The God of the Old Testament is a God who reveals himself to be a gracious and merciful God. At Mount Sinai, Israel understood that the true nature and character of God could be defined by his mercy and his love. Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai to receive the commandments that would formalize the covenant between God and Israel.
When the people saw that Moses was delayed on the mountain, they believed that he was dead and that he would not return to them. In desperation, the people violated the demands of the covenant by fashioning an image in the form of a young bull. The worship of the golden calf was a violation of the first and second commandments that forbade the worship of other gods and the making of images.
It was at this time of rebellion when Israel experienced the mercy and love of God. At the time when the people of Israel rebelled against God, at the time when they deserved to give an account to God for their rebellion, the people experienced the steadfast love (hesed) of God.
The wrath of God burned hot against the people and he told Moses that his presence would no longer be with the people. God told Moses, “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” (Exodus 32:10).
Moses understood that God would reject the people because of their disobedience and that the covenant relationship that God had established with Israel would be nullified. Moses interceded on behalf of the people and begged God to have mercy on them. As a result of Moses’ prayer, “the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:14).
Then, Moses went again before Yahweh and asked him to show his glory. And God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).
At the request of Moses, Yahweh revealed to Moses the kind of God he was. Yahweh passed before Moses and proclaimed,
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
In one of my courses at Northern Seminary, “Old Testament Theology: The God of the Old Testament,” students had to study the nature and character of God and write a research paper presenting the results of their research. One of my students, Jean Sharp, wrote a paper on God’s revelation of himself to Moses, “The Character of God as Seen Through the Liturgical Credo of Exodus 34:6-7.” Beginning in my next post, Jean will present the results of her research.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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