The chapter opens with a divine announcement of a bleak future: Moses and the people Moses brought from Egypt (v.1) are to go to the promised land but without the Lord’s presence. The people show signs of serious repentance; Moses continues to intercede, gaining first the Lord’s presence for Moses’ benefit (v.14) and finally the Lord’s presence for the people’s benefit (v.17). The point of Moses asking to see the Lord’s glory (v.18) is unclear; the effect is a parallel between the divine manifestation to the people and the making of the covenant (chapters 19-24) and the divine manifestation to Moses and the renewal of the covenant (chapter 34).
Childs comments “The Old Testament rather runs the risk of humanizing God through its extreme anthropomorphism—God changes his mind, v.5—than undercut the absolute seriousness with which God takes the intercession of his servant. Moses, on his part, refuses anything less than the full restoration of Israel as God’s special people.”
Abraham’s intercession gave Sodom and Gomorrah a decent shot at survival. Moses’ intercession secures a future for his people. To what intercession might this text motivate us?
And speaking of prayer…
The sandhill cranes were feeding in our yard again, causing this from Madeleine L’Engle’s And it was good to jump out:
“I was asked how we could pray for our planet, with the devastating wars which are tearing it apart, with greed fouling the air we breathe and the water we drink. And I replied that the only way I know how to pray for the body of our planet is to see it as God meant it to be, to see the sky as we sometimes see it in the country in wintertime, crisp with stars, or to see the land with spring moving across it, the fruit trees flowering and the grass greening, and at night hearing the peepers calling back and forth, and the high, sweet singing of the bats.”
There’s something of L’Engle’s “to see it as God meant it to be” in the gift of the presence of the cranes with their beauty and grace. L’Engle makes me wonder if their presence isn’t also an invitation to understand (offer up?) my delight as prayer, not only for them but for all God’s creatures, and an invitation to learn to see the beauty and grace proper to all these creatures.