11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
One of the more interesting and tragic figures in Christian history is Marcion. The 3rd edition of The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes that he was a heretic, “the son of a Bishop who excommunicated him on grounds of immorality,” who died around the year AD 160. The ODCC then summarizes his significance and beliefs:
His followers were certainly the chief danger to the Church from dogmatic unorthodoxy in the latter half of the 2nd cent. By the end of the 3rd cent. most of the Marcionite communities had been absorbed in Manichaeism, but they continued to exist in small numbers down to a much later date.
Marcion’s central thesis was that the Christian Gospel was wholly a Gospel of Love to the absolute exclusion of Law. This doctrine…led him to reject the OT completely. The Creator God or Demiurge, revealed in the OT from Gen. 1 onwards as wholly a God of Law, had nothing in common with the God of Jesus Christ. Study of the OT indicated that this Jewish God constantly involved himself in contradictory courses of action, that he was fickle, capricious, ignorant, despotic, cruel. Utterly different was the Supreme God of Love whom Jesus came to reveal. It was His purpose to overthrow the Demiurge…[Jesus’] Passion and Death were the work of the Creator God.
Of the New Testament, Marcion only accepted “ten of the Epp. of St. Paul (he either rejected or did not know the Pastorals) and an edited recension of the Gospel of St. Luke.”
Marcion was indeed interesting and indeed tragic. Even so, his central idea—that the God of the Old Testament was an evil demiurge to be rejected and that the God of the New Testament whom Jesus revealed is utterly different—is a belief that rears its head (often, admittedly, in subtle and even somewhat muted forms) even today among Christians. I know of no Christian who would say such a thing outright, but I have encountered Christians who almost seem to speak of the Old Testament picture of God as inferior or even foreign to the New Testament picture.
Interestingly, our text might be the kind of text that Marcion, mistakenly, would have pointed to, for it appears to depict God as almost being chastised and argued down by Moses from decisions that might strike us on the surface as beneath Him. But is that what is really happening here? Is God being petulant and temperamental? Most certainly he is not. Rather, in God’s exchange with Moses concerning His anger towards the rebellious Israelites we find a beautiful picture of divine grace and mercy. More than that, what we find in Exodus 31:11-14 are images that will find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Forgiveness comes as a result of intercession.
At the heart of our text is the concept of intercession, of somebody standing between sinful man and a holy and righteous God.
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
The Lord told Moses to leave Him so that He might give full vent to His anger and destroy the Israelites who, even then, were dancing before a golden calf.
“But Moses implored the Lord his God…” This is the heartbeat of intercession. Moses stands between God and His sinful people and pleads with Him: “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”
This “imploring” was heartfelt and passionate. He is pleading with God not to destroy His people. In a beautiful passage, Augustine likens Moses in this instance to a concerned mother seeking to protect her children.
But Moses wouldn’t accept this: he sticks to the sinners; he prays for the sinners. And how does he pray? This is a wonderful proof of his love, brothers and sisters. How does he pray? Notice something I’ve often spoken of, how his love is almost that of a mother. When God threatened that sacrilegious people, Moses’ maternal instincts were roused, and on their behalf he stood up to the anger of God…What sure maternal and paternal instincts, how sure his reliance, as he said this, on the justice and mercy of God! He knew that because he is just he wouldn’t destroy a just man, and because he is merciful he would pardon sinners.
It is telling that Augustine saw a maternal image in Moses’ words. Jesus will likewise draw upon a maternal image as He weeps over Jerusalem and the judgment that is coming to them in Luke 13:
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
This is fitting, for if ever an Old Testament image found its fulfillment in the person and work of Christ it is this image of intercession. Time and time again, Jesus is depicted as our greatintercessor. We see this, for instance, in Stephen’s vision of Christ in Acts 7’s account of her last moments:
55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
In Romans 8, Paul uses the frequently employed NT image of Christ sitting at the right hand of God. This image is virtually synonymous with intercession.
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
And in Hebrews 8, the writer of Hebrews depicts Christ’s intercessory work as priestly work.
1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven
In interceding for the Israelites, Moses was foreshadowing the coming work of Christ. Just as Moses stood on the mountain and pleaded for mercy, our Lord Jesus went up Calvary and hung there pleading for mercy. Moses implored God to forgive. At Calvary, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus intercedes for the saints!
Forgiveness is based on God’s character.
Forgiveness is tied to intercession, but, behind that, it emanates from God’s character. Observe how Moses appeals to God’s righteous character in his plea for mercy:
12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.
