Imagine for a moment that when God said to Moses: "Let me alone, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation," that Moses responded: "You're absolutely right, Lord, these people are unworthy of you. Yes, please make of me a great nation."
Consider that Moses is presented with a substantial temptation here: be rid of this stiff-necked people that only causes you heartburn and suffering and, in return, be made into a great patriarch like Abraham himself. Moses, instead, shows great courage and humility in giving up an option that must have been very attractive. He decides to save his people in spite of their sins. Rather than allow God to destroy all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and turn Moses into the new Abraham, Moses recalls God's promises to the patriarchs of Israel to give them descendants as numerous as the stars. As if he were to say, "Not for my sake, Lord, but for the sake of your promise. Do not raise me up, but rather raise up your people as you had promised."
How do we respond to the sins of others? Moses is presented here with the chance to stand in judgment against his people who have committed the gravest of sins against the God who brought them out of bondage. There is no doubt that (here, at least) Moses is righteous in the eyes of God while the Israelites have ruined themselves by idol worship. It is valuable, then, for us to realize that even in his righteousness, fully justified in condemning his idolatrous brethren, Moses decides instead to stand in the breach and intercede for them.
This can be a powerful reflection for us... considering that we all deal each day with the sins of others. From the grand scale of social injustices like human trafficking, deportation, abortion, euthanasia, systemic poverty, hunger and war, down to personal sins like gossip, laziness, conceitedness, lying, cheating, reckless driving, not putting down the toilet seat, and so on––sin surrounds us (not to mention our own sins). Where do we stand, however? Do we remember that vengeance is God's (Romans 12:19) and that judgment belongs to God alone? Moses exercised the true spirit of the great patriarchs and the Christ who was to come by withholding his judgment against a stubborn, complaining and idolatrous people. Make no mistake, he did not deny the sins of the Israelites––it was in spite of their sinfulness that he pleaded with God to spare them. In spite of the sinfulness of others, we are called to withhold our judgment and to plead with God to spare them. In spite of our own sinfulness, we are called to allow God to spare us by his mercy rather than destroy us by his wrath.