The “John 3:16” of the Old Testament comes in a repeated credo that the LORD gives concerning His character and it first shows up in Exodus 34:6-7. This wonderful passage states this: “The Lord passed before Moses 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…”
This powerful assertion by God about His character is repeated in Nehemiah 9:17-19, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 111:4, Joel 2:12-13, and Jonah 4:2. As we think about our sovereign God, let us explore what these descriptions mean.
The LORD is “merciful”—this really means a mother’s love toward her nursing baby. It conveys this idea of mercy for the helpless. It can also mean the love of a father. So in essence, this means that God is a loving, gracious parent who looks with mercy upon us as helpless and hopeless sinners. God is tenderhearted toward us. He relates to us as a Father, not a judge if we are in Christ.
The LORD is “gracious”—the imagery of this word means, “to bend or incline or come down”. It carries that idea that a superior or sovereign is bending down to a helpless rebel who in no way deserves love or mercy. We are in debt to God because of our sin and are hopeless without His intervention in our lives. As a holy God, He doesn’t owe us anything except for punishment due our sin, but He acts liberally and graciously toward us knowing all along we can never pay Him back. He simply rescues and saves us through Jesus because He loves us.
The LORD is “slow to anger”—literally it means that God is longsuffering or patient in snorting his nose in anger. God does not execute immediate justice or discipline at times, but is patient with our disobedience. He has a high threshold of tolerance for our stubbornness. Praise the Lord that He is patient with us through Christ!
The LORD is abounding in “steadfast love”—this is probably the most important word in this passage. The word is “hesed” in Hebrews and it is God’s tenacious fidelity and resolve to maintain a relationship with sinful people. It means that God obligates and swears upon Himself that He will be true to His covenant and promise to love His people whom He has chosen. He doesn’t break His promises toward us in Christ, but maintains this loyal, powerful, gripping love upon us in where He will never leave nor forsake us.
The LORD abounds in “faithfulness”—this means that God is trustworthy. He is firm. He can be counted upon. The imagery here shows us that God holds us in His strong arms the way a parent would hold a helpless infant. He takes care of our needs through Christ.
The LORD is a “forgiving” God—Through Christ’s death on the cross, He cancels the debt of sin against us. He wipes the slate clean. He tosses our sins and rebellious actions to the bottom of the sea. Our sins are forgiven as far as the east meets the west.
After God appears to Moses with this powerful statement about Himself, in Exodus 34:8, he “quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped.” The ultimate response to the character and Person of our great God is immediate worship. The more we know about God, the more we worship Him. I pray that you spend time this week meditating upon the glorious love of our gracious God through His Son Jesus Christ.