Exodus 32:9-14 (NIV quoted):

9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.

11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

God threatens to destroy Israel, and apparently declines to do so because Moses mentions the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel that their descendants would be numerous.

But this is exactly what God promised Moses to start with in verse 9—making a great nation out of Moses, who was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, would still fulfill the promise. So why does Moses' restatement of the promise have the desired effect? He doesn't have any other arguments than "what would Egypt think".

4 Answers 4


This question is interesting in its own right, but all the more so in light of John's pronouncement in Matthew 3:9 that God is able from stones to raise up children for Abraham.

One way we might understand the argument in Exodus 32 is to note that Moses does not ask God to remember his promise so much as to remember his servants to whom he made the promise. The mention of the promise perhaps then functions to connect the people with the patriarchs. In this view Moses is making an appeal for God's mercy to the people on account of his favor to the patriarchs. One weakness with this view, however, is that Moses does seem to emphasize the promise when he adds "by your own self".

Another approach might be to focus on the first piece of bold text. While technically the descendents of Moses would continue to be descendents of Abraham, as this answer mentions, Moses would essentially be a "new Avraham". In essence, God would be making Moses into a great nation instead of making Abraham into a great nation. In a black and white sense, God might be keeping his promise while starting over with Moses; but would He still be keeping the heart of the promise?


You are correct in noting that His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could have been fulfilled through Moses. However, consider verses 11-12. Moses points to two aspects of the Exodus that would be affected by a rejection of Israel:

  • God demonstrated His mighty power in bringing out the Israelites from Egypt. This would effectively be wasted effort on His part.
  • To cut off the Israelites would give the Egyptians an effective tool to disdain God's glory and wisdom. Egypt is not really the focus here - it is God's glory.

There is a third issue at play here as well, though not mentioned by Moses:

  • Moses was not in the line of Judah, to whom had been promised both the royal line and the Messiah. (Genesis 49:8-10) (The net.bible.org notes on these verses lay out the various Davidic/Messianic implications of this passage)
  • Hmm... does omnipotence have a sense of 'wasted effort'? (Indeed, Romans 9:18-24, etc., suggests that the potter creates some vessels to destroy them.)
    – Muke Tever
    Jan 5, 2012 at 2:31
  • Not from God's perspective, certainly, but Moses is the speaker and seems to suggest that from a human perspective. Jan 5, 2012 at 13:58

Another consideration is that this passage may, in part, have been a test for Moses. Consider John 6:5-7. Jesus asks a question of Philip, though the question is a test. Jesus knew the answer ahead of time, and essentially presented Philip with a question to determine Philip's state of soul. It seems Christ was trying to teach Philip his own insufficiency, while demonstrating the all-sufficiency of Christ.

Back in Moses' situation, the same dynamic may have been in play. From Moses' perspective, he was in a life-or-death earnest plea to save his beloved people from destruction. From God's perspective, I think he knew 'the end from the beginning'. Though not directly stated, I suspect that God put Moses in this position to test his mettle. As we all know, by Moses' response, he revealed his care for the people of Israel, his desire that God's name be glorified, and his lack of ambition for his own glory.

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1. Question Restatement:

Why does Moses' appeal to God's promise to the forefathers succeed, even though that same promise could have been fulfilled through Moses?

2. When Appealing to God for Mercy - the Appeal Itself is Sufficient, Regardless of the Merits:

This is a "paradigm shift" for a lot of people, so I won't get into an extensive argument, but here is the "Legal Precedent", in Scripture:

NKJV, Hosea 6:6 - For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

NKJV, 1 Peter 4:8 - And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”

Simply: advocating for mercy, for others or oneself, is sufficient to move the heart of God, and will supersede any other condemnation made - even his own.

Paraphrase of the Bible: I will be who I choose to be - and I will be he who desires life, and not death. And, I created you to reflect who I am.
Note: Anyone want to buy a leatherbound version of this Bible? HAH! *cough.


  • Eve's contention with the Serpent, then God - resulting in Adam's life being spared - though completely wrong.
  • Job's prayer for his friends - healing Job, even though they were all very wrong in their theologies and representations of God.
  • Abraham's advocacy for Sodom, exhibiting desperation.
  • Moses' weak argument appealing to the fathers.
  • Rahab's advocacy for the spies, though obviously unlawful.
  • Samson's advocacy for Israel's deliverance - though it was completely wrong.
  • Jesus advocating for all - simply because they were ignorant, (which has no legal basis in Scripture, even untrue in a way, and contradictory in many places).
  • etc, etc.

The only "just" and "equanimitable" judgment one can ask for others, is mercy - since that is what they are seeking themselves.

NASB Paraphrase, 1 Corinthians 11:29 - For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge others justly - with mercy.

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