Ex 32. No sin against greater light had ever happened to that point since the Fall.
In a sense, the whole movement of Genesis through Exodus 31 has been necessary to get us to here with understanding. Looking at Exodus 20:20, we'd have to say that when "all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance" (20:18), and then Moses said all that was "in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin" -- it didn't work. We'd have to say that what the "sons of Israel" saw: "the appearance of the glory of the Lord" (24:17), which was "like a consuming fire on the mountain top" (24:17) -- didn't work. Aaron saw God (24:9-10), and "they ate and drank," remember that? Well, that worked. They "sat down to eat and to drink" with their new idol in 32:6. That Aaron made, along with an altar (32:4-5).
And no clearer explanation embedded in the narrative had yet been given of the handling of sin. The people "have corrupted themselves" (7). Their destruction (10) is not just a "consequence," the way we tell children "what you did has consequences." It was the deserving of wrath. And the wrath of God is not a "fit," the way it is with us. The wrath of God is the cause of being destroyed by God.
So the shock of the narrative is "let Me alone" (10) from God to Moses! God anticipates Moses and what He is going to say. What did Moses say? He already could have had his own life and progeny, so what Moses said was not for his own sake.
Look at the "argument," if we can be so bold, with the text, between Moses and God! God says to Moses "your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt..." (32:7). Moses says to God "Your people, whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt..." (32:11). God tells Moses to leave Him alone, "that My anger may burn..." (32:10). Moses says "why does Your anger burn against Your people...?" (32:11).
And then you see why we've had to read from Genesis to get here. Two arguments by Moses. The second one is (32:13) "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel" -- pointedly, Israel, -- didn't we wonder, way back in Genesis, what this striving with God talk was all about, even prevailing! (Gen 32:28)? The name "Israel" is pointed here. God had used "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" in meeting Moses (Ex 3:6, 15), and Moses had adopted that (4:5). But not here. Moses is not the first one that God has allowed to prevail in striving for a blessing, and not the last (Rm 5:10).
But why is it Moses that is here, at this point? That's behind the first argument by Moses (32:12). The second one (32:13) was Moses asking God to remember His promises to this nation descended from Israel, the one who strove with God, and prevailed. The First argument (32:12) is Moses saying, in effect, 'how about me, and everything that used me, regarding the Egyptians. Did you do that regarding the Egyptians, so that that whole thing would backfire?'
What Moses actually says is "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth.'...." (32:12).
So Moses is permitted to have a dialog with God, an argument, with two points, and of course God knows all this, that's why He anticipates in 32:10.
The outcome is amazing: "So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people." (32:14).
The fire on the mountain. Seeing God. All the people's promising (19:8), and all Moses' explaining to them "all these words which the LORD had commanded him" (19:7). None of that worked.
What "worked" and ascended to the mind of God and "changed" it -- was two things, which Moses put forward as his argument -- what God had done before, for God to be consistent with that (32:12); and what God had promised before, for God to be consistent with that (32:13). Neither one of these things were in the people. They were things in God. That's how God dealt with His people deserving destruction.
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