“And the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people.” Exodus 32:14

This Scripture can be understood only in its con­tent.

God’s people had corrupted themselves. They had turned quickly aside out of the way which the Lord had commanded them. They had made them a mol­ten calf, and worshipped it, and sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.”

Does this saying of God have reference also to the Israel according to the election? Clearly it does. For in this saying Moses and the whole nation ap­pear side by side. “That I may consume them,” says the Lord, “and make of thee—Moses—a great na­tion.” But the Lord cannot destroy His elect. But how then can He say—even as much as say—that He would do just that.

Fact is that the Lord said no such thing. For clearly implied in the saying is the clause: ‘except thou Moses intercede for the people,’ so that the com­plete thought conveyed is this: “Now therefore let me alone, that I may consume them,” ‘which I will actually do, except thou, Moses, intercede for them,’ in other words: ‘pray thou, O Moses, for my people and in the way of and in response to thy intercession I will spare and forgive my people.’ And Moses did intercede for the people. For so the Lord had de­termined. And as interceder Moses was God’s crea­tion and as such His gift to His people. The prayer that he prayed was put into his heart by the Lord. Let us attend to the words of this prayer:

“Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

“For remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swearest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.”

How in view of all this could the Lord destroy His people or even say that He would destroy them? He could not. And therefore the “Lord repented of the evil which he said (not ‘thought’ as our English version has it) to do unto his people.”

The Lord repented. This must be rightly under­stood. Man’s repentance contains in it three ele­ments: 1) remorse, 2) change of heart and mind and plans, 3) grief.

A man does this or that thing. It grieves him, for he sees that it was a mistake. And he wishes that he could undo the thing. This certainly is not God’s repentance. For He makes no mistakes. All that He determines to do and actually does is the expression of perfect wisdom. But God does repent not as a man but as God, which means that definite pheno­mena and even considerations grieve Him. The wic­kedness of man grieves him. The wickedness of the ante-deluvian race of men grieved Him, wherefore He also destroyed it from the face of the earth. And so also what He said he would do to his people—consume themin case Moses had not prayed for the people, grieved Him, that is, the thought of His de­stroying His people—the Israel according to the elec­tion—was thoroughly repulsive to Him. And the reason? That people He loves in Christ—so loves that He wounded the Christ—His only begotten—for the transgressions of this people and bruised Him for their iniquities.

And so it is plain that the Scripture statement, “And the Lord repented of the evil which He said to do unto his people,” does not mean that the Lord changed His mind, underwent a change of heart, as prevailed upon by Moses, and that therefore He did not do what He in His anger said He would do, was intending to do.

For as we have seen the Lord had not said that he was about to destroy His people.

It is plain from Moses’ prayer that he was fully aware that the Lord could not possibly destroy the nation, and therefore he also must have prayed in the confidence that his intercession would avail. But he seems to have been praying for the whole nation as unaware that it contained a reprobated seed doom­ed to extinction.

As appears from the sequel, he had also this dif­ficulty, namely how, seeing there was no real atone­ment, God could spare and forgive, He being righteous and holy God.

G.M. Ophoff