Every time we consider a conversation between G-d and Moshe, the absurdity of the concept of Moshe “teaching” G-d something, becomes apparent.
There is no question that G-d exhibits a sense of concern for His name. He does not like when people disgrace His name, misrepresent Him, or behave in a manner that is ungodly. There are a number of times in the Torah when the people act so poorly and with such disregard for G-d, His kindness, and all the things He has done for them, one wonders how their heads concoct some of the shenanigans and complaints they come up with and act upon.
But the strangest part is not as much when Moshe comes to their defense. He is, after all, their shepherd. It is, after all, his job to defend and protect them. The difficulty is that his logical arguments on their behalf seem so obvious. One wonders why he needed to tell them to G-d and why G-d, seemingly, did not come up with them on His own.
The whole premise of this suggestion is heretical. If G-d is the Almighty, the all-seeing and the all-knowing, then G-d knows the past and the future. Nothing is hidden from Him. Rabbi Akiva says in Avot chapter 3, “Everything is foreseen, but free will is given.” Humans have free will, but only G-d knows what will happen.
This is why the middle of Bamidbar chapter 14 is so confusing. It really looks like Moshe is playing the role of the psychologist and chief adviser to G-d.
“Moshe replied to G-d, ‘And what will happen when the Egyptians hear about it? You have brought this nation out from among them with Your great power! And what if they tell the people who live in this land? They have heard that You, G-d, have been with this nation [Israel]. You, G-d, have revealed Yourself to them face to face, and Your cloud stands over them. You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire at night. Now you want to kill this [entire] nation like a single man! The nations who hear this news about You will say that G-d was not able to bring this nation to the land that He swore to them, so He slaughtered them in the desert. Now, O G-d, is the time for You to exercise even more restraint’.”
Rashi says Moshe was suggesting everyone will think G-d had the power over the Egyptians, but He could not defeat the Canaanites.
Originally published in 2011.