I did an inductive Bible study of Exodus 32-34, looking especially at the role of Moses as intercessor between God and His people. Being an intercessor myself, I was curious what Moses could teach us today about intercession. Following are just a few of the takeaways I learned from studying this passage:
Students of Inductive Bible Study will note that for each number below, the first paragraph is my “inference” and the second paragraph is my “observation.” While I made each observation first, I listed the inference first in this article because I want to emphasize the takeaways (inferences).
1. Exodus 32:7
Moses’s intercession is based on two truths: These are God’s people, and Moses is identified with them.
God associates the people with Moses and says Moses brought them out of Egypt. By contrast, in 32:11-12 Moses counters that the people are God’s (and repeats this in 33:13) and that God brought them out of Egypt. Meanwhile the people attribute this feat to “gods” represented by a molten calf (32:4, 8).
2. Exodus 32:12-13
God’s plan for the people is greater than the people’s sinful actions. God’s mission in the world is not thwarted by their actions.
This passage shows a contrast between God’s wrath and His promises. Moses is the mediator who voices this contrast. In response to the contrast that Moses presents, God turns from His desire to destroy the people (32:14). In this passage, we see that God “thought” to do this “evil” rather than “planned” it (32:14).
Note that God doesn’t really do “evil,” but it was perceived as such by humans. God’s wrath comes only from His holiness and our violation of that holiness through idolatry and other sin. That’s why we need a savior: Jesus Christ.
3. Exodus 32:14
Moses says “Yes” to God’s own plan, and God responds to affirm that plan. Moses doesn’t ask God to do anything He hasn’t already planned to do by His own power.
The turning point of 32:14 follows several reminders: the people belong to God (32:11); God led them out of Egypt (32:11); God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (32:13); and that God’s promise was made by God’s own power – that God swore by His own self (32:13).
4. Exodus 32:11
Moses’s intercession appeals to God’s plan and promise and does not deny what the people deserve.
Moses’s intercession is described with the word “besought.” The Hebrew word is חלה, defined in this context as “mollify, pacify, appease,” seeking favor in place of wrath (Brown-Driver-Briggs). The same dynamic seems to take place in 33:13. The connotation acknowledges the reality of God’s wrath and seeks favor despite it. Moses places that search for favor in the promises of God (32:13).
5. Exodus 32:7-8
The relationship of Moses toward God is characterized by trust.
Moses learns about the people’s rebellion at first, not by sight, but by God’s words. Moses’ response (32:11-13) indicates Moses believes God.
6. Exodus 32:12
God wants the nations of the world to recognize who He is. God’s promise and plan is for the world.
The words of Moses acknowledge that the way God deals with His people will be seen by the Egyptians. Even though the people have been delivered from slavery in Egypt, the reader of this passage is reminded that the nations are watching.
7. Exodus 32:9-10
God’s promises and covenant, not His wrath, constitute God’s plan to overcome the pride and stubbornness of the people. God’s focus is on restoration, not retribution.
Although Moses asks God to turn from His anger, Moses does not express any disagreement with God that the people are stiff-necked. The Hebrew word for “stiff-necked” is קשה ערף, a figurative description of Israel’s obstinance (Brown-Driver-Briggs). Moses reminds God immediately of His promises to the ancestors of the people.
8. Exodus 33:12-16
Intercession is corporate. Individual relationship with God has a corporate impact and is for the sake of the people. Moses identifies with God’s people and approaches God corporately on their behalf. The characteristics that God has given to Moses in approaching Him are meant for the entire people. Corporate intercession is focused on God’s larger plan of restoration in the world.
This passage interweaves Moses’ personal interactions toward God along with Moses’ corporate identification with the people he belongs to. Twice Moses mentions “I and thy people” (33:16). When Moses asks for favor, he speaks first personally and then reminds God that the people are God’s (33:13). Moses identities himself with the nation and reminds God that the nation is God’s. Moses reminds God about qualities that characterize their relationship (presence, favor), and he connects these with a larger corporate relationship.
9: Exodus 32:8-13, 33:16
God allows intercession despite the scope of the people’s sinful disposition. The turning away of God’s wrath is not because punishment was undeserved or because His holiness could tolerate idolatry and rebellion. Rather, the turning away of His wrath was for the sake of the bigger picture of God’s mission in the world and His desire to bring restoration to His people. God is faithful to keep His promises for the sake of His mission in the world – not because anyone has earned it, but because He has a plan.
Moses pleads with God despite the people’s rebellion, idolatry, self-absorption, worship and sacrifice to a false god, and stiff-necked obstinance. Moses reminds God of the details of His history with these people. Here the scope of this passage widens for the reader, so the current rebellion can be set against God’s larger work in the nation of Israel and in the world. There is a common factor in Moses’ first and third attempts at intercession that both receive a positive response from the LORD. That common factor is Moses’ mention of how God’s relationship with Israel is distinct in the world.
10. Exodus 32:30-35
Sin has a corporate impact. Corporate relationship with God is just as important as individual relationship. The role of intercessor between the people and God does not carry the power of atonement.
Moses offers himself as atonement for the people’s sin. God does not seem to accept Moses’ offer. Throughout this paragraph, the author refers to “the people.”
This last observation and inference are very important because this passage points us to Jesus as our ultimate intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; 4:14-16). As intercessors, we invite Jesus into each situation, and we say “Yes” to His plan.
Moses has a lot to teach us about intercession: corporateness, God’s holiness, God’s plan for the restoration of His people, God’s mission in the world.
Most importantly, this passage about Moses as an intercessor points us toward the only One whose intercession carries the power of atonement and the gift of salvation: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who leads us as intercessors in God’s great big mission in the world.