Future Perfect

Holier-than-none

Before you read anything I have to say, first go read Ezekiel 16:1-14.

For context, this is the word of God through Ezekiel to the captive nation of Israel, who were in in the “captivity” phase of yet another cycle of disobedience-and-captivity-and-repentance-and-restoration-and-repeat, but had not reached the “repentance” phase yet. In fact, they were looking to jump straight to the “restoration” step without having to go through all that humbling, bothersome “repentance” bit.

After a lot of condemnation, God gives his chosen people — the only nation on earth at this point where he’d made his presence to dwell (well, there’s Judea at this point, but it’s all the Hebrew nation) — a history lesson on where they came from and how they came to be in their unique position of divine selection.

Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.

These were nations Israel scorned as not-chosen. That’s a big point here. But let’s continue:

…. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.

As in, you were no better than the Hittites and Amorites. In fact, you were worse off — those nations had abandoned you, and even they looked down on you in contempt.

But then:

And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment.

When fledgling pre-Israel was lower than any other nation on earth, God took them up, and made them flourish. But he didn’t stop there:

Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.

It wasn’t enough for God to help his chosen people grow to sustainability, not even abundance. He made a covenant with them, a promise between the unswerving Creator of everything and this once-rejected people. He made them overflow with prosperity, such that their renown was known throughout the known world that had scorned them and left them to die.

Y’know what’s absent from this account of Israel’s rise? Israel’s own action. There’s nothing they did to get to this point. God claimed them, God grew them, God promised them, and God established their affluence and regional esteem.

And yet we remember the context for this history lesson: disobedient Israel was in captivity for their sin, and too proud to confess and reject that shackling transgression.

Israel had become the nation that looked down on all others because those others hadn’t been so lavished with God’s mercy, all the while abusing that mercy by their own sin.

This history lesson is relevant because though the size and cultural composition of God’s people today has changed, this sin nature hasn’t. Christians today can and at times are guilty of this same attitude.

We look down on the world as being beneath us because God hasn’t showered them with the same grace that he kindly gave us. We read passages like Ephesians 2, emphasizing “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”, skipping over “you were dead”, “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast”, and “we are his workmanship.”

We are quick to condemn sin, fast to bind the sinner to it, and to be all-too-eager for them to face eternal wrath for that sin.

We forget that we were Amorites and Hittites. We forget how the Creator in infinite love and mercy bought us when we were worthy of being rejected by those we now see as immanently rejectable, and how that Creator forgave us of our vast debt of sin. We did nothing to be saved; God alone acted purely on His prerogative by His lovingkindness.

We adopt the arrogant “humblebrag”, exacerbating its audacity by invoking Christ’s redemption when we say things like “praise God that he saved me from that crowd”, or “there but for the grace of God go I”, looking to leave those who need that same redemption in our dust.

How much more loving and how much more like our Father would it be if we instead desired their salvation?

Some insight from Jeremiah on the purpose of Israel’s seeming sin-punishment-repentance-repeat cycle:

I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’ Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them. Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.
(Jeremiah 6:17-19 ESV)

When reading through the Bible (especially in the minor prophets) it can grow tiresome to read over and over again the accounts of Israel and Judah falling into total sin, facing punishment and repenting only to repeat the whole process again in a few short decades.

While God does not tempt man to sin, he does ordain all of history for his glory. This cycle in which Israel constantly lived is simply an example of these two principles in action.

Israel sins, and is accountable for and guilty of their own actions. Yet in punishing this sin, God shows three things about himself to a watching world:

1. He is consistent in justice

God references in the surrounding chapters the promise he made to the young nation of Israel, and the punishment that was warned if Israel did not maintain their obedience and worship of him alone. There is no backpedaling or renegotiating from God to spare his chosen people their earned discipline. He is consistent in his justice.

2. He alone is God

Israel’s chief offense cited is their idolatry — their worship of false gods. By overwhelming a nation that now looks to these false deities for solace, God shows himself dominant over the impostors.

