About this event:
I speak about the great blessing of Exodus 34:6-7 but I wanted to take a moment in this devotion to explain my heart behind this passage. At this point in Exodus God has rescued Israel from the deathly grasp of Egypt and established them as their own nation, fulfilling the promises he made to Abraham. God protected Israel, supplied their needs, led them by pillars of fire and clouds. Even though Israel doubted and grumbled against God, he has proven his power and his love to this point. Now he leads them to a mountain and calls Moses to meet him so that he can receive the commandments and wisdom on how Israel is to be God’s people. And as God is dictating these important commandments to Moses, the people lose hope and seek out another god that they can visibly see. As Moses descends from the mountain to see what his people have done without his guidance, he breaks the tablets that contained the commandments out of disgust in seeing his people’s idolatry. He pleads Israel’s case to God, begging him to forgive their sinfulness. God then, re-establishes his covenantal relationship with Israel and re-dictates the commandments so that Moses can inscribe them again. It’s at this moment that I am frustrated with Israel. They have visibly seen God move and yet they lose hope so fast. But I am constantly reminded that I am Israel. I too lose sight of how faithful and present God is. So it is then, after countless unfaithful moments from Israel that ultimately resulted in horrendous idolatry, that God passes before Moses proclaiming his character as being gracious and merciful and just.
Before our quarantine, I had started an in depth study on the attributes of God for the youth and we saw that these attributes are pretty affirming in English, but the Hebrew language offers a deeper understanding of what God was communicating about himself.
The term “gracious” offers a connotation of a parental figure who cares for someone who is less than them. Children do not earn their care, but we offer it to them out of love. Just like we do not deserve and cannot earn God’s love, but he freely offers it to us. God’s graciousness is on full display when he sends his only Son to die for our sins, even though we cannot repay that gift and in fact, we were the ones who cried out “crucify.”
“Compassionate” or “merciful” is connected to the Hebrew word “womb,” showing an even deeper intimacy than the parental term gracious. Mothers are intricately connected to the children that they carry. Our God is also intimately connected to us in that he intentionally created us, he knows our every thought and need. He knows us better than we even know ourselves.
I think my youth’s favorite attribute is “slow to anger.” This term translates literally as “long of nostrils.” You know the saying, take a deep breath and count to 10 before you respond. God does not respond rashly. He desires to have patience for his people. God was patient even after this encounter with Moses. He was patient as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, he was patient in bringing Jesus at the perfect time, and is patient even today in waiting for his people to respond.
Our God is also “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness!” So if gracious and merciful paint God as a parental figure, this attribute shows that he is also like a husband to us. God is faithful to the covenant relationship he has made with his people. Throughout the Old Testament we see that God proclaims, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” This is the resounding truth that he reminds Israel even when they are unfaithful. Even when Israel worships a golden calf, even when they seek other nations, even when they deny him–God is faithful. And God remains faithful to the New Covenant that he established with us through the death of Jesus Christ.
“Keeping steadfast love for thousands.” There is no limit to who God will love and care for. He is not only faithful to a select few people. When Jesus died on that cross and rose from the grave, he made a way for all who would believe–Jew and Gentile alike–to be brought into this relationship. His death destroyed the dividing wall of hostility that stood between Jews and all others.
The list “Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” shows that there is no end to what he is willing to forgive. Whether it be injustice or wickedness or lawlessness. Nothing is too great for God, no sin can separate us from the power or love of Yahweh!
The final attribute that God offers kind of stops you in your tracks. All these attributes so far are affirming and powerful, but then God proclaims his justice. He says that he will not “clear the guilty.” We cannot have love without justice, we cannot have a God that is good without justice. God is not contradicting his last stated attribute, he is explaining that forgiveness is for those who are repentant. God desires nothing but for his people to return to him but he cannot and will not force that choice on anyone.
These attributes are not just a list, they are who Yahweh is. This is Yahweh who clothed Adam and Eve when they sinned. This is Yahweh who called Abraham to be the father of many nations. This is Yahweh who protected David from Saul. This is Yahweh who loved so deeply that he chose to be born of a virgin, subjecting himself to the temptations of man, and lived among the people who mocked and beat him. This is Yahweh who chose death so that he could offer life to his children and his bride. This is Yahweh who sits with you in your sorrows and rejoices with you in your celebrations. This is Yahweh who is present with you at all times. And this is Yahweh who will one day return to bring us home!
I pray you would see the attributes of God so vividly in your daily life!
Grace and peace,