In Exodus 34:6–7, we find one of the most glorious truths in the entire Old Testament: “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, 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.”
Let’s look in detail at these attributes of God and let them sink into your soul. Read them and think about them as if you’ve never heard of these before. Imagine that this is your first time to hear about the glory of God.
The LORD is merciful. The imagery conveys the way a nursing mother shows compassion toward her helpless baby. In the same manner, our tender-hearted LORD reveals himself as a loving, gracious parent who looks with compassion upon us as weak and needy sinners. In our sin, we have nothing to offer God, so he condescends to our utter spiritual bankruptcy and meets us at our point of desperation.
The LORD is gracious. God as the sovereign King bends down to rebels who in no way deserve his love or mercy. Overwhelmed by our sin, we cry out to him for help. He doesn’t owe us anything but justice, but instead he acts liberally and graciously toward us, knowing all along we can never pay him back.
The LORD is slow to anger. God expresses extreme patience in snorting in exasperation. He does not execute immediate justice or discipline, but shows great restraint because he has a high threshold of tolerance for our disobedience. Aren’t you thankful for the endless patience of our holy God?
The LORD is abounding in steadfast love. This Hebrew word, hesed, describes God’s tenacious fidelity and resolve to maintain a relationship with sinful people. Our LORD obligates and swears upon himself that he will be faithful to his covenant and promise to love his people whom he has chosen. Hesed is the most beautiful and powerful expression of God’s unfailing love for sinners in the entire Old Testament.
The LORD abounds in faithfulness. The image implies that God holds us in his strong arms the way a parent would hold a helpless infant. God proves trustworthy as we can count on him as a firm foundation. He is immovable as our strong tower of confidence and hope.
The LORD is a forgiving God. He cancels the debt against us by wiping the slate clean. He tosses our sins and rebellious actions to the bottom of the sea. God forgives our sins as far as the east meets the west. He forgives us on account of the death of Christ on the cross.
The LORD is also a just and righteous God. Listen to this warning. God is loving, merciful, compassionate, faithful, and forgiving, but not indiscriminately. In the end, everybody doesn’t, in fact, go to heaven. If you don’t have a personal relationship with Christ whereby you have trusted him alone as Savior and Lord and have repented of your sins, you are still under God’s righteous condemnation.
I love the parental imagery that describes God as our Father. We are helpless babies who can’t offer him anything, yet God lovingly takes us in his arms, cares for us, and shows us mercy. I remember the first time I held my firstborn son. His umbilical cord was tied around his neck when he was born, so he immediately had to go to an oxygen tent for a few hours. Neither my wife nor I got to hold him directly. I reached down in the tent, and he grabbed my finger. As a concerned father, I looked down on him with compassion and tenderness, praying for him in those first few hours of his precious life. And then I got to hold him for the first time! In this beautiful moment, I understood how God treated me as his child. I realized how helpless, clueless, and powerless of a sinner I was, someone who was entirely dependent on my heavenly Father for everything. That’s just a small picture of how our great God loves us. We are imperfect parents, but we still love our children. How much more does God, the perfect parent, love his children immensely?
Think about the thoughts and feelings rushing through Moses’ heart after this intimate encounter with the LORD in the cleft of the rock. He had seen the backside glory of God and heard God’s goodness recounted to him in this credo. In light of all this, how did Moses respond to the glory of God in his midst? Exodus 34:8 says, “Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped.” As God revealed his powerful, unchanging, miraculous character to Moses, Moses passionately bowed in worship.
Would that be your response as well? Would you urgently and passionately bow your entire life to the great I AM who is worthy of all your worship, and glorify his name in all the earth?