The people have angered God enough that He publicly states He wants to kill them off and start again. Even though the people have turned against Moses, he pleads with God for their future.
The first thing I notice about Moses’ plea is that he doesn’t raise it on the grounds of the people. He appeals to God with how it will look to His name. “What will everyone say about You if You do this? They will say that You weren’t able to keep Your promises. They will say You were full of hot air and cut Your losses when You realized Your failure.”
God’s reputation was riding on this venture. He had made a GREAT show of power in Egypt just getting His people out from under Pharaoh. His parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of Egypt’s army was another amazing act that He had worked for His people. But if He struck the whole group dead in the wilderness now all that had come before wouldn’t matter. The nations wouldn’t attribute the failure as belonging to the rebellious people but to the ability of God.
Funny how that works. All the foreign gods when they couldn’t provide something that the people prayed to them for it wasn’t attributed to the gods’ lack of power but to the person for their role somehow. The thing is they had NO power to begin with. That block of wood or hunk of stone had no more ability to control the things of the natural universe or the spiritual one that my left shoe hanging off the end of my foot. Man made those gods of dead items and there was no life in them. But MY God made me. He is the author of life. He holds the power of the universe and can do ALL things. Even in spite of how His people behave.
Moses’ nest appealed to God on behalf of the people. He didn’t excuse their behavior or try to downplay it. He didn’t assert that they were forgivable. He didn’t even promise that they wouldn’t do it again. They weren’t even worthy of a second chance. But he asked for another chance anyway.
Moses appealed to God on their behalf according to His nature, not theirs. Moses had a special standing with God that few others enjoyed. He had appealed to God before on their behalf and God had given him a promise and a peek into His character. The very words that Moses spoke on behalf of the people were the same words that God had spoken to him before confirming His covenant with the people.
Because He knew God’s heart he could make this request. “Please pardon the iniquity of tis people, according to the greatness of Your steadfast love” (verse 19a). Moses admitted what they had done was sin and that God had the right and ability to make this choice. He never said “You HAVE to do it my way.” He laid out the situation and left their fate in God’s hands.
In Moses’ last words on the subject I see him doing two things. First he is reminding God of the fact that these people have needed a LOT of second chances and that His love had provided them with forgiveness each time. “Your love and forgiveness is the only reason they are still breathing today. They have made MANY mistakes but they are still Your people.”
And, second, he was reminding God that this group had been struggling with this same issue since leaving Egypt. They didn’t all come out willingly. God so inflamed the people of Egypt against them that they threw them out. God made sure they left Egypt but they were a surly bunch all the way. “You were the one who chose them in the first place. You knew what they were like when You made them that first promise.”
I’m curious what would have happened if, when God called the people out of Egypt, He only took the ones who wanted to come. How many would have remained? We are told that more than just the Israelites came on this journey. There were others who left with them. Sometimes those extra people were the source of discontent that started in the camp. I wonder what would have happened if they had stayed behind.
One last point that Moses made in his plea was that he knew the guilty would receive punishment of some form. God’s words to Moses had stated so. Not every sin brought punishment from God but the egregious ones didn’t slide by. Moses knew there would be some form of punishment for this HUGE sin against God but he was praying it would be tempered with love.
I don’t know if I have shared this story with you before but I want to share one of my most exasperating days with my middle son. He was a child a lot like I was when I was young. He was stubborn, got mad and stayed mad. Once he got mad it didn’t take much of anything to set him off and then he would strike out at whoever was the latest to cross his path.
One day, for whatever reason, he was having a BAD day. By mid afternoon he was hitting his siblings repeatedly. I had already talked to him, told him to stop, given him a time out, and spanked him for his behavior. None of these things worked. As soon as he was released from whatever correction he had received he came back angrier to the play area.
Finally I had had enough. After he hit someone for the umpteenth time I tied his hands together with a shoestring. I told him that this was so he would stop hitting. So the next thing he does is club one of his brothers with his bound hands. So I tied his hands behind his back. I told him that he couldn’t run because he had no hands to catch him if he fell and sent him off to play. Next thing I know he is kicking his siblings instead. So I tied his feet loosely together to keep him from being able to raise them to kick. I also told him that he could NOT run this way since his feet were only able to move far enough for a single step.
Even this didn’t stop him. His anger still found a way to express itself in violence towards his siblings. Finally I untied him and put him in his bed. Then I told him that tomorrow he was going to a baby sitter because I was so angry I couldn’t even look at him right then.
THIS is what my little boy heard from his mother before going to sleep. I wonder what went through his mind as he lay there that night. Was he broken over my words or did it add more fuel to his fire.
It broke me. My husband was deployed at the time so I couldn’t turn to him for help. I called my mother in law and talked with her about my day. After I got off the phone I realized something that I should have done MUCH earlier in the day. I should have prayed; for him and for me.
I went into his room and climbed in bed with him and began to pray quietly. He was already asleep by this time but I knew his spirit was still able to hear my plea and that God loved us both. That day changed how I looked at his anger. I learned that I had to find the root cause of his anger, sometimes even daily, and address it before he could move onto better behavior.
I know we haven’t gotten to God’s response yet but I think God addressed the root of this group’s anger. They didn’t want to go in the first place. They were playing along when it suited them. When it didn’t they fell back into rebellion. They had been moaning about “going back” from the beginning. Now was loudest of those objections. We will have to wait until next time to see how God handles that fact.
Father God, thank You for the insight into my son. I don’t know where we would have been without You. I made MANY mistakes as a mother. Probably more with him than any of the other kids because he was so challenging. Thank You for the man he has become and the father that he is to his children. I PRAY with all my heart that none of his children inherit the temper he had. He and I both understand some of its origins and he is doing everything he can to keep it from happening in his family.
Thank You also Father for Your steadfast love! Even in my worst moments You don’t stop loving me. You loved me enough that dark day to remind me to pray. I’m CERTAIN that You were trying to remind me earlier on in the day but my own anger got in the way. Thank You for not giving up and sending me to the “baby sitter.” Thank You that I didn’t follow through on that either. Thank You for fixing that hole in both our hearts.