Moses persuades God to reject the idea of exterminating the Jewish people, by arguing that public opinion would fail to understand the cause, and would misinterpret what had happened. “Let not the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and annihilate them from the face of the earth.’ ” Thus, Moses convinces God to not annihilate the Jews, by making the argument that doing so would lead the international community, in the person of the Egyptians, to draw the wrong conclusions.
But does God really care about public opinion?
The Almighty waits for Moses to make his case not because He does not himself know what to do, but in order to test and educate Moses. When Moses argues that “the Egyptians will not understand,” God effectively replies: “What you say is indeed correct, and I accept your argument.” The Torah reports this exchange in order to help us understand the motives that guide the Almighty in His actions.
Thus, God really is profoundly concerned about what the Egyptians will think. God’s primary objective is to educate mankind. Moses exists for the sake of the Jews, and the Jews exist for the sake of humanity – they are the instrument of Divine influence in the world. In the grand scheme, God does care about how people interpret events. In directing history God chooses those outcomes that humanity can most easily and accurately comprehend. In this sense, God does in fact care about “public opinion.”
Of course, this in no way implies that God always agrees with, and approves of, human thoughts and desires, or that winning people’s approval is His only goal. But it is important to God that people, if only the best of them, will understand His approach. He therefore orients Himself to the level of human comprehension such as it is – of which public opinion is an important component and indicator.
That the Almighty chooses to run the world in this manner is an important lesson for us. We should certainly not wait for the entire world to approve of us and to endorse our actions. But we should strive to ensure that the more advanced element of humanity understands and respects our position. And we should be guided in our actions, at least to some extent, by the need to accommodate the peoples of the world at their own level of understanding.