When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they 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!”’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now 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.’
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? Why 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. Remember 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.”’ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
“And the Lord changed his mind …….”. Following a tough conversation between God and Moses, and not for the first time, God changed his mind. No longer full of wrath, burning hot against his people, ready to consume them but prepared to find a different way through the difficulty.
This is our God, almighty, omnipotent, creator of the universe who changed his mind following a conversation with one of his creatures.
The relationship between Moses and God was clearly a good one and God continued to respect Moses whom he suggested he would entrust with the making of a great nation. Moses knew well enough how to challenge God’s decision, pleading with him to think about the reasons for the exodus from Egypt and the promises he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. It was the reminder of the promises which proved to be the deciding factor.
However often I read the stories which tell of God changing his mind I remain surprised by the concept of a God who can be influenced in this way and I ask myself, what does this tell me about God and perhaps more importantly, about my relationship with him?
I think it tells us that here is a God who is open to change, who respects and is responsive to the views of his creatures. One who will move from the charted courses as a result of ongoing interaction with his people but who nevertheless remains steadfast in his love for his creatures and faithful to his promises of salvation for all. And it reminds each one of us that our prayers (those conversations we have with God) are honoured by him as a contribution to an ongoing debate about the direction of the world.
Faithful God, may we learn to listen for your purposes for the world. Loving God, may we be open to change in response to the needs of this world. Listening God, may our prayers reflect our listening and experience of the context in which we find ourselves. Amen