The Gemara (Ber. 32a) quotes R' El'azar that when HaShem wanted to destroy Bnei Yisrael and Moshe intervened, it is comparable to a king who beat his son terribly, and the king's friend was at his side but was too afraid to say anything, until the king said, "If my friend weren't here I'd kill you," at which point the friend realized it was up to him and he stepped in and saved the son.
Am I just too Western to think that this story is in any way flattering to any of the parties involved? It just seems to me like the Gemara is comparing HaShem to a terribly disturbed king, and Moshe to a worthless onlooker who doesn't want to get involved even though he could save someone's life. Not to mention that it seems to paint Bnei Yisrael as hapless victims of the crazy king's wrath. I thought HaShem was merciful here because Moshe heroically stepped in to save Bnei Yisrael even though they didn't deserve it. This Gemara seems to convey a very different message!
This question is part of the Daf Yomi Challenge