“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”—Exodus 32:14 (NIV)
Full disclosure: When I first read this, I really didn’t know what to make of it. I struggled with its true meaning and purpose. Then, I prayed, read, and researched! I hope if and when you encounter passages you struggle to discern, you’ll dig a little deeper!
Foolishly, Israel asked for an idol. And more foolishly, Aaron not only gave them a golden calf, but basically ascribed God to it. They didn’t outright reject Yahweh as God for this golden calf. Instead, they said the golden calf represented Yahweh. This is literally the practice forbidden by the second commandment, and the third if you think about it. They had reduced God to a created image and flippantly ascribed His name to it. And because of this, God’s anger and wrath burned against them to the point where He told Moses He was going to wipe them out and start over again with Moses. But Moses pleaded with God and interceded on their behalf. So, “the Lord relented.”
Here are two questions that may come to mind:
Was God about to make a rash decision out of anger?
No! Everything God does is thoughtful, good, perfect, and in line with His character. God, who is omniscient (all-knowing), absolutely knew before He chose Abraham’s descendants as His people and even before the foundations of the universe were laid that this moment would take place and that Moses would be moved to intercede on their behalf.
Did/does God change His mind?
Again . . . no. God doesn’t change His mind. Imperfect, sinful man cannot possibly impose moral behavior upon God and cause God to repent and rethink His will and plans.
Let’s consider two things here: 1. God's promises of judgment are inherently meant to call men to repentance and prayer and thus avert the judgment (Ezekiel 33:13–16), and 2) God knew He wasn’t going to destroy Israel, but He deliberately put Moses into the position of intercessor. Why? So that Moses, the leader of the people and God’s mediator with the people, would develop and put into practice God's heart for His people, a heart of love and compassion. So, it can be said that prayer not only changes things but also changes us!
Here, Moses prayed exactly as God desired him to, as if their lives depended on his prayer. This is how God wants us to pray! He who knows all, who has ordained and appointed not only the end result but also ordains the means through which it is accomplished, who governs all events in this universe, desires that we pray as if everything depends on our prayers, which are in accordance with His will.
God knew He would spare the people through Moses’ intercession. One Christian author put this tension like this: “We must never presume God will grant us apart from prayer what He has ordained to grant us only by means of prayer.”
May we be a people who pray as if our lives depend on it!
Pause: Why is it so important we pray as Moses did?
Practice: Spend time praying through today’s verse and what it means!
Pray: Father, thank You that You invite me into Your work through my prayers. Thank You that You have ordained to move and bring about change, healing, and redemption by means of my intercession. Lord, please keep my heart fervent and enduring in prayer for those around me, for my pastors, our world, and Your will for my life. Amen.