Friday, August 7, 2009

Repentant God, Part 2

Begin with the end in mind. That is popular buzz-slogan advice to help you become successful in your plans. Of course, we should be able to look to God as the inspiration for such good advice given that He planned the end from the beginning and that He is completely omniscient. God is supposedly in the unique position of knowing the exact consequences of His possible actions before He even takes the action, thereby allowing Him to make the best possible plans and decisions.

This is the second part of a study on God's repentance. The first part occurred many centuries ago in Bible-time in the book of Genesis, covering the Flood in the days of Noah. There we saw how God repented making man, and that His solution was to kill them all, preserving only Noah's family to repopulate the earth.

Now we are in Exodus, and, after receiving the laws which the Israelites were to live by and having the Israelites agree to follow them, Moses has been up on a mountain spending time with God, 40 days to be exact, while the Israelites waited for him to return to them.

Repentant God, Part 2
If God is omniscient in the past, present, and future, there is no need for anyone to council God in His decisions. He knows everything from every angle, and should therefore only plan to do the best possible action in any circumstance. Tack on God's supposedly perfect righteousness, and His instincts and actions should be flawlessly good. This is exactly why the story in Exodus 32 is so strange.

In Exodus 32:1-6 you will see how the Israelites became impatient while waiting for Moses. Moses had been up on the mountain talking to God for 40 days (Exodus 24:15-18) learning how God wanted to be worshiped. The impatient Israelites had Aaron make them a golden calf, and he announced that they were going to worship this gold cow with a festival the next day.

One of the most interesting verses in this passage is Exodus 32:4, because it says that this golden cow was to be the god which brought them out of Egypt. This would have been a big insult to God, and it contradicted God's laws to which the Israelites had all agreed. However, also note that it was the Israelites' impatient gratitude to God which was the catalyst for creating this idol, as evidenced by the call for a festival! Nevertheless, their overzealousness praise is not going to go over well with God.

In Exodus 32:7-9 we find God telling Moses that the Israelites are now worshiping a golden calf idol. God's nature revealed in His planned resolution to their idol worship, as seen in Exodus 32:10 when He tells Moses:
“Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” NIV
This plot may seem familiar to you. Back in Genesis 6, men were so evil that God repented making man. His solution then was to kill everybody except Noah and his family with a legendary Flood. It seems that God's motto is that if at first you don't succeed, kill, kill again! Implicitly, through God's intended solution we can see that God repented bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, just like He had repented making man.

This challenges God's future omniscience. Consider that God would have known in advance that the Israelites would get impatient. God possibly could have prevented this idol worship by having Moses tell the Israelites from the beginning that he would be with God for 40 days, or perhaps by sending Moses down about halfway through the duration of his encampment with God to let the Israelites know that he would be done chatting with God in two to three weeks, and everyone should just relax. Instead, we see God lets the Israelites sit around with no information long enough to make them suspect that Moses may be dead (Exodus 32:1), which precipitates the creation of the gold calf.

However, the most significant contradiction to God's future omniscience, and to God's Plan for that matter, is the fact that if God had wiped out all of the Israelites at this point, then there would have been no King David! Moses is not in the lineage of King David (Matthew 1:1-6). To give you a perspective of why this is so important, consider that it was God's promise to King David (2 Samuel 7:8-16) that his kingdom would last forever which plays a central role in the Christian claim that the prophesy would be fulfilled by having Jesus in David's lineage and having Jesus rule forever in the afterlife. God's impulsive rage was poised to change Christianity forever before it had even begun. So much for sticking to the Plan. That is, if there was a Plan to stick to...

One more point to consider is that after the Flood, men obviously returned to there evil ways. There was seemingly not a net gain from the destruction of mankind. The lesson from the Flood is that killing everyone and starting over does not really make the situation better. (And perhaps this lesson has further implications to the Apocalypse and afterlife.) This lesson seems to have been lost on God, which challenges His true omniscience of the past and present too.

Now the story takes an even more bizarre turn. In Exodus 32:11-14 Moses convinces God not to kill all of the Israelites. Conceptually it is impossible to imagine God, with perfect omniscience and perfect righteousness, changing His mind about anything based on the arguments from an imperfect man, but things get even worse when you consider what Moses's arguments are.

First, Moses tells God to think about what the Egyptians will think about God, rescuing the Israelites from slavery just to slaughter them in the desert; as if God's own actions may be dictated by what people might think about Him.

Second, Moses tells God to remember His promises to which He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. This is perhaps the most condemning argument to God, because it shows that either He is willing to break His promises (as He was about to do by killing the Israelites) or that can He not remember everything at one time (like His promises), rendering his knowledge imperfect.

The conclusion of this story is not less bizarre. In Exodus 32:15-24, Moses comes down off the mountain with two stone tablets inscribed by God. When he sees the Israelites idol worship, in a fit of rage he smashes these tablets, an act which shows little regard for something made by God. After grinding up the idol and feeding it to the Israelites, he asks his brother, Aaron, how he could lead the Israelites to such a sin. Aaron, soon to be God's high priest (Exodus 28:1), lies to Moses by telling him that the golden calf just popped out of the fire (Exodus 32:24) as opposed to the fact that Aaron actually fashioned the calf himself (Exodus 32:4).

Moses decides that a greater punishment is needed than just feeding them the idol, so in Exodus 32:25-29 we see how Moses asks for volunteers who side with God. The Levites answer the call, and they slay 3000 of their fellow Israelites, including their own sons and brothers (Exodus 32:29). As a reward, they will be set apart and blessed by God.

Getting back to God, and to the end of the story in Exodus 32:30-35, Moses pleads to God to atone for the Israelites' sins, but God will not accept a substitute, and vows to punish their sin. God gives the Israelites a plague for their sins. The extent of the plague is not mentioned, but there is one thing for sure. Aaron, the leader of the Israelites while Moses was with God, the man that actually made the idol, and the one who orchestrated the festival to the golden calf, was not plagued by God due to his actions. Be it a lack of justice or an act of mercy, it is just another display of God's capricious nature.


  1. God was about to kill all of the Israelites and in doing so comes across as an genocidal hothead. Moses on the other hand comes across as cool and calm. Shouldn't their roles be exactly the opposite?? I guess Moses is smarter and more rational than God.

    And with God forgetting his promises and showing a severe lack of omniscience, it makes it seem like this is all just one big story written by various authors over time and then jumbled together... :)

  2. Exactly! Plus it shows how the Hebrew God was just like the multitude of pagan gods which acted more like men than actual gods.