Scripture: The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7 ESV
Observation: Moses, having beheld the Lord’s glory, is directed by God to cut two new tablets of stone and then ready himself for his meeting with his Lord on Mount Sinai, where Yahweh will inscribe the Ten Commandments on the slates (34:11-3). So early the next day, Moses ascends the mountain, and the Lord descends to meet him (34:4-5). Yahweh then passes before Moses shrouded by a cloud and proclaims:
- I Am, I Am (emphasizing his immutability),
- slow to anger (patient),
- abounding in steadfast love,
- forgiving sins (compassionate), and
- visiting the iniquities of the guilty (just).
Being of utmost importance for Israel to remember, in one form or another, Moses and later prophets and leaders reiterate to Israel these features of God (Numbers 14:18; 2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; and Nahum 1:3).
Takeaway: The above divine characteristics complement one another, for our unchanging and loving God is merciful and gracious toward his people and keeps forgiving their sins. However, his justice rolls on for those who hate him (see verse Exodus 20:5 for the added qualifier). Also, the blank slates Moses brought with him (tabula rasa) hint at another divine element. God created our universe out of nothing, bringing order from chaos. And here, in this critical moment of history, God again brings order (his commandments) from chaos (Israel’s idolatrous orgy) using blank slates.
So how do we bring this story into our present lives? Addressing the negative first, those of our stiff-necked generation, who deny God’s existence or harbor hate toward the Lord, will not go unpunished because he is a just God who will not allow unrepentant sinners to enter into his presence. Their tragic end to life on earth is one of eternal separation from all that is good, right, and holy. But for those who love God and continue to struggle with sin, his unchanging character expresses itself in mercy, grace, patience, steadfast love, and ongoing forgiveness. And as we continue to recall his glorious attributes and wholeheartedly repent, covered by Christ’s righteousness credited to us (1 Corinthians 5:21), he keeps drawing us closer to the eternal home that Jesus has prepared for us (John 14:2-3).
Prayer: Father God, we praise you, the Creator of our universe, who is pure Mercy, Grace, Patience, Love, and Justice. And we thank you for the gift of your Son who incarnated your godly attributes and prepared a way for us to dwell with you in eternity. Would you please help us recall your divine characteristics, as did the biblical writers, that we might find the strength, courage, and humility in you to keep on repenting and carrying on with our missions until you call us home? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling