Hayes on God Learning about Man

He created humans with high hopes, but as they corrupted their path, he destroyed them with a flood, saving one individual as a fresh start. But humans continue to frustrate his plans for them, seeking aggrandizement instead of filling the earth as commanded. Having promised never to destroy creation again, Yahweh responds by frustrating their plans, scattering them far and wide, and once again pinning his hopes on a single individual— Abraham. And now the children of Abraham have disappointed him with their faithlessness and corruption, and once again, as if by reflex, Yahweh’s first thought is to abandon them and start afresh with Moses. But Moses draws the line. He refuses to accept the offer and advances a line of argument that appeals primarily to Yahweh’s vanity: What will the neighbors think if you destroy them? They will think you couldn’t fulfill your promise. They will think you are not the powerful god of history.

Hayes, Christine. Introduction to the Bible (The Open Yale Courses Series) (Kindle Locations 2250-2256). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.


  1. Terrance Fretheim brings remarkable depth to the analysis of this text that is contrapuntal to Haye’s seeming “short shrift” of Yahweh’s intent “… as if by reflex, Yahweh’s first thought is to abandon them and start afresh with Moses.” Admittedly, a prima facie read of the text might suggest that Yahweh is reacting impulsively seemingly without the benefit of His extensive knowledge of Israel. As it stands it seems that Haye’s is intending to portray Moses as the more rational and controlled party in that scenario.

    Fretheims probes deeper after summing up Moses arguments: “(a) if the people have only just been delivered, what sense does it make to thrun immediately and reverse that action; (b) a concern for God’s reputation among the Egyptians; (c) a reminder of God’s promise to the fathers.”

    “While these ought not be considered arguments that God had not thought of before, to have them articulated in a forceful way by one who has been invited into deliberation regarding Israel’s future gives them a new status. That is, God takes Moses’ contribution with utmost seriousness; God’s acquiescence to the arguments indicates that God treats the conversation with Moses with integrity and honors the human insight as an important ingredient for the shaping of the future. If Moses thinks these things, they take on a significance that they do not carry when treated in isolation by the divine mind. Hence, Moses’ arguments include a concern not only for the future of Israel but also for the future of God.” Further down on page 51 Fretheim continues:

    “Thus, God not only invites the consideration of prophetic leaders, he accepts the argumentation and honors it as an important ingredient for the consideration of the shape the congregations’ future should take. When God makes a decision, God is open to changing it in light of the ongoing conversations with the leadership of the community of faith.”

    In the rest of the chapter Fretheim discusses other lament passages by Yahweh with His servants Samuel, Amos, Jeremiah, and Hosea to underscore the point that, in the very act of expressing Divine lament and even anger at the unremitting callousness and disobedience of His people, He is sharing the “decision-making process with those whose future is at stake.”

    1. I can see some value in your post but then we have such texts in which a person asks of God not to punish him in His anger, nor discipline him in His wrath. Jeremiah’s similar demand is also valuable in this regard.

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