He passed in front of Moses and said, “I am the Lord, I am the Lord, the merciful and gracious God. I am slow to anger and rich in unfailing love and faithfulness. I show this unfailing love to many thousands by forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. Even so I do not leave sin unpunished, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations.” — Exodus 34:6-7
A mother and her small son on vacation in a national park suddenly confronted a huge bear on a narrow trail. The mother had recently been influenced by the teachings of a sect that believed that if you exercised enough faith no harm could come to you. So, looking at the bear she told her son, “Now you realize that the bear can’t hurt us, don’t you?” The small boy replied dutifully, “Yes Mother, I know the bear can’t hurt us and you know the bear can’t hurt us. But what does the bear know?” In such a situation the opinions of mother and child were irrelevant—only the bear’s opinion mattered! (I’m sure you’d like to know what happened, but I’ve never heard the rest of the story!)
Many people today have well-formed opinions of God. They share them with their friends and workmates and take great comfort in finding agreement. But there is a problem: What really matters is not what I think about God or what my friends think about God. The crucial question is what does God think about God? Everything else is fundamentally irrelevant. Fortunately, we are not left merely to speculate on this matter.
One day God published a very brief autobiography to Moses on a mountain. First, He repeated “I am the Lord” (Exodus 34:6). This was a reminder that His name is descriptive of who He is. The title, “Lord,” which means “I am,” communicates His eternal being and His self-sufficiency. As God’s personal name, it also communicates His desire to have a relationship with His people.
If the title “Lord” conveys His grandeur and awesomeness, the description of Him as “merciful and gracious” reminds us that He is approachable and compassionate, deeply concerned with our well-being and more than ready to reach out to us.
“Slow to anger” describes God’s justice, mercy, and grace in a fine balance. His justice demands that every infringement of His will and every rejection of His character merit His indignation and divine disapproval. His decision to make humans responsible beings requires that their actions bear consequences. But the “slow” demonstration of His righteous anger is a constant reminder that He gives people ample opportunity to repent and be forgiven.
“Rich in unfailing love and faithfulness” speaks volumes about God’s total commitment to His purposes, His unchanging character, and His total reliability.
God’s love, which transcends every human idea of love, does not mean that He will “leave sin unpunished.” In fact, God states that sin will have repercussions for generations (34:7).
Plenty of people will attempt to write God’s biography. Too few will read His autobiography. But it is written plainly, and it is easy to understand how good and how gracious the Lord is.
For further study: Exodus 34:1-35
Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.