Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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 parents to the third and fourth generation.’
If we didn’t know the end of the story, it would be a cliffhanger as gripping as any edge-of-the-seat TV drama. From the top of Mount Sinai, over a period of forty days, God has given Moses a series of instructions for how his presence might remain with the people in an Eden-like sanctuary. Meanwhile, at the foot of the mountain, the people have jeopardised their relationship with God by building and worshipping a golden calf.
What will God do now?
Whether God will dwell with his people – or even let them survive – becomes a real question in the aftermath of their rebellion against him. We’re meant to hold our breath throughout chapters 32-34 as Moses speaks back and forth with God.
There are shades of their first dialogue at the burning bush, but Moses has clearly made progress by this point, willing even to lay down his life for the people (32:32). He also now understands God’s bigger purpose, appealing to God’s own promise to bless Abraham with numberless descendants (32:13) and God’s plan that his people are to be the means by which he is known amongst the nations (33:16).
What will happen to that now?
The cliffhanger as to how the holy God is able to live among his sinful people finds its resolution in God’s own self-revelation of his name and character, at the heart of which is love. But there is no cheap grace here. God’s love and judgment can’t be pulled apart. The demand for justice to be done and the desire for mercy to be demonstrated are held together in God’s own being. So significant is this self-confession on God’s part that Israel comes back to it again and again – in history, prophecy, and song – and we can add our voices to theirs.
Within the sweep of Scripture as a whole, it comes to its ultimate climax in the cross of Christ, the place where God’s mercy and justice supremely meet, his love revealed above all in the sending and giving of his Son. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
God himself will have it no other way. To know the Lord at all is to know him as the Lord who loves.
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