In this story, Israel’s grievous sin was worshipping the golden calf. Israel had already agreed to obey the law. “All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient.” (Exodus 24:7) God had a perfect right to destroy them and reestablish the Jewish nation through Moses and his posterity. This He proposed to Moses (32:10).
But Moses pleaded with God and asked (in paraphrase), “what would the Egyptians think about Israel’s God after He had miraculously delivered them? Why would God then destroy Israel?” (32:11-13). Moses acted as Israel’s mediator presenting their case before God. God was testing Moses to see how devoted he would be in his role of leading Israel to the promised land.
In this context, it says the “Lord relented.” In some translations it says, “repented,” “besought himself,” “grieved,” “refrained” and “changed his mind.” Therefore, God honored Moses’ request. Please note: God can fulfill aspects of His plan through many different paths. But God never breaks His promises.
In Acts 3, the Apostle Peter taught that Moses is a picture of Christ. “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.’” (ESV, Acts 3:22 quoting Deuteronomy 18:15.)
When Adam sinned, God justly condemned mankind to dying and death. Christ pleads our case before God. When Jesus gave his life as our Redeemer, he made recovery from eternal death possible. “Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) As Moses made intercession for Israel, so Christ makes intercession for us.
Through this story, we see God’s character. He’s a perfect balance of justice and mercy. When Moses ascended Mt. Sinai and received the second tables of the law, God proclaimed his name as “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6, 7)
How thankful we are that “God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator