disturbing picture of God, the second element is even more troubling. Moses tells God that such a thing would be a bad reflection to the other nations of his character, and reminds him of his covenant with Abraham. So what happens? God listens to Moses, and refrains from carrying out his plan. Did God change his mind? Some theologians would say yes, but that opens a whole new can of worms. How can God change? If God knew that his people were going to disobey, and if he knew that he would choose not to destroy them because of the intercession of Moses, how can that be a change of mind? I must admit that although I believe God is changeless I do not have a good answer for this situation. I think the difficulty with interpreting this account is understanding human descriptions of what God is like. Although Moses was an inspired prophet, what he tells us doesn’t really give us a firm grasp of how exactly God was acting. God is not an arbitrary being who is controlled by his emotions like we are. We have never encountered a perfect and sinless being, so we have a hard time picturing one, especially picturing how they would express anger. Any thoughts on how we should understand this incident?



  1. I think God was testing Moses.

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