Reading Exodus 32 again recently, a question came up in my mind that I do not remember ever thinking about before—how did Moses know about God’s book that he refers to in his famous prayer near the end of this chapter? By probing the passage about the answer to this question, we learn some valuable points to keep in mind so that we interpret and apply Scripture properly.
Moses’ Famous Intercessory Prayer
On the day after the infamous Golden Calf incident took place, Moses sought to make atonement for the great sin of the people (Exod. 32:30). He prayed a striking intercessory prayer:
Exo 32:31 And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. 32 Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
Moses mentions God’s book that He had written and speaks of the reality that God blots people out of that book. God’s response to Moses confirms the reality of what Moses spoke of in his prayer:
Exo 32:33 And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
Both Moses’ statements (about the book) and God’s response show us that God as Judge blots out those who have sinned against Him from His book that He has written. How did Moses know this information?
What Was the Source of Moses’ Knowledge of God’s Book?
An examination of the book of Job, which is likely the oldest book of the Bible, and of Genesis 1:1-Exodus 32:31 reveals that we have no indication that God had given His people any prior revelation about His book that Moses mentions in his prayer. How then did Moses know about this book and what did he know about it?
Scripture does not provide us with any definitive information to answer these questions specifically. We can be certain, however, that supernatural revelation of some form to someone at some prior time to Moses’ prayer was the source of his knowledge of this information that would otherwise have been humanly impossible to know.
Why This Question Matters
Pondering how Moses knew this striking information is important for at least three reasons.
First, this passage highlights just how selective Scripture is about what God has chosen to reveal. Although we would like to know how Moses knew what he did, God has not chosen to give us that information.
Second, this passage should warn us that God has not given us the exhaustive revelation we need in order to know in every case fully what God’s people knew and when they knew it. People often make arguments based on supposed lack of knowledge that biblical characters had of certain truths at certain points in time—lack of Scriptural mention that they had such knowledge does not, however, constitute proof that they did not know about that information.
For example, Job may have known fully whatever Moses knew about that book, and yet God may have chosen not to tell us that Job knew that information. Alternatively, God may have first given this information to Adam, who then became the source of this information that was passed on from him to some of his descendants.
Third, especially concerning leading biblical figures such as Moses, who repeatedly had extended periods of remarkably close communion with God, we would do well to think that Moses knew far more than God inspired him to record for us in Scripture. Because he almost certainly had that kind of breadth of knowledge of God and of various things of God, how we interpret his actions in key accounts, such as the Golden Calf incident, must reflect our carefully taking into consideration this important facet of interpreting Scripture properly.