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“The following day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a grave sin. Now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I will be able to atone for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a grave sin; they have made a god of gold for themselves. Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.”
The Lord replied to Moses: “I will erase whoever has sinned against Me from My book. Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about; see, My angel will go before you. But on the day I settle accounts, I will hold them accountable for their sin.” And the Lord inflicted a plague on the people for what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” – Exodus 32:30-35 (HCSB)
This passage follows a narrative where Aaron coordinates the creation of a golden calf for the Israelites. Moses had gone to the top of Mount Sinai to meet with the Lord, and the Israelites grew impatient with his return. Due to their seemingly unwarranted response, they "gathered around" Aaron and asked him to make them a god.
Aaron collected all the gold and fine jewelry from the people and constructed the golden calf. Within only a paragraph in Exodus, Israel had forgotten the Lord their God and had started sacrificing to the golden calf, their new god that was created by the hands of men.
Afterwards, the Lord notified Moses of this and burned with anger, for the Israelites were stiff-necked. The Lord was going to destroy them completely.
"But Moses interceded with the Lord his God: “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from Your great anger and relent concerning this disaster planned for Your people. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel—You swore to them by Your very self and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.’” So the Lord relented concerning the disaster He said He would bring on His people." – Exodus 32:11-14
He then told Moses to go down to them, and when Moses arrived, there was the sound of war within the camp. While holding the two tablets on which God had written the law, Moses became completely enraged. His anger was such that he threw the tablets which God´s hand had created, smashing them.
"Then he took the calf they had made, burned it up, and ground it into powder. He scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink the water." – Exodus 32:20
Read all of Exodus 32 and see the scene I´m describing here if you’d like. Moses intercedes with God and seems to even convince God that becoming enraged is not in the best interest of the nations. Then in only a few minutes, Moses becomes completely enraged, against his own logic, and destroys things, then commanded the Levites to kill their families, about 3,000 men.
This story goes to show that God´s relenting grace is so far above our own ability to comprehend, and so much more; more than this short devotional has the ability to extrapolate.
However, my main focus here is to see Moses´ response to the people´s sin. He goes back up to the mountain and prays for them, as we read at the beginning.
Focus primarily on the verse from the beginning where Moses says: "Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.” Today, have this heart for the people in your life. Pray so earnestly and faithfully for the sin of those you are close to that you feel a personal responsibility in helping them become righteous. Of course, the sin of a man is always at his own expense, so don´t allow this to become a guilt trip for you. But pray earnestly for those who are weak, and ask God to use you in ways to bring them strength.