3. He punishes sin

God not only is consistent in dealing out the punishment he promised, but he does so because his perfect righteousness does not afford that sin should go unchallenged. Even Israel — a nation that he chose as the sign-bearers of his own power — must abide by his law against sin.

This last point is significant because it applies to the redeemed. Lest we become lackadaisical in our feelings toward sin, this passage reminds us that even the sins of God’s own people are accounted and must be paid out in punitive action. For the redeemed, all of our sins are indeed accounted, and have been measured out in full weight of wrath on Christ in the crucifixion.

That’s the full weight of the cross, and the fullness of mercy. Not that our sins are disregarded — but that every one of them is known and accounted for, and paid in full.

Born that way

There’s an argument that’s become strangely common in explaining and defending unusual or even sinful behavior: “this is who I am; I was born this way.”

This defense postulates that the behavior in question is essential to an individual’s identity — that they were born to exhibit it — and thus any argument against the behavior is an attack against the person. And since attacking another person is viewed as universally and unexceptedly bad, no one should ever contradict the anomalous or sinful behavior.

I am not here to dispel the notion that (in most cases) humanity was “born that way”. In fact, I fully believe it.

In Psalm 51, a contrite king David laments his native transgression:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions…

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

And again in Psalm 58, we see that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”

Paul explains the root, symptoms, and cure of our condition well in Romans 5:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

See, we’re born sinful. We’re born condemned and prepped for death. But that’s not a defense, nor is it something to embrace. Our inborn guilty nature is not an identity to adopt and parade, but a terminal disease that needs a cure.

To defend sin by pointing to the sinner’s fallen nature is like refusing a malaria cure by pointing out that malaria is “a disease that I have”. Yes, you have malaria — that’s why you need the treatment!

Nature (in the “nature vs. nurture” sense) is not a justification for wrongdoing; if it were, we would never attempt to correct children’s misbehavior. It is no less absurd to exalt such naturally-maleficent behavior in adults by pointing simply tautologically defining it as a person’s natural state.

We need repair; we need correction and cleansing of the sort that David longed for in Psalm 51 (immediately after lamenting his nature as quoted above):

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

We need to be renewed; re-created clean from our natural stain and — as Jesus himself put it well — born again:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

(John 3 (ESV))

Beyond this, the nature we once avowed has to die, so that our re-creation by Christ and in Christ can grow and live:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

(Romans 6:3-11 ESV)

The way we were born must die. Let’s tout the way we are reborn instead.

A brief lesson on prayer from Nehemiah

Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 of the book with the same name has been covered in nearly-exhaustive detail by no few men wiser than myself.

But in reading it this evening, I noticed something significant about the way Nehemiah prays; he follows a specific structure:

  1. Proclamation of God’s glory (v5)
  2. Confession of sin (v6-8)
  3. Solace and confidence in God’s promised mercy (v9-10)
  4. Supplication on the grounds of God’s mercy (v11)

This order is important, because like much of Scripture, it begins with the character of God and flows logically from there.

Without the standard of God’s glory, it is impossible to recognize our sin. We must see that which defines righteousness and goodness to understand the vastness of the divide between our destitution and God’s immeasurable perfection. So Nehemiah begins with God’s glory, and from there can confess recognition of the sins of himself and his people.

Without the mercy of God, the weight of sin is inescapable despair. We are powerless to save ourselves; only the perfect King of creation can give such mercy or grace. So Nehemiah, having confessed human sin, finds solace only in God’s promises of mercy.

Having full confidence in God’s unchanging mercy, we can come to him with our needs, knowing that his design for history is flawless. Because (and only because) we know he has promised kindness to his people, we are given grace to bring our needs and our burdens to God as a loving father.

The other day, I bought silverware.

Which is to say, I learned how to buy silverware.

It doesn’t sound like that big a deal, but as I discovered, buying silverware isn’t quite as simple as buying milk or socks. There are all kinds of factors to consider: the weight, the material (is it stainless steel? 18/10? 18/8? 18/0?), the style, the number of included place settings for the price….and so on. All these variables play into the seemingly-simple question of “which forks, spoons and knives should I buy?”

