In past readings, we have seen God’s lovingkindness towards His people; He pardons Abraham’s cowardice, does not hold Jacob’s deceptions against him, and uses Moses despite his lack of faith. In today’s reading God intends to inflict upon Israel the punishment due for their infidelity (Exodus 32:9-10). Note how Moses petitions God to spare Israel, consistently citing God’s name and character. Moses suggests that the Egyptians will have grounds for questioning the benevolence of God if He destroys Israel (32:11-12). Moses also calls for God to remember His covenant with Abraham (32:13). Moses understands that his only appeal to God is God’s character. Without God’s goodness, Moses doesn’t have a prayer.
Moses goes on to state just what this means for Israel in plain terms: How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (33:16, emphasis mine) In this seemingly rhetorical question, Moses makes a point that the church needs to hear today and every day. If God is not with us, for us, working in us, literally nothing makes the church special. Our goodness does not set us apart. Our insight and knowledge and even our beliefs ultimately are not our biggest difference. God’s presence with us in Christ through God’s Spirit alone makes us unique in all the world. This alone allows us to make God known to the world, as Israel was allowed to do back then.