“Moses pleaded with the Lord his God” (Exodus 32:11)
We cannot imagine the emotions that must have arisen in Moses at this time. He had been in the presence of God for some time and had just received two tablets of stone on which God Himself had written (Exodus 31:18). It must have seemed to him that every thing was going perfectly until God suddenly distanced Himself from and disowned the people of Israel saying they were Moses’ people and that Moses had brought them out of Egypt. Worse, God told Moses that the people had corrupted themselves (v 7).
Without seeing the evidence for himself Moses must have been bewildered by this sudden change of attitude by God toward Israel. All of a sudden Israel stood condemned. How would he respond? Would he demand to see evidence? Would he make excuses? No! He accepted God’s word on the matter.
God made a magnificent offer to Moses. He would wipe out all Israel except Moses and start again as He did with Abraham and then only Moses’ descendants would inherit the Abrahamic Covenant. However, Moses though he represented God to the people also recognised that he represented the people to God. He would have a failure on this point later but not here. He pleaded with God for the people.
He did not diminish the sin of the people nor did he make excuses. He knew and accepted that Israel had not kept their vow to obey the Lord and justice therefore demanded the death penalty be carried out.
Moses pleaded for mercy but not to the covenant that Israel had made with God (24:7) but to the unconditional Covenant that God had made with Abraham (v 13). He was also concerned for how God would be perceived by Egypt. The great signs were not just for Israel but that Egypt may know that the Lord is God alone (v 11; cf. 8:10; 9:29; 14:4).
In response to Moses plea Israel would not be destroyed immediately but they did not know how close they came to destruction.
Moses, full of righteous anger (v 19), came straight to the point. He destroyed the golden calf and made the people drink the water in which its powder was mixed. This was each individual acknowledging their part in this great sin and a sign of repentance. Then he demanded the people make a visible choice to follow the Lord. Even so, that day God’s righteous judgment on Israel began (v 28) and it would last forty years (vv 33-35).
We have no basis to claim righteousness on the basis of the Law because we all have sinned. Like Israel we are under death sentence (Romans 6:23). Our only basis for mercy is God’s unconditional Covenant made with Abraham and fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.