It may still sound like a small task, but there’s a reason that it gave me pause: nobody taught me how to do it. Nobody even told me that it was this complex.

I should explain. I took notice of this task because I saw it as one of a set of skills that I have sometimes felt that I lack: “Adult Survival Skills.” The skills needed how to survive on my own as an adult male human.

I have at times wondered where the manual for such skills is. Obviously, other adult humans have read it, or somehow have gained its secret knowledge. So why, I wondered, don’t they divulge that knowledge?

But the other day, I bought silverware. Which is to say, I learned how to buy silverware.

I didn’t learn by picking up a copy of the Adulthood Survival Manual and turning to skim page 297 on household items. Instead of starting with an answer, I hit a question that I couldn’t answer, because I didn’t have the required knowledge. It wasn’t really just one question I couldn’t answer, but a series of questions that I couldn’t answer.

So I had to take that one bigger question and unpack it. Then, I had to learn piece-by-piece how each successive question worked and how to answer it until I could answer the larger one that had stumped me.

I’m glad it worked that way, actually. I wasn’t handed a fish; I got a Socratic fishing lesson. I suspect that’s how the imagined-gnostics I’ve always thought of as “real adults” learned things too. The reason there’s no Adulthood Survival Manual is because there really shouldn’t be. If you really want to learn an Adult Survival Skill, you can’t just have someone hand you the answer. You have to hit a big unanswerable question and unpack it one small thing at a time, to peel the question back and learn how its pieces work one-by-one until you can answer the original, bigger question.

Like buying silverware.

The other day, I bought silverware.

Which is to say, I learned how to buy silverware.

It doesn’t sound like that big a deal, but as I discovered, buying silverware isn’t quite as simple as buying milk or socks. There are all kinds of factors to consider: the weight, the material (is it stainless steel? 18/10? 18/8? 18/0?), the style, the number of included place settings for the price….and so on. All these variables play into the seemingly-simple question of “which forks, spoons and knives should I buy?”

It may still sound like a small task, but there’s a reason that it gave me pause: nobody taught me how to do it. Nobody even told me that it was this complex.

I should explain. I took notice of this task because I saw it as one of a set of skills that I have sometimes felt that I lack: “Adult Survival Skills.” The skills needed how to survive on my own as an adult male human.

I have at times wondered where the manual for such skills is. Obviously, other adult humans have read it, or somehow have gained its secret knowledge. So why, I wondered, don’t they divulge that knowledge?

But the other day, I bought silverware. Which is to say, I learned how to buy silverware.

I didn’t learn by picking up a copy of the Adulthood Survival Manual and turning to skim page 297 on household items. Instead of starting with an answer, I hit a question that I couldn’t answer, because I didn’t have the required knowledge. It wasn’t really just one question I couldn’t answer, but a series of questions that I couldn’t answer.

So I had to take that one bigger question and unpack it. Then, I had to learn piece-by-piece how each successive question worked and how to answer it until I could answer the larger one that had stumped me.

I’m glad it worked that way, actually. I wasn’t handed a fish; I got a Socratic fishing lesson. I suspect that’s how the imagined-gnostics I’ve always thought of as “real adults” learned things too. The reason there’s no Adulthood Survival Manual is because there really shouldn’t be. If you really want to learn an Adult Survival Skill, you can’t just have someone hand you the answer. You have to hit a big unanswerable question and unpack it one small thing at a time, to peel the question back and learn how its pieces work one-by-one until you can answer the original, bigger question.

Like buying silverware.

How to get hired as a software developer

At my employer, I’ve helped out with some developer job interviews (for positions of varying experience), and as is more often than not the case in the hiring/job-hunting process, many of those interviews have found that either the candidate or the company is not the best fit for the other.

It can be a bummer when you interview for a job and get turned down. But trust me, it’s a bummer to spend time talking to somebody and then have to turn them down, too.

So it’s in everyone’s interest, I think, to put together a developer’s guide to getting a good job.

I should say that I speak entirely for myself here — opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, etc. And while most of this advice is intended for junior developers looking for their first development job, there may be some kernels valuable for developers of varying experience.

