The God That Changed His Mind – Or Did He?

Exodus 32:14 “So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people

 Exodus 32 is a great story – with so much to learn from. We have Moses up on Mt. Sinai with God getting the pieces of rock (the commandments). While on earth – we have Aaron and many in the community making a golden calf to idolize – to take the place (and to be attributed the Exodus) of a God that has abandoned them (or so it would seem). 

God notices the idolatry and decides that it is time to “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.” (Ex 32:10). God is planning to make Moses a ‘great nation’. 

Moses, and his quick thinking and wit, turns the situation around. Moses says ‘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.'” (Ex 32:13). God made a promise to the Patriarchs – He cannot switch this now? 

Guess what – God repents (changes His mind) in verse 14. Of course, by the end of the chapter we find God did not change His mind “Then the LORD smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made” (Ex 32:35).    

Did you know – from what I can tell – there are two stories about God in this chapter – concerning the same issue (the golden calf and God’s response)? Here they are: 

(a) Exodus 32:1-18: In this version God forgives the people (repents of wanting to destroy them), thanks to Moses interceding on the people’s behalf, and gives Moses the stone commandments. All seems to be moving forward. 

(b) Exodus 32:19-35: Moses sees the people and the calf and Aaron’s betrayal. Moses commands people to be killed (about 3000) for the actions of idolatry and ribaldry. Moses goes to see God about the issue to see if something can be done – forgiveness of sins (Moses even decides to leave God if He will not honor the promise to Israel). God decides justice will be visited only on the people that committed the atrocious actions – not the ones that were innocent. God smote the people by verse 35. 

Huh? Did not God change His mind in verse 14? I think there are 2 versions of the same story here – one paints a God that reasons with Moses – the other one that Moses needs to ‘bow down’ to and is strictly authoritative. One is merciful to the people – One is judgmental concerning the situation (only wants justice). 

Great question – do we serve the God that can repent or serve the God that demands justice? I am partial to serve version (a) but I am aware version (b) is also needed (justice is important also). But I see a few versions of God – nothing wrong with that is there?

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15 thoughts on “The God That Changed His Mind – Or Did He?

  1. It is quite a story here which I wrote about a couple years ago, I’ll include part of it here:

    To me the plain story of the Golden Calf is about a lot of bad behavior, others see it differently. There are many levels in Torah. One size doesn’t fit all.

    The people get impatient and give up on Moses. Aaron can’t stand up to them so he just goes along with their wishes.

    Moses has a big temper tantrum, smashes the tablets, grinds up the calf, throws it into water and makes people drink it. What a great display of self control. Later he again loses it and hits a rock while enraged. Why not? God let him get away with it before.

    God has God’s own out of control moment and threatens to kill all the people on the basis of the actions of a small fraction of the population. Aren’t we overreacting just a little bit here? At least Moses has enough sense to call God on it and we’re not wiped out.

    I guess some prefer read this story as some nice little history lesson for children: Those bad people who came out with us from Egypt forced Aaron against his will to make a calf. God threatened to kill all the people since this is how God should have responded to such a horrible, horrible action. Thank goodness Moses rushed to the rescue to save the day. Our heroes remain intact, Aaron, God, Moses. We are still elevated over our enemies, the riffraff from Egypt. Isn’t that sweet?

    It’s a bit harder to think about a God who would destroy 600,000 people without a second glance just because 3,000 of them pissed God off. What do I think of such a God? What does it tell me about God? What does it tell me about us that we would write such things in Torah, perhaps making the assumption that God would react in such a manner? What do I think about a leader who totally loses it? Why was this considered such a good thing by the author of Torah? Or is that just what we’re reading in? Maybe that’s not the message at all.

    Torah totally fascinates me, but I’ll be the first to admit the pretty stories are of no interest to me. Life is complex; life is tough. I’d rather have a Torah that is also complex and sometimes tough as well. In it I can find meaning, wisdom, understanding. Reading Torah for the plain meaning is fine, but I just don’t find this method terribly thought provoking or helpful for dealing with everyday living. My style works great for me. If it doesn’t work for someone else, just leave it.

