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Exodus 32:7-14 – Whose People?


God and Moses debate over who is responsible for the people who had come out of Egypt.


Moses engages in deep argument with God to reestablish God's commitment to Israel. In the midst of such a serious issue, it is striking to see the tone in which the narrator depicts the exchange between Moses and God. God describes the people as Moses' people whom he had brought out of Egypt. God severs the pronoun relationship of the covenant. God no longer says, "My people." But in an almost comedic fashion Moses replies to God that the people are God's people whom God brought out of Egypt. If the stakes were not so high, we could call this an Abbott and Costello routine. But, of course, everything depends on how the pronouns will work in the future. All the promises of Genesis that have been reiterated as God's motivation for bringing Israel out of the land of Egypt are now in jeopardy. The narration uses strikingly anthropomorphic terminology. Just as in Exodus 2:23-25 God is said to have "remembered"-as if God should have to be reminded-"his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," so here Moses argues against God's decision on the basis of the same covenant (32:13). Besides which, how would God look to the Egyptians if, after defeating them decisively, God kills the very people God has rescued from their control? The frankness of the argument indicates that the narrator is willing to speak with a directness made possible by a confident faith.


Here we see early in Scripture that part of the role of the prophet is to advocate for the people to God. God first commits not to destroy the people, but Moses must struggle even more to have God commit to being present with the people. Absence of destruction does not reconstitute a covenant relationship; God needs to dwell among the people. That God commits to do so is dramatized by Moses being permitted to see the "back" of God and by the actual building of the tabernacle through which God had earlier promised to maintain a continued presence in the midst of Israel.

Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 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 worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 9The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 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.’

11 But 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? 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. 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 for ever.” 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

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