The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exo.34:5-7)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (Jn.1:1,14,18)
Both Exodus 33:12-34:9 and the Gospel According to John 1:1-18 are my favorite passages in Scripture. What is in a name? In the ancient Hebrew mind a name wasn’t just what you called someone, it is a statement about who they are as a person. Unlike names in our culture, in the ancient Hebrew mind, a name carries a statement about the nature of the person being named. (Yarnell III 2016)
There is debate about the correct pronunciation of the name; Hebrew “YHWH” is either pronounced Yahweh, Yahveh, Yehovah. Whatever the correct pronunciation actually was, one thing is certain; in the ancient Hebrew mind the name carried with it a statement about the nature of God. That nature of God was declared by God to Moses on Mount Sinai and seen in the Son of God Jesus Christ while He dwelt among us.
The English “Word” in the Gospel According to John has been translated from the Greek “Logos.” Despite all that the Greek Philosophers had to stay about “Logos,” I think by context, what John was saying in the prologue of his gospel account; Jesus is the word spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai become flesh.
God is Love
“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exo.34:6b-7a)
1. God’s Love is Compassionate: God is concerned for the welfare of those whom he loves. God loves us for our interest not for His. God has need of nothing. Not only is God’s love compassionately given to His elect, but He cares about all of humanity. Jesus said, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mat.5:45) God shows mercy to those in need. (Erickson 2013)
2. God’s Love is Gracious: Speaking about the grace of God Erickson said, “By this we mean that God deals with his people not on the basis of their merit or worthiness, what they deserve, but simply according to their need; in other words, he deals with them on the basis of his goodness and generosity. (Erickson 2013)
3. God’s Love is Persistent: In our passage, this is described as God’s slowness to anger. The Hebrew words “erek appayim” was translated into Greek “makrothumia” which means patience. (Erickson 2013) In Romans 2:4, 9:22, 1 Peter 3:20, and 2 Peter 3:15 “makrothumia” is rendered “patience.” Each passage speaks of God’s patience in dealing with the sinner. A slight variation of the word in 2 Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Our love for one another should look like God’s love, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (Jn.15:12) The apostles Paul and James both tell us to be patient. (cf. 1Thes.5:14, 2Tim.2:24, Jam.5:7,8) (Erickson 2013)
God is Holy
What do we mean when we say that God is Holy. He is our creator. He is high and lifted up. The psalmist wrote, “Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth.” (Ps.57:5) Because God is Holy He is absolutely good. James said, “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (Jam.1:13) Job understood that God is Holy, “Surely, God will not act wickedly, And the Almighty will not pervert justice.” (Job.34:12) The prophet Habakkuk 1:13 said,
Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,
And You cannot look on wickedness with favor.
Why do You look with favor
On those who deal treacherously?
Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they?
God is Truth
The Habakkuk passage combined with Exodus 34:5-7 exposes an apparent contradiction between the love of God and the justice of God. Habakkuk is saying that he does not understand how a God who hates evil can look favorably on those who do evil. I’ll tell you the truth, for a very long time this made no since to me either, that was until I gave up and asked God to show me His glory.
How can God be gracious to whom He will be gracious, yet by no means leave the guilty unpunished? This made no since to me; so, allow me to explain, that you may see the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
Exodus 34:5-7, on one hand you have a God who forgives sin, but on the other hand a God who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. Which is it? Does God forgive sin or does God punish the guilty and if both how? In order to forgive sin, the one you are forgiving must first of all be guilty. If God forgives the sins of anyone He must leave them unpunished or He has not forgiven their sin.
While contemplating this do not forget that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom.3:23) and “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom.6:23a) Certainly, the second half of Romans 6:23 says, “the free gift of God is eternal life,” but how can God give eternal life to any man and stay true to His word given to Adam in the garden? “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen.2:16,17) It appears that if He were to forgive anyone He would have to go back on His word to Adam or if He punished everyone He would have to go back on His promise to be gracious to whom He will be gracious. (cf.Exo.33:19)
The last four words of Romans 6:23 give the answer, “in Christ Jesus our Lord,” but what is it about this Jesus that makes it so that God can forgive sin and uphold His word? “He made Him (Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Co.5:21) Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (Jo.10:11) God can forgive the sins of those who believe in and follow Jesus, because Jesus never sinned and willingly took the wages for the sins of His sheep.
Who is this Jesus? The entire Gospel According to John was written, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (Jo.20:31) Jesus is God in human flesh; throughout the Gospel According to John Jesus demonstrated in both word and deed the attributes of God given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Why the incarnation? God became man and dwelt amongst us for two main reasons: 1) That we may know Him. 2) To make satisfaction for our sin to God as our substitute. Two of my favorite books deal with the issues of the incarnation and the satisfaction for human sin. I recommended them both: 1) On the Incarnation by Athanasius Bishop of Alexandria (296-373). 2) Cur Deus Homo: Why God Became Man by Anselm Bishop of Canterbury (1033-1109).
I leave you with a quote from each of these great authors: The first is by Athanasius on the subject of knowing Him. The second is by Anselm on the subject of making satisfaction for sin and why the substitute had to be God and not some created being like an angel.
When God the Almighty was making mankind through His own Word, He perceived that they, owing to the limitation of their nature, could not of themselves have any knowledge of their Artificer, the Incorporeal and Uncreated. He took pity on them, therefore, and did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest their very existence should prove purposeless. For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its maker? (Athanasius n.d.)
Do you not perceive that, if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly be adjudged as the servant of that being? Now if this be so, he would in no wise be restored to that dignity which would have been his had he never sinned. For he, who was to be through eternity only the servant of God and an equal with the holy angels, would now be the servant of a being who was not God, and whom the angels did not serve. (Anselm 1098)
|Anselm and Athanasius|
Anselm. Cur Deus Homo: Why God Became Man. Lexington: Beloved Publishing, 2014.
Athanasius. On the Incarnation. Lexington: Fig-Books, n.d.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.
The Holy Bible: Udated New American Standard Bible. La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
Yarnell III, Malcom B. God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits. Nashville: B&H Academic ebook, 2016.