This episode continues our series on the development of the character of God in the Bible. In this episode, the guys discuss one of the strangest stories in the Bible: Israel and the golden calf in Exodus 32.
In part one (00:00-09:45), the guys review the idea that God primarily interacts with the world through a human mediator. Understanding how God interacted with Israel through Moses is key to understanding this important theme in the Bible. Tim points out that in the Old Testament, the two most important personal portraits to understand are David and Moses. They are the two people who get the most page length in the Old Testament. Tim says that Moses' story should be creating a role, an expectation that the world would be a better place if there were more Moses-like characters who are intimately tied with Yahweh.
In part two (09:45-21:20), the guys talk about the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32. Moses represents Israel to God and he represents God to Israel. Tim points out a strange detail of the story. God says he wants to destroy Israel, but then it seems as though God changes his mind after Moses implored him to reconsider.
Tim says this story has puzzled all Bible readers over thousands of years. Does God change his mind based on human input? Tim quotes from biblical scholar Christopher Wright's commentary on Deuteronomy: “This story explores the mystery about prayer in general and intercession in particular, and raises questions: Was God really serious in this declared threat? If Moses had not interceded, would God have carried out the destruction of Israel? If God was not really planning to destroy the people (10:10b), did God only “pretend” to listen to Moses’ prayer? Did Moses actually change God’s mind? It seems important first of all to say that there is not much point in wrestling with alternative hypothetical scenarios posed by such questions. Asking “what if” serves little theological purpose. Both God and Moses appear to be behaving straightforwardly. There is nothing in the text to suggest that God’s anger was overdone for mere effect; no suggestion that God’s threat was a bluff intended to secure a hasty repentance. The threat of destruction was real. Likewise, Moses’ reaction to the divine wrath was not a patronizing dismissal of authority, like saying, “You can’t be serious!” Rather, Moses recognized that this was a sincere threat that could be countered only with appeal to prior words and actions of the same God. The paradox is that in appealing to God to change, he was actually appealing to God to be consistent —which may be a significant clue to the dynamic of all genuine intercessory prayer. Yet perhaps there is a hint of the divine intention in God’s fascinating words, Leave me alone… (v. 14). The discussion of this line in Jewish scholarship has sensed deep meaning here. After all, God need not have spoken such words, or indeed any words at all, to Moses. In wrath God could have acted “immediately” without informing or consulting Moses in any way. God pauses and makes the divine will “vulnerable” to human challenge. The fact is that, far from human intercession being an irritating but occasionally successful intrusion upon divinely prefabricated blueprints for history, Moses’ prayer becomes an integral part of the way God’s sovereignty in history is exercised. That does not totally solve the mystery, but it puts it in its proper biblical perspective. God not only allows human intercession, God invites it and builds it into the decision-making processes of the heavenly council in ways we can never fathom. “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” Intercessory prayer, then, flows primarily not from human anxiety about God but from God’s commitment to covenant relationship with human beings…. Moses was not so much arguing against God, as participating in an argument within God. Such prayer, therefore, not only participates in the pain of God in history, but is actually invited to do so for God’s sake as well as ours. This is a measure of the infinite value to God of commitment to persons in covenant relationship. The Point: The figure of Moses in the Torah creates a portrait of the kind of figure necessary for God and humanity to exist together in successful covenant relationship. Moses’ eventual failure in the wilderness (Numbers ch. 21) disqualifies him for the role he filled. His story creates a “Help Wanted” sign in the biblical narrative.”
In part three (21:20-33:30), the guys continue to discuss the story of the golden calf. Jon summarizes Tim’s position. Tim draws another parallel to the story of the great flood in Genesis. God destroys all of humanity except for Noah and his family. Then God says that “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil, from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). This is a paradox; God has just pronounced mankind as evil, but he refuses to destroy them or break relationship with them. Tim says that the Hebrew Bible is pointing forward to a person who they want to be a “better Moses.”
In part four (33:30-39:50), Tim shares a quote from The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. “One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food. He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”
In part five (39:50-end), Tim shares the evolution of the portrait of Moses in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah says that the hoped for figure who can save Israel is a mashup between the best characteristics of David and Moses. Israel needs a priest and a king; this person is Jesus. But Jon makes a point that if the idea is that Israel only needs an “exalted human” to save them, then theology like a Jehovah’s Witness that claims that Jesus was only an exalted human begins to form.
Tim sees this point. Many people throughout history have thought that Jesus was only an “exalted human,” but the apostles and authors of the New Testament believed that Jesus was also divine. For example in 2 Corinthians 3-4 and the book of Hebrews, the claim is that Jesus was not just “another Moses,” he was greater than Moses. Tim says that the New Testament author's claims that Jesus is divine can sometimes be hard to see to modern readers because they make the claims in very Jewish ways. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2 that Jesus is “the wisdom of God.” This sounds nice to modern readers, but to an ancient Hebrew rabbi, it would be blasphemous because claiming to be his wisdom is equivalent to claiming to be one with God. Ancient Jews would have no problem claiming that Jesus was a mediator “like” Moses, but saying he was greater eventually leads to the split between the Messianic Jews and other Jewish communities.
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"The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis
"Deuteronomy (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series)" by Christopher J. H. Wright
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