You might want to turn Exodus 32 before you and just remember the context. This is right in the context of the golden calf. The people of God have already violated the first and second commandments before Moses can even get down from the mountain, and in the context of this, God threatens to destroy his people, and Moses intercedes. He intercedes and he says, “Don’t destroy this people. Don’t destroy this people that you brought out of the land of Egypt into the wilderness, because if you destroy this people, the nations are going to mock and say, “What did he do but just bring this people out in the wilderness to destroy them. So Moses fervently intercedes with God.
Now what is Moses trying to teach us there the following things? One, that his influence conditions the compassion of God. Is Moses trying to teach us that his influence conditioned the compassion of God? God’s compassion had just come to the end of the rope—he’d had it, “that’s it, I’m going to fry them”—and Moses in the greatness and generosity of his heart talked God out of it. Is that what he’s trying to teach?
Is he trying to teach us here that God changes his mind, that he reverses his intentions? Is he trying to teach us here the principle that God’s people have influence by their prayers on evoking the future actions of God?
Well, let’s look at the passage for a second. Moses has already given you a textual clue to indicate that his heart of compassion is not as big as God’s heart of compassion. Where did he give that to you?
In Exodus 3 and 4. Do you remember his call? God comes to Moses, he meets him at the burning bush, he calls him to be the prophet to his people, he sends him into Egypt, and what does Moses say? “This is incredible. This is incredible, God. This is an awesome mission. Send anybody you want to, but just not me.” Moses’ response to God’s call is, “This is amazing activity here, God, but I don’t care enough about your people to lead them out of Egypt.” Moses has tipped you off that his heart of compassion is not nearly as large as the heart of God for his people. Moses didn’t even want to be their liberator. Moses doesn’t expect you to turn a few chapters later and think that suddenly he has gotten to be more large-hearted than God, more patient than God. In fact, he shows his impatience throughout the account.
So what’s happening here? God is training Moses to have a heart for his people like he already does, because Moses is the mediator. Moses is the mediator, and he’s got to have a heart for his people if he’s going to intercede for them, if he’s going to mediate for them. And so in Exodus 32, he’s training Moses to be a mediator. The whole passage is about Moses being a mediator. It’s not about God changing his mind. It’s not about God having Moses exercise some influence on him.
Secondly, if you say that Moses changed God’s mind, you must say that God’s grace was conditioned by Moses, that God’s grace was prompted by Moses, that God’s grace was evoked by Moses. And, my friends, that’s blasphemy.
The cross lets us know that God’s grace is not evoked by anything in us. It is self-generated, and the cross is the expression of that prior grace. It’s a mockery to the love of God to say that somehow he looks down upon us, and we coax him into loving his people and having compassion. That’s a horrendous caricature of the majestic, loving God of scripture. So this isn’t just a little exegetical mistake that Boyd is making here, he’s contorting the face of God. This passage is about mediation, it’s not about God changing his mind.
Finally, what about the issue of Moses interceding and the relation to the decree of God? Well, you see the problem all along—and we’ll say this in just a moment—the problem all along with open theism is it thinks that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are incompatible. Now we Calvinists, we Reformational Christians, happen to think that that’s incorrect. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not in contradiction. We may not be able to explain fully how those things work together, but they are not contradictory. And so the fact of the matter is, God often uses the prayers of his people as the instrument for the accomplishment of his will. But in that case, prayer functions—as C.H. Spurgeon once said—like a carrier pigeon.
You know, the carrier pigeon is sent from home base with its message out to the place where the message is to be taken, and then it comes back home to the place from which it was sent. And, Spurgeon says, prayer is just like that. Prayer begins in the heart of God and lights in the heart of his people, who send it back to him where it returns from whence it came. And so God uses the prayers lifted up for the accomplishment of his will, but it is his heart where the origins of those prayers lie and they are sent out to ours. Do our prayers effect the plans of God? Not by themselves, but they may be the instrument which God has ordained from the foundation of the world to accomplish his will. Think of Daniel 9. Daniel picks up Jeremiah, he finds out that the children of Israel are to be in Egypt for 70 years in exile. Now if I had found that, and I was in exile, I would have said, “Yippee! It’s almost over!” Daniel doesn’t do that. He begins to confess his sins. He says, “Lord, we’ve been in exile all these years. The time, according to Jeremiah, is almost up, but we’re still hard-hearted. We still don’t love you.” What does he start to do? He starts to plead for God to answer his promises. And if I read my Bible right, at the end of Daniel 9, we are told that in response to Daniel’s prayer, Jesus came. Let me say that again. In response to Daniel’s prayer, God sent the Messiah into the world. Daniel’s prayer was the instrument chosen by the sovereign God to bring his son into the world. Go back and read it sometime. God’s sovereignty, man’s responsibility — no contradiction.
~ Ligon Duncan