So, without further ado:

Be picky.

Pickiness may sound like a bad thing when you’re trying to get hired, but the best way to get a good job is to get a good job. Remember that interview processes are two-way evaluations: you’re interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you.

It may help to put together a list of your priorities in a job. An interview experience — even the best interview experience — rarely gives a full impression of what it’s like to really work somewhere, so it helps to know what to look for and ask about. This may also help guide you should you be forced to make the worst kind of choice: a choice between two really good options.

Note that this advice is highly market-sensitive. At time of writing, an average software developer can typically get a job within about 2 weeks — there’s more demand right now than supply.

Get to know people (and leave a good impression)

Having someone “on the inside” who can vouch for you is invaluable. If a company hired Joe Schmoe, it’s probably because they found him to be the kind of person they want to hire. If Joe Schmoe then recommends someone else, that carries more weight than a totally unknown quantity, because the company already knows that Joe’s values align (to some degree) with theirs.

It’s super-important to note that this can work against you if you’ve made a bad impression on that “inside man” in the past. Hence the old adage “don’t burn your bridges behind you” — a bad impression in the past can prevent you from moving forward in the future. When you meet someone you’d want to work with, be the kind of person you’d want to work with.

Admittedly, if you’re anything like me, “networking” sounds like horrible disingenuous schmoozing. But it doesn’t have to be. All you have to do is make friends along your work and/or school career. Really! Actual friendships are better than self-interested social connections anyways.

Make yourself visible.

Step one, before most companies hire a developer, is to do some kind of screening. Typically this is a phone interview, but it’s not uncommon for a quick google/facebook/linkedin/github search to be part of the quick-screen.

So it’s a good idea to show well in these places. If you’ve got some personal projects (and you should — more on this in the next point), throw ‘em on github. Anything with a live demo? Link to it! Use twitter or a blog to mull over and discuss the ways you build software, and don’t be afraid to throw out there any quick notes on tools and techniques you’re learning.

Make sure your online identity is connected, too. It’s a pain to track down John Q. Public across the internet and hope that it’s the same guy on github as on linkedin as on facebook as on $otherPopularSite. Worst-case-scenario, your potential employer confuses you for someone at a drastically different skill level from you.

Build stuff. A lot of stuff.

If you’re an online merchant or an auto mechanic or really almost any kind of consumer-facing professional, you live and die on customer reviews. Software development is not a review-oriented profession, so the best indicator of the quality of your work is your work itself.

This is especially helpful if you tend towards significant interview anxiety (everyone has some degree of interview anxiety). A good employer will take that into consideration, but it helps if they have some way to assess how you actually write software when not under pressure.

Don’t worry if the stuff you build isn’t groundbreaking; it doesn’t have to be. It should, however, demonstrate that:

  • You care about “best practices” (yes, I know it’s a personal project. It only helps you to write good unit tests anyways).
  • You enjoy programming. (As an aside: if you don’t enjoy programming, you won’t enjoy programming for work.)
  • You are constantly learning. Stretch yourself — don’t just write a hundred bash scripts or “hello world” apps in the same language/language-family.

EDIT: I should note (based on feedback from incredulitor and Duraz0rz) that this doesn’t mean your life is programming, or that you’re worthless if you don’t code outside of work. More than 9+ hours a day is a long time to spend programming, and doesn’t leave room for proper life balance — especially if you’re in a phase of life where other obligations consume much of your non-work time.

If you’re a fresh college grad looking to land your first programming job — go wild! Now’s the best time to build things, since you may not have much previous career work to show to employers, and you likely have more free time now than you for most of your life.

If you’re someone with more experience and more demands on your time, pace these projects appropriately. An hour or two a week beats no time at all, and it beats 12 hours a day.

Your personal projects are primarily for your own benefit — if someone else uses them, that can be exciting — but they should be conducted in a way that is most healthy to their biggest stakeholder: you.

Don’t be afraid to try seemingly-esoteric tools.

While you may not learn a lot from writing LOLCODE, picking up COBOL may teach you a few things about how to build things with limited tools.

