Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:5-8)

by Steven Chan

Do you know how God described Himself? The Bible tells us that God described Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai:-

“ Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.”

  1. Earlier in Exodus 3:13-14, Moses had asked God for His name:

 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
God described Himself as the “self-existent” being. Skeptics asked: “who created God?”  God’s answer is “no one created God”; He has always existed. That’s why He is God, “I am who I am”. If God is created by another being then the question can similarly be asked as to who created that other being, ad infinitum (i.e. “again and again in the same way; forever.”). But God has anticipated the question of His being by declaring that no one created Him: “I Am Who I Am”.
The Jews prided themselves that they were the descendants of Abraham. Jesus declared to them that He pre-existed Abraham when He said to them that before Abraham was, “I Am” – the same description that God had revealed to Moses – implying that Jesus is God (John 1:1-3, 14):

57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

  1. On Mount Sinai, God described Himself as “Jehovah, Jehovah” or Yahweh or the Lord” in terms of His attributes (apart from His self-existence) especially as regards the manner in which He deals with man:

a.) He is “merciful and gracious”.

His mercy and graciousness are best exemplified by what He did for us as sinners: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) In Matt 9:13, Jesus said: “‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” In Matt 18, when Jesus was asked how many times should one forgives his brother who had sinned against him, he replied by telling them the story of the unforgiving servant and he concluded thus: “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ (Matt 18:32-33) So, Jesus exhorted us: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

b.) He is “longsuffering”.

The Bible says in 2 Pet 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” We are warned not to take his longsuffering for granted: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4)
So we likewise must be longsuffering towards our fellow brethren: “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2)

c.) He abounds in “goodness and truth”

Isaiah declared: “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord And the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has bestowed on them according to His mercies, according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses.” (Isa 63:7) “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”(Rom 11:22).
Because God is good (Mark 10:18), with Him as our shepherd, we can hope for goodness in our lives: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psa 23:6).
God’s word is truth (John 17:17) and because He cannot lie, we can have hope in His promise: “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:2)

d.) He is merciful “for thousands”
God’s mercy is not limited to a few; He is able to extend His mercy to as many as may seek Him. “Throughthe Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.

23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23)

e.) He “forgives iniquity and transgression and sin”

God knows and understands man’s condition. So in His great love, He provided a means whereby we may receive forgiveness of sins: through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross: “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Pet 2:24). So, we need to do what the apostle Peter commanded in Acts 2:38: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God does not hold our sins against us if we repent (and confessed our sins) and seek His forgiveness (1 John 1:6-9). Likewise as children of God we must also forgive one another: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4:32)

f.) He by “no means clears the guilty”

This is the attribute of God that is often under-emphasized as compared with the emphasis on His mercy, goodness, truth, longsuffering and forgiveness. The truth is that God is also a Jealous God as He subsequently said to Moses: “(for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose  name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods,” (Ex 34:14-15).

God is just (Rom 3:26) and He will judge all men at the end of the world: “has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation…  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” (John 5:27-29; 12:48).

That’s why Paul wrote: “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor 5:9-11) “And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:30-31)

Knowing our God and His attributes (what He is like), we need to walk circumspectly and serve Him in a manner that is acceptable to Him and not think that we can take advantage of His mercy and goodness: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12:28-29)

One final thought: after God described Himself, Moses responded by “bowing his head toward the earth, and worshiped” Him. Firstly, we note the respect he manifested to God by the act of bowing before Him. God must be respected.  When Nadab & Abihu showed disrespect to God in the manner in which they worshipped Him, God punished them and God said: “‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.’(Lev 10:3)  Secondly, we learned that the act of bowing before God was an act of worship. A similar gesture was performed by Cornelius towards Peter but Peter rejected the act of worship because he was just a mere man and not the proper person to be worshipped: “As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). Jesus did not reject a similar act of worship (Matt 8:2). An act of worship is a distinct act done to honor and pay homage to God. Jesus said: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt 4:10). Given that the act of worship is a distinct act to God (distinct from all other acts or activities in one’s life), it is evident that not everything that one does in life is worship to God.