Scripture Reading: Exodus 34:1-7
If God wore a name tag, I think today’s scripture passage would be on it. A person’s name often reveals something about who they are. This was especially true in biblical days. The name “Moses,” for instance, meant “drawn out of the water,” which describes exactly how he was rescued from the Nile River by one of Pharaoh’s daughters.
God’s name reveals to us who He is, too. So when Moses says to God in Exodus 34, “show me Your glory,” God responds by saying that He would cause His “name” to pass in front of Moses, thus revealing to Moses more about who He is. Here’s what God says:
“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 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, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation’ ” (Exodus 34:5-7).
God’s name tag would read something like this: “Hello, my name is… Compassionate. Gracious. Slow to Anger. Abounding in Love and Faithfulness. Forgiving, Yet Just.”
To me, it’s an Old Testament description of what Christ came to demonstrate for us in the New Testament. The prophet Jeremiah later tells us that God is going to make a new covenant with the people, not one written on tablets of stone, but one that would be written on people’s hearts. Not a covenant where the children would have to pay for the sins of their fathers, but one where each person would be called to account for their own sins.
Some people think that God is portrayed in the Old Testament as being easily provoked to anger. But the way I read it, I see God as incredibly compassionate, gracious and slow to anger. If you read the Bible from beginning to end, you’ll see a repeating pattern of God drawing people to Himself, then people turning away. God draws them back, then they turn away. He draws them again, then they turn away again. At some point, if God is a “just” God, He must eventually punish sin.
But if God were merely “just,” He would have wiped out the entire planet long ago. In fact, way back in Genesis chapter 6, just six chapters into the history of man, God was tempted to do just that because of the wickedness of the people. But God relented, and gave mankind another chance. And another. And another. The fact that any of us are still alive today is a testimony to God’s compassion, grace, and ability to be slow to anger. The fact that God sent Jesus to die, so that anyone who would put their faith in Him would be saved from the punishment of death, shows that He is still willing to go to incredible lengths to be forgiving, yet just.
I’ve heard the difference between justice, mercy and grace described by the different possible reactions of a man who had caught a thief trying to steal a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle from his garage. If the owner grabbed a gun and shot the thief, or escorted him to jail, that would be justice. The thief was stealing his stuff, and stealing is wrong, so justice requires some kind of penalty.
But if the owner said, “I’m just going to let you go and walk out of here now. Even though what you’ve done is wrong, I’m not going to touch you, just go,” that would be mercy.
But if the owner turned around, went back into the house and got the keys to the Harley, came back and handed them to the thief, signed over the title to him, and handed him $100 to put gas in it, that would be grace.
And that’s what God has done for us through Christ:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Take time to absorb the name of the Lord, realizing how incredibly loving and gracious He is. Then remember to extend that same love and grace to others.
Want to learn more? You can watch a podcast with more discussion about this topic below.