Meditations in Exodus: 75. What sort of God?
Ex 34:6,7 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
We come to what I believe must be one of the most significant revelations of the Old Testament, but first the Lord instructs Moses to “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.” (v.1) He doesn’t chide Moses for breaking them but simply gets on with the process of rewriting them. Moses is to come up the mountain again, on his own (v.2,3). So Moses does this and goes up with the two tablets in the morning. (v.4)
“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD.” (v.5) A cloud surrounds Moses and so he can see nothing but then he hears the Lord’s audible voice declaring, “I AM WHO I AM”, the name he had originally heard at the burning bush. He senses the Lord moving in front of Him and the Lord speaks again beginning with, “I AM, I AM” and then going on to describe Himself. Now bear in mind that with all the revelations and experiences of the Lord that the Patriarchs and then Moses had had, there had never been a time when the Lord described Himself. This is a first! So, He describes Himself as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (v.6,7)
We need to note the various elements of this description because certain silly crusading atheists never seem to have read this description and have said stupid things about God. These verses counter the folly of the grumbling atheist. “Compassionate and gracious”. A God who feels for us and exudes good feelings towards us. Wow! “Slow to anger”. Not capricious, prickly, quick to jump down our throats. Wow! “Abounding in love.” Not just loving but abounding in love, full of love, overflowing with love. WoW!
The apostle John was to write many centuries later, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) IS love, not just has love. As I have pondered this in two books it always hits me: everything God thinks, say or does is an expression of love. Start looking at everything you read in the Old Testament through that lens. Then, to take a snippet from my book, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’, remember that the Bible teaches that God is perfect. My definitio0n of perfect is ‘cannot be improved upon’ and so everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon. Grab hold of the contents of this paragraph and you will never be the same again!
But He is also “abounding in… faithfulness.” He remains utterly true to Himself, He never changes He will always be love, always be perfect, and this, extended to His people, means He will always be loyal (although I do not like that word), He will remain true to us, there for us.
But now see the corporate dimension to this love: “maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” This is about people groups, about nations and this takes us beyond love for a few individuals, the Patriarchs, this takes us to the nation of Israel and then to the world. In the Ten Commandments we read, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:5,6) Our present thousand may therefore be a thousand generations meaning God’s love will be there for as long as humanity exists; it can be utterly relied upon.
But that love is always expressed love (because love is never merely abstract, it is always expressed in practical ways) and God cannot express it to those who turn their back on Him, hence it is love for “those who love me and keep my commandments,” i.e. those who follow the Lord. And therein, there is another side to God, who is also a God of truth and justice. Where there is generational sin (as it often tends to be, one son following his father and so on) the Lord will pursue wickedness down the generations. His word clearly declares He will not judge those who are not guilty, only the guilty (see Ezek 18) but let the guilty be aware, they cannot presume on His love. It is there for them when they turn to Him to receive it, but while they turn away from Him and live in their wickedness, they will find themselves in line for His disciplinary or even terminal judgment.
This is a most dynamic revelation. It is both profoundly reassuring – He loves us and is for us as we turn to Him – and a profound warning – wickedness will be dealt with. There is here a revelation of the wonder of God’s love and grace as well as His justice. For us the justice of God is satisfied through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. Having surrendered our lives to Him we can live with the certain knowledge of His abounding love being there for us. Hallelujah!