The relationship between God and Israel recounted in the Hebrew Bible is a bit of a roller-coaster ride. A good example is found in Exodus 32. God has delivered the Israelites from Egypt. They have gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai to worship God, receive the Ten Commandments, and affirm a covenant with the Deliverer God. Moses goes up to the mountain for 40 days to receive the commandments etched on stone by God and full instructions for a Tabernacle to symbolize God’s presence with the people. Then it all falls apart.
For their own reasons, the people despair of Moses’ returning and are afraid that this God he has proclaimed has forsaken them. They call on Aaron to help them create a golden idol that they can see and worship. They rebel.
God sees this happening and declares to Moses,“Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.” (32:7, NIV). God’s new plan is to destroy them and “then I will make you into a great nation.” (32:10).
Here is a major test of Moses’ leadership. He can abandon the people and embrace God’s new plan and join the ranks of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a new patriarch. Moses has had his own times of frustration with this group since they left Egypt. Maybe it is time to cut his losses and move on. He chooses a different course of action.
Moses accepts his role as leader and argues on behalf of the Israelites. He reminds God that they are not his people, but God’s (32:11) and that God has already invested a great deal in them. God relents of destroying the people and joins Moses in a plan of redemption.
Perhaps this was God’s intention all along. When times became difficult, would Moses abandon those he led and look out for his own welfare? To his credit, Moses accepts the challenge. The next steps will not be easy, but he affirms his mantle of leadership and addresses the problem.
The test of a true leader is her or his ability to accept responsibility. Plans will go astray, people will fail to follow through, and events will complicate things. When life happens, the leader can throw someone else under the bus or step up and try to make things right.
Moses passed the test. Leading this ragtag group would never be easy, but he had found his place and accepted the responsibility of a leader. What a great example!