When God ‘repented’ – Thursday, 4th week in Lent – Exodus 32:7-14/John5:31-47

When children shine, a mother or father is happy to take the credit for the child’s success.  Yet should that very child fail, the mother will say to the father ‘YOUR daughter’ or the father will say to the mother, ‘YOUR son.’ Everyone, it seems wants to be surrounded by success stories, failure is hard to accept. God, it seems, is no different.

The book of Exodus bears witness to the love of God who with his arm outstretched defeated Pharaoh, a god in his people’s eyes. God led his people through the wilderness, enduring their grumbling and dissent yet never failing to provide for their needs. In Chapter 20 of the book of Exodus God gave them the ten commandments and then till chapter 31 elaborated every detail of how the law was to be kept. God instructed Moses for forty days and these are recorded from chapters 20-31. Eleven chapters is all it took for the people to abandon God and make themselves a golden calf to worship.

The text of today begins with God disowning his people like an angry parent. He tells Moses, “Go down now because YOUR People whom YOU brought out of Egypt have apostatized.” God was furious, mad enough to ask to be ‘left alone’ so that he could plan the destruction of his people. Moses however, was the only one to be spared.

This would have been a great opportunity for Moses to ‘submit his resignation’ and be left in peace. These ungrateful people who even wished to stone Moses (17:4) had shown nothing but ingratitude. Yet the heart of Moses is seen in this text. He knows that the act of infidelity on the part of his people was a line they foolishly crossed. God had given them ten commandments and they could not even keep the first. He could have abandoned these ungrateful and treacherous people who had not even spared God and yet he pleads with God to spare them.

When you deal with God long enough you know his SOP and Moses had been with God long enough to know God’s every heartbeat. He appeals to God with cunning yet with love. He seems to work on the ‘ego of God’ (poetically speaking). ‘If you execute your plan of destruction, you are going to look very silly in the eyes of the Egyptians from whom you rescued your people,’ Moses says to God. Your actions of ‘saving your people’ will look very shifty when your wrath will burn on them in the wilderness. This is Moses, not just at his clever best but exercising his compassionate heart. Should God change his mind, then these ungrateful and fickle-minded people will be his to lead forward on a long journey ahead.

The English translation of the Bible tells us that God changed his mind, but the Hebrew translation reveals much more. Moses had laid the emotion thick and his emotional blackmail worked. But read the text in its Hebrew and you will also realise that God did not just ‘change his mind’ (as the English text reads in verse 14) but that God REPENTED.

You might think I made a mistake and should have typed, RELENTED instead of repented. No, he did not just relent, the Hebrew translation reads as ‘repented.’ Elsewhere in the Bible, naham translates as ‘to be sorry’ or’ repent’ especially when its subject is a human. God was beside himself that he almost came close to breaking a promise he made in Genesis 8:11 to never again destroy the earth.

Ironically, God feels sorry for his anger even though he did not execute it. He is the blameless one who took on the sins of the world. The reflection on our part is obvious. He is the sinless one who repents of his thoughts to destroy us. We are the sinful ones and yet we do not repent of our actions that destroy the holiness of God.

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