Of course, we know nothing about God apart from the Word of God, the pages of which offer a continuous unfolding of who He is. And although we need to know the Bible from cover to cover in order to get as complete a picture of God as He is pleased to provide us, there are significant portions of the Word that are particularly remarkable for the vividness and succinctness of the word-portrait of God that they paint. One such disclosure is found in Exodus in which God speaks directly to Moses, revealing who He is in response to Moses’ request to see His glory. Placing Moses in the cleft of a rock and covering it with His hand, God passes by and removes His hand so that Moses receives a glimpse of His trailing glory. Then with equal condescension, He announces to Moses what kind of being His servant is dealing with: “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” (Ex. 34:6, 7). Note the eight things God was pleased to reveal about Himself.
1. He is compassionate. This word is used exclusively of God and suggests the mercy that a loving father extends to his children. “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa. 103:14). Those who trust in Him escape what they altogether deserve.
2. He is gracious. Grace has been defined as that which brings pure joy, with the added distinction that the gift is not deserved or merited.
3. He is slow to anger. God never reacts to sin with mindless fury or pure emotion. He patiently waits in mercy in order to manifest His grace.
4. He is abounding in lovingkindness. This is a synonym for mercy that emphasizes the spirit with which God manifests His mercy. Mercy is never extorted from Him. He is not cajoled into bestowing it, nor does He do so begrudgingly. He offers it in abundance because He delights to do so.
5. He is abounding in truth. All that He is and all that He does accords with righteousness. His evaluations are always perfect, and He always acts in perfect unity with His promises, fulfilling them perfectly.
6. He keeps lovingkindness for thousands. His supply of lovingkindness is inexhaustible. It is infinite as to amount and eternal as to duration.
7. He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. He is not ignorant of our sin; neither does He ignore it, excuse it, or explain it away. But He deals justly (and graciously) with it when we come to Him through Christ. He is able and willing to forgive every kind of offense—in Christ Jesus. Matthew Henry observed that this unfathomable forgiveness is mentioned because “it opens the door to all other gifts of his divine grace.”
8. He punishes the guilty. But He closes with this warning by way of reminder. Seven times God reveals Himself as a God who is infinite in His love and mercy, and in seven ways He assures us of the vastness of His grace. But He will not allow us to become presumptuous about His attitude toward sin or think that He is “soft” on rebellion. And as great as the assurances are of His infinite love, the truth that seals it is the warning about His holiness, and His response to sin—He will never wink at it.
Remember, what is revealed here is the God of the Law, the God whose full grace through the vicarious death of His Son has yet to be revealed. And still, He wants us to know and understand the abounding grace and mercy He had toward His people under Law. It is a reminder that if we ever, ever view God as harsh, unkind, or unloving, we are abysmally ignorant of the nature of our sin. And we have no true knowledge of the goodness of God.
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