Moses’ Prayer of Repentance

Read: Exodus 32:15-34

Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written. (vv. 31-32)

What should have been a wonderful time of celebration and joy for the people of Israel turned into a disaster. Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the precious tablets of the Law in his hands. But the people had become impatient waiting for him, and fashioned a golden calf to worship. When Moses returned, sheer chaos broke out.

In despair and anger, Moses first calls the people to account in a stunning way—by first confronting Aaron, and then directing the Levites to mete out a bloody punishment for the people’s faithlessness. Finally, Moses turned to God and prayed for him to forgive the people’s sins. But he added that if God would not forgive the people, he could go ahead and erase Moses’ name from the book of life as well.

This, of course, is not how God works. God does not have a cosmic calculator by which he adds some and subtracts others. Mercy, according to God, is not a zero sum game. God’s steadfast love endures forever, and was steady enough to uphold both Moses and the people. Perhaps there are times when you feel so discouraged that you think God should just forget about you. Moses’ prayer—and its answer—is yet another reminder that God will never forsake us. —Leanne VanDyk

Prayer: Forgive us our sins, O Lord, even sins of rebellion against you. Assure us always of your faithful love. Amen.

About the Author

Leanne VanDyk

Leanne Van Dyk is a Reformed theologian and theological educator. She has focused much of her work on atonement theology and the development of theological education. She is the tenth president of Columbia Theological Seminary.