The Holy Bible records that when Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Law written by the very finger of God, he conversed with God for forty days and forty nights. When the people of Israel saw that he did not return after a long wait, they requested Aaron to make a golden calf, of which they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." God saw it all but Moses was yet unaware. So God told Moses, " 'Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves and molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it' … 'I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation' " (Ex 32:7-10).
To Moses, it could have been a wonderful opportunity. Yes, the people have transgressed against God and deserve to die. Now God says that He wants to consume the sinful Israelites and only Moses' descendants will He make a great nation. This means that God's promise and blessing to Abraham will become exclusive to his household. But Moses did not grab hold of this rare opportunity. Instead, with a heavy heart, he pleaded with YHWH, his Lord, "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 speak, and say, 'He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to 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 descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever' " (Ex 32:11-13).
Then, turning and descending from the smoldering heights, with the tablets of the testimony in his hands, Moses saw the people worshipping the golden calf. With indignation, he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain before the people. After giving Aaron and the people a strong rebuke, Moses summoned the sons of Levi and commanded them to slay the three thousand who could not be spared.
The next day Moses told the multitudes to consecrate themselves while he took the staff of God and treaded, with heavy steps, up the slopes of Mount Sinai again to kneel before God. Forty days and forty nights without food and drink, to intercede for the people. Forty days and forty nights without food and drink! Not for his own welfare, but for the iniquities of his kindred, who faced the prospect of destruction. He could not be sure if God would forgive His people. Therefore with a painful heart he prayed, saying, "Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin-but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written" (Ex 32:31-32).
The first day passed. God did not answer. Then the second, third, and fourth … for thirty-nine days, Moses fasted, only to meet with the indifference of God. But remaining prostrate before God, he pleaded again, " Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin-but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written." Deep in his heart, he knew that God was more sorrowful than he over the great sin of the Israelites. He knew that God was more merciful than he, and that He would not bear to let His people perish en masse. So Moses prayed on. On the fortieth day, God could no longer remain silent. The love of Moses for his brethren greatly moved God. To pray forty days and nights without food and drink on behalf of others requires a love that is deep and strong. Moses never loved even himself that much.
At the garden of Gethsemane, our grieving Lord similarly struggled for our sakes. His only distress was our lack of love for one another and for God. Even now, His eyes survey us, a group of people who cannot spare the time to linger before the throne of grace, to plead for the weaknesses of others (Is 59:16). We only point our accusing fingers and open our dissenting mouths.