Exodus 32:14 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Exo 32:14 And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

In Exodus 32, God sees Israel’s first major rebellion against Him. While Moses is on Mount Sinai talking to God about commandments for Israel, Israel camps below and builds a false idol in the shape of a calf. God then begins plotting to destroy all of Israel. God states that He has seen Israel. God watched them rebel after a few days without Moses’ leadership. God then commands Moses to leave him alone. God says that He will destroy Israel and then use Moses’ lineage to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham. But Moses mounts a solid defense.

Exo 32:11 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?
Exo 32:12 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.
Exo 32:13 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.'”

Moses’ argues:

1. Israel was God’s people
2. God expended great power to lead His people out of Egypt
3. If God were to destroy Israel, the Egyptians would think poorly of God
4. Israel is the offspring of notable individuals to whom God made promises
5. That promise was specifically an eternal inheritance

This leads to God “relenting” of the disaster He had promised. The better translation of this verb would be “repented”. God is showing a change of mind, and a change of mind based on a reasoned argument. Theologians convinced that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future might claim that God is placating Moses. God pretends to be angry. God pretends to want to destroy Israel. God sets up a situation for Moses to learn. But the text does not state this.

In fact, future Biblical commenters on this event follow a more Open Theistic reading. In Ezekiel, the Exodus event is depicted as God changing based on the argument that killing Israel would make Him look poor in front of the pagan nations:

Exo 32:11 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?
Exo 32:12 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.
Exo 32:13 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.'”

Psalms 106 recounts that it is Moses’ arguments that actually affect a change in the Divine person:

Psa 106:23 Therefore He said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, To turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them.

Moses turned away God’s wrath. God repented of His wrath, as explicit in Exodus. This is also recounted by Moses in Deuteronomy 9:19.

It is obvious that Exodus 32 is meant to be read as God changing His mind in light of Moses’ intercession. The text reads explicitly like this. Future Biblical commenters affirm it. There is nothing in the text mitigating the straightforward reading.

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