Exodus 32 narrates a high-stakes conversation between Moses and God. While Moses had lingered on the mountain for forty days so that he might commune with the Almighty, the Israelite people have pressured Aaron to “make a god” for them to worship. Out of the gold rings of the people, he cast an image of a calf. Perversely, the people worshiped it and sacrificed to it. And the Lord gets wind of their rebellion, their willingness to turn aside from the way Moses was leading. With burning wrath, God plans to destroy the fledgling nation.
In the most poignant language, Moses pleads with God to change this course of action and remember God’s plan to redeem. “Turn from your fierce anger,” Moses implores. “Change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people,” he insists. The text is very spare, but the risk and urgency of Moses’ intercession for the people is compelling. And Moses prevails with God.
Who intercedes in our day for those who live in perversity, mocking the Holy One of Israel? Who risks all to beg mercy for those deserving of punishment? Is God really that responsive to fervent prayer, even to the point of changing the divine mind? Moses’ intercession presages Jesus’ prayer: “Abba, forgive them…” This kind of prayer is transformative—for God and for humanity.