6 “Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a [d]stubborn people. 7 Remember, do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord. 8 Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you. 9 When I went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the Lord had made with you, then I remained on the mountain forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10 The Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the Lord had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 It came about at the end of forty days and nights that the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go down from here quickly, for your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them; they have made a molten image for themselves.’ 13 The Lord spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a [e]stubborn people. 14 Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’
15 “So I turned and came down from the mountain while the mountain was burning with fire, and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 And I saw that you had indeed sinned against the Lord your God. You had made for yourselves a molten calf; you had turned aside quickly from the way which the Lord had commanded you. 17 I took hold of the two tablets and threw them from my hands and smashed them before your eyes. 18 I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke Him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the Lord was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 The Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him; so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time. 21 I took your [f]sinful thing, the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that came down from the mountain.
22 “Again at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. 23 When the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the land which I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the [g]command of the Lord your God; you neither believed Him nor listened to His voice. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day I knew you.
25 “So I fell down before the Lord the forty days and nights, which I [h]did because the Lord had said He would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.27 Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin. 28 Otherwise the land from which You brought us may say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which He had [i]promised them and because He hated them He has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” 29 Yet they are Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm.’
There is an interesting contrast that I don’t think I have ever noticed in this passage before. In the beginning, God says to Moses, “for your people…have acted corruptly.”
It’s almost as if God was testing Moses, as they didn’t belong to Moses, and he had no claim over them. God had chosen these people, and commanded Moses to lead them, not the other way around. But when one is placed in leadership, you tend to get this sense of ownership, which is healthy in some ways. You have to guard your heart though, as one needs to remember that everything belongs to God, so even when we might think we own a house, or a boat, or a car… it all comes from and belongs to God.
We are stewards, and this was something Moses had to remember. The Israelites were not his people, not in the possessive sense, only in the familial sense. We see that he does indeed remember this critical fact, and shortly thereafter, he flips the sentence back on God, and says “do not destroy Your people, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness…”
I doubt that God ever had any intention of destroying the Israelites, but He needed to test Moses to see if he could handle the leadership role. No doubt because God knew how they would try Moses’ patience in the years to come.
Moses is not the only one who God tested, we see it all throughout the Bible (Job and Peter are notable examples), and do not think you will escape trials and tests in whatever role God has placed you. If you follow Him, there will be trials, there will be tests, for God is refining you as one would refine silver or gold… through intense heat and adversity.