Righting America

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Moses or Noah? | Righting America

by Susan Trollinger

A mannequin figure of Noah on display at Ark Encounter. Image via YouTube.

Reading Exodus 32:9-10 always gives me pause. 

According to this text, God would nurture a wrath so great that He would say the following: “I see how stiff-necked this people is. Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.”

Am I supposed to worship that God? 

Where is the grace? Where is the mercy? Where is the love?

But then the story takes a turn. Moses makes three powerful arguments that challenge God’s logic and plan. 

So, let me see if I have this right, Moses says. You brought your people out of the land of Egypt and slavery only so that you would now slaughter them? Does that make sense, God?

Then, second: So, what do you think the Egyptians are going to say about you if you do this horrible thing, God? You’re a hypocrite, perhaps? These are supposed to be your chosen people. And you’re ticked off because they aren’t perfect. They’re human, so of course they aren’t perfect. Now, you want to exterminate them? What do you think your reputation is going to be in Egypt? 

And then the third one: Remember your promises, God. To Abraham—that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Extermination doesn’t seem like a plan to make good on that promise. Are you going to keep your promises? Or just enjoy your wrath?

And God listens to Moses and changes His mind. 

Now, that’s a God I can worship. Moreover, Moses is a biblical figure I can admire! To be sure, it would be a very scary thing to make not one, not two, but three arguments that directly challenge God’s thinking. Moses didn’t know how that was going to go. But he did it anyway. He was truly brave! 

This story in Exodus brings to mind the story of Noah in Genesis. God tells Noah that he’s got to build an Ark. He’s got to get his family on it. They are, according to God, the only righteous people on the planet. And then Noah has to get two of every kind of land creature on it. And then God instructs Noah that He is going to bring a great flood that is going to drown every person and every land creature that is not on the Ark because they were just so unforgivably sinful. God just couldn’t take their sin anymore. 


Does God’s wrath in this story make any sense? He was so ticked off at, what, elephants, rabbits, and giraffes, not to mention toddlers, babies, and the unborn, that he felt obliged to drown them?

What I love about the story in Exodus is that Moses doesn’t let God off the hook. He basically says to God: You want to exterminate your own people because you’re having a bad day? Really? That’s the kind of God you are? 

And God relents. He, thankfully, listens to Moses.

But what about Noah? According to the account in Genesis, Noah just goes with God’s genocidal plan. He builds the Ark. Gets his family on board. Gets two of every kind on board. Never mind the rest of humanity or the rest of land animals. No need to worry about them. They’re apparently not righteous. So, if this is the deal, why do fish get a pass? So, tortoises deserve to die but Walleye don’t? 

To repeat. I can worship the God that Moses engages. That’s a God who listens to reason and later sends his only son to save all us sinners who don’t deserve grace but, to quote singer and songwriter Mary Gauthier, “need it anyhow.” 

To return to where I began this reflection—I love the story of Moses making his case to God in Exodus because it tells us of a brave man who challenged God’s very bad idea, and it tells of a God that can change His mind when he should. That’s a God we can engage. A God who listens. And while God might get pretty frustrated with us now and again, and for good reason, He’s still the God who became man and dined with prostitutes and tax collectors. 

What this story from Exodus teaches me is that we can mobilize our own moral reasoning as we engage God. We can find our way with God to mercy, grace, and love.