6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
6 As he passed in front of Moses, he called out. He said, “I am the Lord, the Lord. I am a God who is tender and kind. I am gracious. I am slow to get angry. I am faithful and full of love. 7 I continue to show my love to thousands of people. I forgive those who do evil. I forgive those who refuse to obey. And I forgive those who sin.
God makes this proclamation right on the heels of the Israelite’s sin regarding the golden calf. On this page, we will be examining what it means that God says such things even in this context, and what we might take away from such.
Recall, some of the great things God had shown to this generation
God led his people out of slavery in Egypt. He showed them many miraculous signs, sending plagues upon the Egyptians when Pharaoh did not let His people go. Even more, when Pharaoh sent his army in pursuit, God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, and then utterly destroyed the pursuing army in a breathtaking display of power and glory. After that, God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, giving them quails and manna for sustenance in an overtly miraculous way.
The Lord did all of these things in the sight of the people. Never once did He fail to provide for them, never once did He fail to deliver them. Instead, they were given to see miracle after miracle as God delivered them from the hand of their enemy and led them into the land He had promised Abraham, their ancestor.
But the hearts of the people were hard
So were the people grateful for the deliverance God had worked for them? Did they praise Him for His Mercy and Power?
Unfortunately not. The people whined and grumbled, even pointing their hearts back towards Egypt, where they had been in captivity (Neh.9:16-17; cf. Num.14:1-4). And they did not content themselves to leave their sin at just that, but in Exodus 32 even went so low as to make an idol of gold and worship it instead of contenting themselves to wait for Moses’ return.
Yet God’s Mercy did not utterly turn from them even so
Following their idolatry in Exodus 32, the Bible is very clear that God was displeased with the Israelites, to be sure. And He had every right to be, given their poor attitude and evil works.
Yet in Exodus 34:6-7a, God still proclaims to Moses His Grace and Mercy. He did not wipe the Israelites off the face of the Earth, nor, as the following narrative shows (as in the book of Joshua), did He abandon them as they went on to conquer Canaan. Instead, He still lovingly superintended them and led them into their inheritance.
What might we take away from all this?
If you have ever been tempted to hide your face from God on account of sin, then God speaking these words to Moses right after the gross sin of the Israelites ought to provide example enough of God’s gracious attitude toward sinners. If we refuse to turn back to Him, the only ones we are hurting are ourselves. We will be disciplined for our sin as all true children of God are (compare Hebrews 12:4ff.), but never will God’s attitude of Love and Mercy towards us be turned to Wrath and Judgment. All we must do is believe.
Let me phrase this more bluntly: in your sin, did you make a golden calf and bow down to it right after God miraculously delivered you from your enemies? Did you truly spit in His face to such a degree as them? So who are you to doubt that God will forgive you? He said these gracious words after being betrayed by them then, so how much more will He not cast us aside now? It is actually subtly arrogant to think that God can’t handle our sin, because Jesus already paid for it all, nailed to the cross. So when God tells us we are forgiven when we confess and mean it (not arbitrarily so, but because of that precious blood that has been shed), the correct response on our part should be an immediate “Sir, yes Sir!” with a heart of gratitude, not moping and hand-wringing and worrying that we are too bad to actually be forgiven. Give God some credit here! The cross is not powerless in the face of our sin, but it is in fact very much the other way around.
In any case, the point is not to compare ourselves and our sin to the Israelites and their sin, to think that we might somehow have done better in their circumstances. The point is that God’s Graciousness and Mercy are more than sufficient—on account of Jesus’ work on the cross—to cover all our sin, no matter how wide and dark it may be. This is God’s nature, by His choice: not because He is somehow obligated to forgive our sin, but because He loved us so much that he sent His only Son to suffer in our place upon the cross in order that we might be reconciled to Him forevermore.