I tell people who ask (both of them so far) that the top languages I recommend new developers learn are (in order):

  1. Python
  2. Ruby
  3. Java
  4. Javascript
  5. Haskell

Each language has different lessons to teach developers:

  • Python is a good intro to development with its friendly English-like syntax. It also introduces some good data structures, like tuples, lists, and dictionaries.
  • Ruby pulls in some better object-oriented concepts while giving a first taste of lambdas and closures.
  • Java teaches the value of strong typing, and how to work with a compiled language.
  • Javascript teaches how to deal with effectively no typing, and a totally mutable language.
  • Haskell teaches how to think about problems from a functional perspective, the importance of reasoning about code, the concept of Algebraic Data Types, and other useful concepts (like the Maybe monad).

My point here is not to prescribe a set learning order, but to emphasize the importance of building as big a toolset for solving problems as you can. Try some of everything. Constantly push just outside of your comfort zone — it’s usually rewarding.

The great part about publishing personal projects is that it gives you a low-risk, high-visibility playground for trying new things. When I see a github account with projects in several different paradigms and languages, I see a developer who can think more abstractly about software.

Don’t tie yourself to being a “java developer” or a “ruby developer” forever. Specific tech comes and go with circumstances; the ability to solve problems and think abstractly is always valuable.

Learn problem-solving skills, not just one solution.

I’ve heard it said that programming is 90% reading code, 5% writing tests, and 5% writing code. This is almost accurate; programming is really more like 50% solving abstract problems, 40% reading code, 5% writing tests, and 5% writing code.

This is where sites like Project Euler, HackerRank, and Code Wars try to help (with varying degrees of success): giving problems hard enough or abstract enough that they force programmers away from the keyboard and over to a whiteboard or paper to sketch out the problem and try some solutions before writing code.

As a professional software developer, most of your problems will not come from professors looking to test your ability to write toy programs using the tools they taught you during a semester. The problems you’ll be facing will usually come from people who don’t know what a web browser is, but who want a way take a picture of a printed-out work schedule and have it correctly imported into their online calendar (or some other similarly-hard problem).

Prep for your interview

Interviews are a lot like tests were in school: they’re high-stress evaluations of your skills in a time-constrained session. So just like tests, you should prepare in advance for them. Do some research on classic interview questions (“why did you leave your last job?” “what is your biggest weakness?”) and be ready to answer them honestly (but eloquently and tactfully).

Unlike tests, however, interviews also evaluate a more personality-driven variable: “culture fit.” Half of this is about matching your personality to the company’s “personality”; if you’re a laid-back, free-spirited person, you probably aren’t the kind of employee a suits-and-ties company is looking for. (You probably wouldn’t enjoy working there, either.)

The other half is about evaluating your character and personality as a person. Most people would turn down an smart candidate who’s prickly, overbearing, and rude — any new hire is a person whom existing employees will deal with 5 days a week.

So, with that in mind:

Be honest.

If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t “fake it ‘til you make it”, because you won’t really “make it.” If you manage to trick the potential employer into believing you know more than you do, you’ll win yourself a job for which you’re not qualified — making your life more stressful and your new coworkers’ lives harder.

Be willing to hear and learn from negative feedback.

Critique can be a harsh teacher, but only because it’s an honest one. If company X didn’t hire you because you’re “too green,” try to find out what sort of skills they needed that you didn’t have — then learn those skills. That way you go into the next interview all the more prepared.

Don’t be too negative about former employers.

If a company asks you why you left a previous job, they’re really asking (from their perspective) how little it will take for you to bail on them. If they feel like you’re someone who leaves as soon as you don’t get your way, they almost certainly aren’t gonna hire you. Everyone makes mistakes; no company should give one person their way all the time.

Beyond simple common sense, you never know who knows whom. I once interviewed for a position at “company X” (names changed to prevent the innocent) only to learn in the interview that the owner of company X was a personal friend of a bad previous boss from comparatively long ago in my career. The bad experience I had working for that former boss was old enough to be barely relevant to the job at hand, but to company X’s owner that bad boss was seen as a valuable reference. As a result, the interview started off on a decidedly negative tone, and I had a hill to climb to prove the negative “pre-impression” wrong.