    So, back to present day. Did God change God’s mind or not? Well, sort of. It sounds like a very human story to me. We claim we forgive people but then make sure we get at least some pay back from the whole deal. I guess that’s part of being made in the image of God? We learned well from our teacher?

  2. “We claim we forgive people but then make sure we get at least some pay back from the whole deal. I guess that’s part of being made in the image of God? We learned well from our teacher?” (Yael)

    Good point – both sides are part of us – I think that way too.

    Now for the theological rough spot – who is God that He should changs His mind? Or that Moses, a human, could persuade Him? And if Moses can do it – can we?

  3. Of course God can change His mind. God can do anything! We can’t put Him in a box, can we?

    Who’s to say that we can’t change God’s mind? But how would we ever know, unless we get “up” there and He tells us…”Hey you, squirt… remember when you prayed for X for 12 years straight? I had my mind all set to do Y, but because of your persistence..I did X, instead.”

  4. Of course God can change His mind. God can do anything! We can’t put Him in a box, can we?(Stevo)

    I had a prophetic dream last night, God changed his mind, we are all saved no matter what. 😉

  5. God can change God’s mind… yet it’s funny how Moses who begged for forgiveness went down and killed a boat load of people. crazy stuff. but like Yael pointed out (cause TK always has good points!) it is a very human story.. and we’re all children of God no matter (take off of John there).

    Rawk out team bible!

  6. “I had a prophetic dream last night, God changed his mind, we are all saved no matter what” (John)

    I had an even crazier one – in my dream God liked all of us – He may not have approved of all our actions – but He liked us.

  7. hey… i’m writing a sermon and i need the Jewish expectations of the Messiah… didn’t Yael and you, SVS, already post on this somewhere… if you could send me the link, i’d be eternally grateful. well, that depends if the sermon goes over well 😉 so i’ll at least be grateful for 10 minutes or so.

  8. Master Luke – I will see what i can find – I know I have checked into tonnes of that kind of info – and I will even find the links so you can look at them with a microscope.

  9. There’s a PDF on Jews for Judaism about the Jewish Messiah. Messiahtruth that Jason has linked might also have something. Outreach Judaism might have something here.

    Hey, depending on the pastor, 10 minutes can be an eternity…. 8) Good luck with the sermon.

  10. “But I see a few versions of God – nothing wrong with that is there?”

    I like that… it admits that there are always going to be varied views and interpretations.

    Whenever I see people trying to make the various contradictory points of scripture flow smoothly, I am reminded of the game of twister. All the stretching, and over, and under, and across, and behind – and you are destined to fall down.

    In that game, as Joshua (the computer) said “Strange game. The only way to win is not to play”. 🙂

    Not that I don’t enjoy good theological wrestling…. but it is NEVER going to fit. 😉

  11. Luke, Yael has some good links there – ones I have used (namely Outreach Judaism) – but here is my contribution:

    (1) My Jewish learning Site: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/index.htm – type in ‘messiah’ and whole list of great articles come up – but here are a few I really like:

    Who is the Messiah?

    Overview: Messianism

    The Messianic Age

    The Rise of Christianity

    Just a taste of what is there – search the term ‘messiah’ and its a literal feast of what that word means in Judaism (I loved the study)

  12. There is a part in this story from Exodus 32 that is just intriguing. At one point when God wants to destory the people – he calls them Moses’ people and he led them out. Moses then turns the story on God and lets Gos know they are His people and He led them out of Egypt. They actually argue who is responsible for the exodus and the people down below in the wilderness now worshipping a golden calf.

    In the middle of the story Moses does convince God to forgive the people down below – then we see that Moses isn’t so quick to do so (orders the deaths of some 3000 people). He heads back up to God (on Sinai) and feels bad about what the people have done and we have this exchange between Moses and God again – this time with Moses more humbled and God more authoritative.

    One has to wonder – were they following one another’s leads?

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