7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 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.”
11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
God heard the prayers of the Israelites, but it was Moses he knew personally. By this point, God is severely disappointed in the Israelites. Did you notice how in v.7 he refers to them in conversation with Moses as “your people”? That was intentional. He even goes so far as to say Moses was the one who brought them up out of Egypt. In v. 9 he calls them “these people.” Contrast that with how he referenced them back in chapter 19:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6)
Here’s what arrests me. The Israelites all witnessed the plagues, the Passover, the Red Sea, the cloud by day and fire by night, the water from the rock, the defeat of the Amalekites. They saw the thick clouds, the thunder and lightening, the black billowy smoke and the blaring trumpet blast. Despite all of this, they seemingly had no “fear of God.” In fact, after all this they were the ones running low on patience.
The real story here is God’s waning patience with the Israelites. “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people.
This is the one thing you never want God to say about you. What does it mean to be stiff-necked? It means to be stubborn, willful, high-handed, imperious, and at times even supercilious. (I threw that last one in there for the logophiles among us!) Stiff-necked is the twin brother of controlling. They are not identical twins, mind you, but fraternal twins. A controlling nature and a stiff-necked disposition work in concert. The way a controlling person keeps control is through some form of being “stiff-necked.” Here’s the most dangerous thing about being a stiff-necked person: Of all things they are certain of the most, they are sure they’re not a stiff-necked person. This makes them impervious to repentance. Here’s how God feels about that:
Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.
There’s something really special going on in today’s text. God has ever so subtly provoked Moses into his school of prayer. Observe the spirit of godly intercession rising up in Moses, the Man of God. Watch it unfold:
But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God.
I don’t think I have ever thought of prayer in this fashion—of seeking the favor of God. I think I mostly assume I have the favor of God. Repentance #1 for me.
“Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?
Notice the pronouns here. Moses corrects God’s grammar referencing the Israelites as “your” people that “you” brought up out of Egypt. It is as though Moses says, “God, this is your rodeo, not mine.” He even question’s God’s anger. This is bold intercession. Next he makes an honor/shame appeal before God.
Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’?
He follows this with a piercingly straightforward petition—a demand even:
Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.
And if that weren’t enough, he makes his closing appeal by reminding God of his own Word and Covenant.
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’”
Just wow! After breaking this down, it occurs to me that God has outwitted Moses. I think the whole thing was a test for Moses. Would Moses abandon God’s people, or would Moses dare to take up God’s own interest in his people?
This is what God is looking for in us’someone who will not give up on God’s people even when it seems like God has given up on them himself. God is looking for the intercessors.
Moses passed. Will I?
Father, reveal to me the deeper wisdom of your will and ways in the wilderness. Thank you for this powerful exchange you had with Moses on Mt. Sinai. In the midst of outright rebellion, you disciple Moses after your own heart. Train my heart to love like this and believe like this and to not let go of your people; for then I will have learned to pray like Moses; even better, like Jesus. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
How do you relate to this way of intercession on display in today’s text? Would you dare to sign up for this course? The Spirit stands ever ready to train you.
For the Awakening,
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