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This question is inspired by this: Did God REALLY want to destroy the people of Israel?

God says to Moses:

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.

“Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

But Moses pleads with the Lord:

Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

“Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.

Finally God changes his minds due to Moses's pleading:

"...the Lord changed His mind..."

My question is: Why does Moses who is a mere mortal have compassion for the people of Israel while God, who is of infinite goodness lacks it?

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closed as off-topic by David Stratton Jul 3 at 1:30

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I think this would be better in Biblical Hermeneutics. –  DJClayworth Jan 2 '12 at 18:36
We could also ask, "Why does Moses lack the justice that God has?" –  Narnian Apr 9 at 15:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

This is a characteristic thing in the old testament--- God is vengeful and destructive, generally not very nice or forgiving, and people are generally more sentimental than God is. This reflects the old style view of deities as natural forces beyond that of humans, that smite us with hurricanes and whatever, and war, and there is no requirement of consistency, because God is not the same character at the beginning of the Bible as at the end.

For example, Abraham very movingly argues with God to spare Sodom and Gommorah if only a certain number of righteous people can be found there. God keeps giving in, lowering the number of righteous people. The point there is to give an indication of the type of internal monologues people have with God when they are talking in their own heads. It often feels psychologically like a give-and-take with an unrelenting figure.

The more modern idea of a just and loving Uber-God is not the same as the Yahweh God of the old testament, who is really a more powerful less accomodating version of the local gods. The just and loving God conception is due to much later reforms, which abolish human sacrifice, then abolished temple prostitutes, made restrictions on slavery, and finally to Christianity, which substitutes a loving God which forbids Christians from owning Christian slaves at all.

The modern notion of God, with its notion of human rights and freedom of expression and so on, is not even compatible with that of the early church or of any other time. It is stupid to think that a one-size-fits all conception will capture the monotheistic idea of God.

So Moses is just negotiating with the tribal deity for concessions, not really the exact same figure that Jesus represents, or that is represented by people saying "God help me" today.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Do you have any outside references for this? Taking a look at this may help you understand what we look for on this site. –  El'endia Starman Jan 5 '12 at 21:16
No no, not plagiarize. Reference. –  El'endia Starman Jan 6 '12 at 4:43
@RonMaimon This is all speculation and opinion with no citations or references. On top of that, it does not reflect the reality of the Old and New Testaments, both of which present God as loving, merciful, just, who punishes evil, opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and provides atonement for sins. –  Narnian Jan 6 '12 at 13:12
Ron this is not a general Philosophy site or a place to air out your own views, however you developed them. The reason you were asked for references is because we want to hear what part of Christianity believes this way. This site is for for answers about Christianity from it's own perspective, usually specifically the perspectives of specific Christian traditions. As far as I can tell this answer does not reflect any documented Christian worldview or those of any Christian interpretation of the text in question. Please consider the local site guidelines in formulating your answers. –  Caleb Jan 6 '12 at 16:42
@amal re charlatans, I can see that this is a strong word; however, I do applaud the intent to derive solely from the original text. Citing other "experts" really means: building on extrapolation over extrapolation over extrapolation. The words written interpreting the Bible so vastly outweigh the source material that it starts to be simply opinion on opinion, with the source a distant memory. –  Marc Gravell Jan 7 '12 at 10:40

It is a logical fallacy that an effect can be greater than its cause, so Moses (a created being) cannot have more compassion than God (the Creator). No created being has inherent ability to make himself greater than his creator. So, no one can be more compassionate or loving or forgiving than God.

In the situation stated, Moses is only appealing to God to withhold judgment. The people had not sinned against Moses, but against God, so Moses had no authority to exact either judgment or mercy. Only the offended party can forgive or choose not to forgive. So, Moses had no power to either execute justice or to give mercy.

He appeals as one who was also under God's authority--and he himself was guilty of dishonoring God at various times (when he struck the rock, for instance).

Moses' only hope is that God--who alone had the authority and the desire to give mercy--would do so.

It must be noted, however, the God gave mercy again and again and again and again to the Israelites. (See Psalm 78.) It is usually after repeated offenses and stubbornness on and griping on the part of the Israelites that God finally resorts to justice rather than mercy. God is the God of all comfort and all love and all mercy and all compassion. No one could have more of any of that than He does.

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I would like to off up also that Moses was acting as an intermediary between God and Israel. This foreshadows the work of Christ and, in my reading, is why Moses is always "sticking up for" the people by interceding with God and God only shows his justice before relenting to Moses pleas.

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I can't speak for God, but here's an answer from a Conservative Baptist point of view.

Why does Moses who is a mere mortal have compassion for the people of Israel while God, who is of infinite goodness lacks it?

The question assumes that compassion = goodness, and that God's goodness would prevent Him from executing judgment. I believe that this is a false assumption. (That's the answer - the rest of this is all supporting arguments for the answer.)

God's goodness would not prevent him from executing judgment. On the contrary, depending on which aspect of His goodness you look at, it could be that His goodness demands punishment.

Compassion is good, but mercy and compassion are not the only traits of goodness attributed to God in the Scriptures. God is also described as perfectly righteous and holy. He is also described as hating sin. No single attribute of God can override or erase another attribute. All of the attributes attributed to Him must exist in harmony.

Now, let's take a look at a human judge. Say this judge takes a case where someone is standing before him guilty of rape, murder, or some other heinous crime. All the evidence is present, and there is no doubt. The judge must now decide the sentence. Suppose the rapist stands before him and says, "I believe you're a good, loving, compassionate judge and will therefore forgive my crime."

Would a good judge simply forgive the crime and set him free? No, we'd call that a corrupt judge. If the judge is a good judge, he would have to say "Yes, I am a good man, and because of my goodness, I'm going to see that justice is done. I'm going to see that you pay the penalty for your crime."

Likewise, God cannot turn a blind eye to sin. This is the whole reason that Christ was necessary. We are all guilty of sin, and only the sinless Son of God could pay the price for our sins.

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Excellent Answer. –  Phonics The Hedgehog Jan 5 '12 at 20:06
+1 Good answer. –  dcreight Sep 7 '12 at 23:43
+1 very nice answer! –  staples Sep 25 at 13:06

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