Sunday, July 26, 2009

Debating God

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'" The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation." Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exodus 32:7-17, NASB)

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You cannot look at this without first considering Moses earlier debate with God. It was in the desert and involved a burning bush. If you recall, that particular debate didn’t turn out so great for Moses. God gave him a directive to go to the king of Egypt and demand the release of His people. Moses came up with excuses and questions at every turn. He didn’t know what God’s name was, so God told him his name – I AM THAT I AM. Moses didn’t speak well and would fumble the words. God referred him to his own silver-tongued brother Aaron who would act as his mouthpiece. Moses flat out begged God to send somebody else. God humbled Moses and sent him off to Egypt.

Now, many years have passed. God and Moses have just spoken on the mountain and God has given Moses the tablets of the law. Moses had to be on an absolute spiritual high, likely the highest of his life to that point. And then it happens. Moses comes down from the mountain and the debauchery of the people comes into full view. God is absolutely disgusted with them and is threatening to wipe them out and start again with Moses. Showing years of wisdom beyond that we can imagine, Moses engages God in a debate of sorts. His basic premise is not all that surprising, but his opening argument seems rather odd. Moses basically asks God, “If you do this, what will the neighbors think?”

We are never forbidden to engage God. The call to obedience is not the same as giving over our free will. Our approach and the outcome may vary greatly (look at the two attempts Moses made), but God isn’t looking for a bunch of robots. He wants men and women who have learned and studied His heart to the point they can engage Him and grow. Yes, we are to completely trust what God does. I’m sure Moses would have accepted God’s verdict if He had carried out His statement and wiped out the children of Israel. But I don’t believe that was the point of this exchange at all.
I believe the point was to reinforce in Moses the proper way to approach the I AM and engage Him in a way that brings the servant closer to the Master. It isn’t about refusing to do something God asks, but rather about a deeper understanding of what hurts our Father’s heart and grieves Him. In understanding that and going through a productive and proper “debate” we can grow into the men and women God can use in incredible ways to further His kingdom and His cause. Just look at Moses. After his debate with God, he continued to shepherd the people onward to their promised home. To be certain, it was a crooked path, but God lead the whole time.
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  1. Have you ever had occasion to “debate” with God? What were the circumstances that resulted in that exchange?
  2. Do you view this activity as dishonoring to God, or do you believe there are times when it is a good and necessary part of the struggle to grow in our walk with Him?
  3. How had Moses grown between his first discussion with God and this one? Are you, like Moses was, truly out to protect God’s reputation?

NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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