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.