The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
They made a calf at Horeb
and worshiped a cast image.
They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
Our scriptures today open on an intense scene between God and Moses. God’s wrath has flared up and for good reason. Here he has brought his people out of Egypt, systematically destroying and showing his sovereignty over the Egyptian gods, demonstrating his wonders, rescuing his people from death, and utterly crushing their enemies behind them. After all this, his people turn away at the first inconvenience to them. They bore with oppression for so long, believing fully in the might of their oppressors, but having been rescued, they had no faith and no patience in their rescuer.
How easy it is for each of us to fall into this trap of faithlessness. We trust in what we see, what we can touch, the history of what has been, and we believe fully in that history repeating itself. When we get knocked down, we feel it deeply and keep the one who leveled the blow at the forefront of our consciousness. We don’t keep in our minds at all times the subtle ways that God has always supported us and raised us up again. We cannot begin to count the things we have not had to suffer which God has shielded us from. Our gratitude will never be enough to thank God for everything he has done for us.
So what do we do since we have all merited God’s wrath? Moses pleaded with God to make him turn away his anger. He calls upon his greatness and magnanimity, he tries to direct his anger back to the Egyptians instead of his own people, and finally he calls upon God’s own words and his promise to his people. At this, God relents. God cannot be unfaithful, and so he is faithful to his covenant because he swore by himself.
God’s word took on human form in the person of Jesus. Like Moses, we still use God’s own word to turn back his wrath, to remind him of his covenant to us. We do this by calling on the name of Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the establishment of the new covenant, that God has taken on the price of our sinfulness and faithlessness. This is the testimony of the Father on Jesus’ behalf that he speaks of in the Gospel. Our biggest problem today is not figuring out how to turn away the wrath of God. God has done this for us. Our biggest problem is believing in God, believing in his covenant, believing in the name of Jesus for salvation, believing in the testimony of the Father about his Son. Let us pray today for a greater trust in God, that we may believe in his word, which is to believe in the Son. Let us pray that through God’s grace, we may remain faithful to him as he is always faithful to us.
Prayer: O Lord, thank you for the gift of your Son. Thank you for the gift of salvation. Even though I stumble in my walk with you, I doubt your faithfulness, and I doubt your plan for me, thank you for your constancy. Help me to keep you at the forefront of my mind, so that I may think on you and not look as long on my troubles. You have overcome the world, you have overcome death, you have overcome my own sinfulness. Help me to rely on you more and more and increase my trust in you. Amen.