That Exodus passage in BSF last week, with the killing of the three thousand Hebrew rebels – there was something else in that passage that troubled me.
Before Moses actually descends the mountain and sees the golden calf and the revelry going on, God tells him what's happening. And God makes him an offer: I'll annihilate this stiff-necked people and start over with you. I'll make YOU a great nation. Whaddya say?
Now, Moses turns Him down and instead pleads for the people (later, he even offers himself to be destroyed in their place). And our lesson presented this as a test of Moses' spiritual leadership. Again, I'll have to study on that. Again, I assume that interpretation comes from principles found elsewhere in scripture because that take on the event is not explicit there in Exodus.
Two troubling things here: I was disturbed by the idea that God was saying he was willing to break his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the promise that Israel would be great and would live in the Promised Land and be His people. God doesn't break promises. Right?
Maybe that's part of why we were being taught that this was simply a test of Moses. Maybe the assumption is that any reader of the book should KNOW that God would not – cannot – do such a thing and so you aren't to read it that way. Hmmm.
Then the scripture says that after Moses spoke on the people's behalf, “the Lord relented.” He gave in. He changed his mind.
THAT's the part that I struggle with most.
If God had in mind one action and then shifted to a different action, one of those actions wasn't “his perfect will”, yes? But there is ample evidence in the Bible that the prayers of His people have an effect on God – that he may do something different based on those prayers. I'm never exactly sure how that can be.
Every once in a while, I get a glimpse of understanding of this idea. I once read (or heard – don't remember which) an analogy about a ship crossing the Atlantic. The captain of that ship is in full control of where the ship is going. The end destination is determined. But the passengers have a lot of leeway about where they go and what they do while on that ship headed toward their destination.
That hints at the truth, but doesn't quite sum it up. I don't think we can ever completely sum it up in our human understanding. This is one of those great mysteries that we may never quite understand about God.
But if, again, we go back to the fact that God's primary purpose is re-establishing relationship with us, I can, again, get a glimpse of some understanding. Somehow, some way, God in His infinite power and wisdom has worked it out that my prayers – my reaching out to Him to acknowledge Him as who He is and ask for Him to act on His justice and mercy and wisdom in my world – MY PRAYERS can make things happen. He worked it out so the action He wants me to take to build that relationship also works to accomplish His will in the world.