(This story ties both into leaving good impressions and into being picky: the company chose eventually not to make me an offer based on that “ghost of bad boss past”, and I chose immediately to look for other options based on the stark similarity of personality between the two employers.)

Don’t be a jerk.

It sounds hard, but even the nicest person can benefit from taking a second to consider the other people in the room. As a former coworker once told me: “they’re not out to get you; they’re just people.”

Jerub-Baal

Everyone knows the story of Gideon, how with 300 men holding torches and pitchers God overthrew a city.

What many don’t remember about Gideon is that the wayward people of Israel renamed him “Jerub-Baal”, or ”let Baal contend against him.” The victories that God won through Gideon were therefore not just victories for Israel’s sake, but were victories against Baal, demonstrating to God’s straying nation that no false god can triumph over the Lord of Hosts.

The day the nation of Israel almost became the nation of Moses

In Exodus 32, not long chronologically after the giving of the Ten Commandments, we find Moses on the top of Mount Sinai conferring with God on behalf of Israel, and Israel down in the camp melting down all their gold to construct an idol. If ever you wanted a succinct summary of the early history of Israel, this particular moment gives you a pretty good idea of how things went.

In verse 7, God calls this to Moses’s attention, and lays out a proposed solution to Moses:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32:7-10, ESV)

This “scorched-earth policy” seems drastic, but we should remember that God, as Creator, King, and Judge, is fully within his rights to eradicate a totally-wicked generation of Israel. We should also note that by starting over with Moses’s descendants, God’s covenants to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be preserved: a great nation would arise from their offspring.

The other side-effect of this plan would be to establish Moses as another “father of nations”, elevating him to equal footing with Israel’s patriarchs. For all history afterwards, the new replacement nation would speak of Moses with the same awed tones as of Abraham or Jacob. Let’s read on to see how Moses accepts this sweet gig:

But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Exodus 32:11-13, ESV)

Moses is not concerned with becoming revered in Israel; he’s concerned with God being revered in the whole known world. He weighs the scorn that God would receive if viewed as an arbitrary divine murderer as more significant than the glory that he would himself receive if viewed as the root of a holy nation. He implores God based on God’s own covenants with the already-established Hebrew patriarchs to show mercy on an undeserving people, knowing that the surrounding idolatrous nations would not understand the grave, death-meriting offense of idolatry.

And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:14, ESV)

This is significant and should be read carefully. We see that God “relented”; does this mean that he changed his mind, subduing his will to that of Moses? If so, that would make him subject to change, and less than sovereign.

Since with God “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV), it cannot be that he has changed his mind. And since “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35, ESV), it cannot be that Moses has subdued the will of God.

Therefore, the only conclusion is that it was not God’s will to destroy Israel that day. So this episode must have been meant to test Moses and to instruct readers.

Wait, did God just tempt Moses?

It is important when we say that God is testing Moses that we not make the mistake of suggesting that God is here tempting Moses; James 1:12-13 make it clear that God does send trials, but does not tempt us to evil — by definition, God is devoid of evil.

This passage does, however, teach us two attributes of God:

He shows mercy to sinners whom he chooses.

The nation of Israel did not deserve mercy. They blatantly said “Make us gods who shall go before us”, and said of them “these are your gods…who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” This is direct, conscious rebellion.

And yet, God shows mercy to them. He does not destroy them, even though they’ve directly defied two explicit commandments he gave them not long before. By no merit of their own, they are spared.

He hears prayer.

It is clear that God didn’t need Moses to speak up on Israel’s behalf. But when Moses did speak up, God heard him. The eternal infinite God listened to the voice of a man. That’s earth-shaking, and greater still is that we’re afforded the same privilege shown to Moses here. Matthew 6 teaches us not only how to pray, but that we can pray. We have permission to enter the throne room of God himself.

That beats human recognition. Smart pick, Moses.