[Exodus 32-34 (the golden calf incident followed by Moses' intercession for the people of Israel)]is not so much a story of rebellion as it is a story of God's forgiveness and Moses' role in making this happen. it is in these chapters that Moses' role as intercessor, as mediator of the covenant, reaches its zenith. If we wish to point out the episode that makes Moses truly special, that makes him deserving of all the honour, attention, and respect he has received through the ages, it is his shielding an ungrateful people from the end they most certainly deserve, even if it means taking their place and bearing the full weight, horror and ignomy of God's anger. The world will not see the likes of this again for many generations.
(Thank You, Jesus!) -Exodus (The NIV Application Commentary), Dr. Peter Enns