This needs to be understood. For one thing, the Old Testament is quite comfortable speaking in what we call anthropopathic language, that is, language that attributes to God human emotional traits. In saying this we are not saying that this scene did not happen or that we cannot understand what is being said here. The point is actually pretty simple: we cannot apply these emotional and psychological images to God in the exact same way that they apply to us. God is utterly holy, perfect, and sovereign. We are frail and fallen. Rather, we should realize that God is communicating divine truth to us in terms and images we can understand. Furthermore, He was communicating with Moses in a way that he could understand.
Furthermore, Moses’ words here should be seen to be appealing to God’s sovereign and loving character, not to some absurd sense of vanity. Victor Hamilton sums it up quite nicely:
At no point does Moses excuse the people for their sin. He never suggests that God is overreacting with “much ado about nothing.” His appeal is entirely directed to God, and to his character, his reputation, and his past actions. Moses prays the way he prays not because of what he knows about his people, but he prays the way he does because of what he knows about his God.
Moses asks God to forgive not because he fears God may not be a forgiving God but because he knows God is a forgiving God! This is where we must allow the completion of this picture in the person and work of Jesus to inform our reading of what is happening. In biblical intercession, the intercessor is not talking God out of doing something God desires to do. Rather, the intercessor is himself sent by God to plead to God for mercy upon God’s people. Thus, in John 3:16, we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
God sends Jesus to intercede before God and sinful man. Likewise, God is prompting and pushing Moses to intercede. Why? Because God desires mercy! He is teaching Moses, wooing him to respond as an intercessor must. Part of this episode is therefore about Moses growing further into the heart of God so that he could view both God and man rightly.
Forgiveness is based on God’s covenant with His people.
Moses indeed moves further into the heart of God when he next reminds God of the covenant that He made with His children.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
Moses reminds God that He swore on His own self to preserve a people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to see them through to the land of promise and to a legacy of greatness. Once again, God was not unaware of His covenant and God did not desire to break it.
Philip Ryken has argued that it “was never God’s purpose to destroy the Israelites, but only to save them.” In support of this claim he offers three evidences:
- “First there was the simple fact that God commanded Moses to down.” Ryken sees this as an evidence that God did not really intend to destroy his people because, “If he really intended to destroy the Israelites, then why send Moses down at all?”
- “Then there is the fact that God refers to the Israelites as the people of Moses…” In this phrase Ryken finds God “helping Moses identify with the Israelites” and take up, as it were, his role of intercessor.
- “But the biggest hint of God’s ultimately gracious purpose for Israel comes in verse 10, where he attaches a condition to his threat of judgment: ‘Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and I may destroy them.” Here, Ryken notes that the conditional language God uses (which, literally understood, is quite problematic) is in essence calling on Moses to intercede. In response, God will forgive but God desires for Moses to ask for forgiveness for the people.
We might sum up this exchange between God and Moses by saying, in the words of Tony Merida, that “God pushed Moses toward intercession.”
Moses appeals to the covenant. God will honor the covenant. This is important for Jesus will likewise appeal to a divine covenant as He approaches the cross. In Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah spoke of a coming new covenant.
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The traits of this new covenant are intriguing:
- It will come after the time of Jeremiah.
- It will be unlike the other covenants.
- It will involve the law of God being placed within us.
- It will involve the law of God being written on our hearts.
- It will confirm a binding relationship between God and His people.
- It will be universal in scope.
- It will confirm God’s forgiveness of His people.
- It will confirm that God does not remember our sin.
This, Jeremiah says, will be “a new covenant.” How beautiful, then, to read the words of Jesus at the Last Supper recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:
25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
This new covenant that signals an inward change, the pronouncement of forgiveness, and the reestablishment of a relationship between man and God is the covenant that Christ said He was ratifying on the cross! Thus, when you come to Jesus and accept His grace by faith, you find intercession, you see the character of God, and you are brought under the covenant promises of forgiveness and salvation.
If Moses is a type of Christ then Christ is the completion of Moses. Christ is the better Moses. Christ is in His perfection the one to whom Moses pointed in his weakness. Christ’s work on Calvary is the completion of Moses’ work on Sinai.
See the mercy of God! See the loving God who sends an intercessor and who then honors the intercessor’s request for mercy. He honors it because He is love, because He is forgiveness, because He does desire mercy. Moses offered in a shadowy form what Christ would reveal in the brilliant light of His own glory.
Take comfort and be of good cheer! God is for you and God is with you! Turn from your golden calf and look full in His wonderful face. There you will find forgiveness.
 F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), p.1040.
 Joseph T. Lienhard, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Old Testament III. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.142.
 Hamilton, Victor P.. Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Kindle Locations 16739-16742). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), p.986-987.
 Merida, Tony. Exalting Jesus in Exodus (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 198). Kindle Edition.