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Down with the Ship

Exodus 32:30-32
The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”

I could imagine a modern, cynical sort of journalist spinning the facts of this Exodus record into a narrative that casts a shadow over Moses’ achievements. The thesis would go like this: Moses’ privileged upbringing gives him a leg up among his brothers; he exploits his exalted position and fashions a plot to ‘deliver’ them from oppression; and the power he gains vaults him to a position of prominence that he hadn’t even known as a prince in Egypt. Conclusion: Moses represents a stale, patriarchal, toxic model of leadership that oppresses people rather than delivers them. Believe it or not, that’s the tired yarn cynics are continually spinning about all of Christianity’s shepherds—from Moses to Paul to Christ Himself—and I’ve no doubt that someone, somewhere, is adding their own threads to that yarn even now.

But look at Moses in this moment of deep despondency, friend. He’s just spent forty days on the mountain with God, gone back down to share the great news with the people, and everything’s been shattered. The testimonial stones, the dreams of a Promised Land, God’s favor—all of it! So how can he offer to take the fall for this blasphemous horde?! He should instead cry out, “Forgive their sin—but if not, please remember Your offer yesterday about making a great nation of me! I’ll accept that offer now!” Because Moses is a man after God’s own heart—that’s why! He isn’t the sort of captain who sees his ship going down and beats everyone else to the lifeboat. He’s the sort who sounds the alarm, helps women and children into the vessels, and prays for their salvation while he goes down with the ship.

How bewildering this must be for the cynics! Not only do they get their stories wrong, but the heroes they misrepresent are too busy laying down their lives for others to even notice.