God's Character as Defined by...Him
Am I the only one who feels like God gets a bad rap regarding the Old Testament sometimes? I feel like many of us think of God as sort of harsh or punitive, and distant, in the Old Testament while He's loving and gracious in the New Testament. Conceptually, we KNOW He's the same yesterday, today and forever, but it feels like we draw this line in the sand with who He shows Himself to be before Christ vs. after Christ.
Well, in Exodus 34, we see God proclaim His own character to His people for the first time and it differs greatly from what our expectations may have been.
Honestly, it astounds me.
To be fair, I did not realize this on my own. I was at Phil Wickham's Singalong tour when we was laying the ground for the song Battle Belongs and mentioned this. In the moment, it really impacted me to consider, but it's only impacted me more as I studied the text for myself.
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 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.”
Ok, now let's talk about it!
This is coming just before the Lord reissues the 10 commandments to Moses. Why is He "re"-issuing them? Because the first time, this is what happened:
Moses had this incredibly holy moment on Mt. Sinai with the Lord where He gives him the 10 commandments on two tablets (representing a covenant) to take down to the people. Speaking of the people, God had just delivered them from being enslaved by their enemies. They were waiting at the bottom of the mountain with the inhabitants of the land where they were currently living, now as free people. They were also, unbeknownst to Moses, creating a golden calf to worship with these same inhabitants while Moses was sitting in the presence of the Lord.
Before Moses had even come down from Mt. Sinai, the people had already broken the first commandment: Thou shall have no other gods before Me.
Moses, in his humanity and out of sheer frustration, shattered the tablets on the ground when he saw what they were doing. We can understand this, can't we? He just had this glorious, unexpected encounter with God Himself, he comes down from it probably inspired to keep leading these people, and finds them already unfaithful to the God that just rescued them.
So fastforward a little bit - in Exodus 33, Moses has this conversation with the Lord (verses 17-22):
And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, ofor you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And He said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by."
And so in Exodus 34, we see the Lord do what He promised above. He makes "all [His] goodness pass before" His people while proclaiming to them who He is.
After what Israel has done and been through, one may think God would lean more on the "just" part of who He is; we may expect the Lord to make sure they know He's not thrilled with their idol worship, especially after He was the one who delivered them from bondage. And our expectations would not be met because this is who God proclaims Himself to be:
Merciful [full of compassion]
Slow to anger
Abounding in steadfast [never changing] love
Abounding in faithfulness
Forgiving on iniquity, transgressions and sin
There are few passages that I find display the heart of God as clearly as this one when the full context is considered. In the face of disobedient, faithfless, struggling people He reminds them He is full of compassion, perfectly patient and abounding in steadfast love, faithfulness and forgiveness.
Not to be ignored, though, is that He also reminds them He is also a just God when He says:
"...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."
Forgiveness does not necessarily erase the natural byproduct of our sin and its impact. If I were to put these verses in my own words, I hear it like this: "I am a patient, loving God who forgives you of your sins, but understand your sin still has natural consequences, and the impact of them doesn't necessarily end when your life does."
And it is within THIS context that He reissues the 10 commandments to Moses. It is after He reminds them who He is - after His goodness passes over them - that He gives them His commandments again.
By the way... What God says to Moses as He reissues the commandments later in Exodus 34 is also incredibly profound, especially in light of what we're talking about here. Here's a brief devotional video about the passage.
So here in Exodus 34, we find our God defining His character as perfectly loving, yet perfectly just all at the same time.
Perhaps that is one of my favorite things about the Lord, at least in this season. He is always perfectly ALL that He is despite... well, anything and everything else. His character is not influenced by any person or circumstance.
Do you know this about your God? Have you experienced Him this way?
Let us not see the Lord as two different persons when it comes to Old Testament vs. New Testament, like He had some transformation after Christ as man does.
God has always been, and will always be, all that He is. According to who He proclaims Himself to be in Exodus 34, that is this:
“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.”