Exodus 32:7-14 Calf Wars, Episode II: Yahweh Strikes Back – NOT!

Questions: Is God emotionally immature? Does He hate us? Is He still angry with us? Can Moses really act as God’s voice of reason? What does it mean to be a friend of God? Why do we need friends, anyway? “Read More” to pursue answers.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Exodus 32:7-14

Today’s passage is one of the most extraordinary — and disturbing! — manifestations of God’s character anywhere in any Scripture. For me, it ranks right up there with Jesus on the cross crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted [themselves]:

Hoo-boy. Right away, you know God is pissed (if you’ll forgive the vulgarity). Like a Bill Cosby sketch where the wife says, “Look what your children did”, God appears to be emotionally distancing Himself from the children of Israel. After reciting their sins, He sums it all up by saying:

And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it [is] a stiffnecked people:

Which, apparently, is the last straw with God:

Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Ouch! Looks like this is the end. Yet, strangely, Moses steps in the gap, to act like the restraining parent against God:

And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

And, oddly enough — after laying out an argument about public opinion and ancestral relationships — Moses prevails:

And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

What in heaven is going on here? Is the Old Testament God really an angry tyrant just waiting for an excuse to destroy us? Or is it all just an elaborate put-on job, in order to teach Moses a lesson?

I was puzzling over this very passage back in April with my friend John McClements. I started by asking myself a few questions:
* Is God’s anger real?
* Was it justified?
* How did I think God “should” handle His anger?

The more I thought about it, the more I believed God was sincere: He really was angry, and in fact had every right to be. In fact, that is one of the things I’d been learning about myself: the importance of legitimizing my own anger. I could accept God’s anger as real because it mirrored my own.

At the same time, the right to be angry (due to legitimize grievance) is coupled with the responsibility to process that anger properly. That is what is so scary about this passage: it gives the impression that God’s anger is out of control, casting aside all bounds of reason and wisdom to lay waste to the earth.

Yet, that’s not what actually happens: Moses steps into the gap, apparently helping God process His anger, and catastrophe is averted.

Still, that’s not entirely comforting. I personally would feel more secure if God could have done all His processing internally, without having to rely on (fallible) outside counsel, or exposing His wrath in its full, unmitigated terror.

But… maybe God could have, but chose not to. If so, why?

Suddenly, it all clicked. My priority for this year is making friends, and I’d been wrestling with the issue of whether to rely on other people to help me process emotions vs. doing it all myself. Then, here I see God deliberately choosing to manifest His incompleteness before… a friend?

Was that the answer? Maybe God is in fact fully capable of processing everything internally, yet chooses to allow Moses to share in that process because:

a. He trusts Moses
b. He wants Moses to see that side of Him
c. He wants us to know that side of Him
d. We all need friends to complete us, and He modeled that

Incredible! Yet, it fit all the facts better than any other interpretation, and helps us see God as something other than out-of-control or manipulative. Rather, God is in fact demonstrating what it means to be genuine: to allow appropriate others to see us and complete us as we truly are. He does still take responsibility for processing His emotions, yet He risks involving us in that process — because He wants us to be His friends!

And, maybe that is the answer to many other questions as well:

* Creation is God incompleting Himself by making a space where we are, and He is not (yet).
* Prayer is our will completing God’s to unleash His power on earth
* Fellowship is our love completing God’s to manifest His character with each other
* Parenting is our authority completing God’s to cultivate His image in those we love

Heady stuff, and I’m not sure I’ve got all the details right, nor am I clear on how this squares with traditional systematic theology. But, at last I can whole-heartedly affirm the words of the song:

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend!


Dear God, my Father, redeemer, and friend. Thank you that you loved me enough to create a world where I could exist, even if the price was making yourself (in a sense) incomplete. Help me to complete you, as a friend — by understanding your emotions, reasons, intentions, and actions, and adding my own to yours so that your kingdom may come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Help me to be a friend to others as Moses was to you — and be as vulnerable before my friends as you were before Moses. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, as part of my trilogy on Exodus 32.