In Exodus 33, Moses meets with God and asks him to show him his glory. God’s answer is surprising.
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. Exodus 33:18-19
To me this is surprising – I will make all my GOODNESS pass before you. Then in Exodus 34 God does the 2 things he said he would do:
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.” EX 34.5-7
First God says his NAME: “The Lord, the Lord.” I would have expected God to go on and say something like: I am Almighty, Holy and Majestic, Fearsome and Glorious, I can crush the whole universe like a bug under my foot if I want to. I control all things, I rule all things. I am infinitely great.
But God reveals a surprising truth to Moses. The first thing he wants Moses to know is that he is GOOD. He said he would cause his goodness to pass before Moses and then God proclaimed his goodness.
God is GOOD. Now this doesn’t mean he simply overlooks sin, for he had said: 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.”
But before that God said “keeping steadfast love for thousands.” The Berean study Bible interprets this as “maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations.”
When God revealed himself to Moses he emphasized his GOODNESS: God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, ABOUNDING in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love (TWICE he says steadfast love) for thousands (or a thousand generations), forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. The puritan Thomas Watson says:
“God is more inclinable to mercy than wrath. Mercy is his darling attribute, which he most delights in. Mic 7:18. Mercy pleases him…. Acts of severity are rather forced from God; he does not afflict willingly. Lam 3:33. The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked; so God does not punish till he can bear no longer. ‘So that the Lord could bear no longer, because of the evil of your doings.’ Jer 44:22. Mercy is God’s right hand that he is most used to; inflicting punishment is called his strange work. Isa 28:21.” – Thomas Watson
Before God saved me I believed he was a God of punishment. A God holding a lightning bolt, just waiting for me to blow it. Until God saved me I would not have known the surprising truth Micah says about the Lord:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. Micah 7:18
God “delights in steadfast love.” He does not delight in punishing people. He does not delight in exercising his wrath and anger. Jeremiah says in Lamentations:
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. Lamentations 3:31-33
God takes no pleasure in afflicting us. “He does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” Sometimes God causes grief, but he waits to “have compassion” because of “the abundance of his steadfast love.” God would rather pour out blessings than afflict us.
God’s mercy means that in his compassion and sympathy and patience and longsuffering toward us, he doesn’t give us what we deserve.
Mercy “denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus, ‘mercy’ presupposes sin.” A.W. Pink
In other words, when we sin, we often bring misery upon ourselves, but God’s inclination is to show us mercy and relieve our misery. He doesn’t owe us mercy. He would be completely righteous to strike us down immediately when we sin. But he is so forbearing and patient, he continues to bless us. Look how Psalm 103 describes God’s overflowing goodness:
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:3-4, 8-14
I like what David Hocking says:
When you come to the Lord, you are not coming to somebody who is sitting with a baseball bat ready to club you for every false move. The Bible teaches that His essential nature and character is mercy. Mercy holds back from us what we really deserve. –David Hocking
When you are sick and lying on your bed, you do not want somebody coming in and discussing thirty-two reasons why you deserve what you are getting. –David Hocking
God’s mercy and compassion means he FEELS FOR US, he has sympathy toward us.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
Jesus has been through every temptation we have been through (without sin) – so he knows what it’s like. He knows how hard it is. He knows weakness.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7
God is not like the uncaring psychologist, Dr. Switzer, played by Bob Newhart: https://bit.ly/KG1MTw
Since God is so merciful to us, we should be merciful to others.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7
Because God is merciful, he forgives us. Because God forgives us, we should forgive others. Jesus illustrated this brilliantly in the story of the servant who begged his master to forgive his debt of ten thousand talents, and when the master forgave him, went out and would not forgive a fellow servant of a miniscule debt of a few hundred denarii. Jesus finished the story by saying:
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35
When we contemplate God’s goodness and mercy to us, it should produce in us first of all GRATITUDE to God
Contemplating God’s goodness to us should produce LOVE FOR GOD
And contemplating his mercy to us should make us MERCIFUL TO OTHERS
We don’t want to be like the ungrateful servant whose master forgave him a massive debt but would not forgive the tiny debt of his fellow servant.
God has forgiven us a MASSIVE DEBT – He washed away all our sins by the blood of Jesus. He should have condemned us to eternal hell for our sins, but in his compassion toward us he forgave us, gave us eternal life, then adopted us as his own children and gave us a share in the very inheritance of Jesus. So we should forgive and be merciful to anyone who sins against us.
Let’s contemplate the way the Lord described himself to Moses. How he caused all his GOODNESS to pass before Moses. Let us gaze upon God’s goodness today and give him thanks. And let us seek to imitate our merciful, compassionate God in our relationships with others.