The Lord passed before him 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 thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” [Exodus 34:6-7 ESV]
We do not have the right to concentrate only upon God’s mercy, separating it from the rest of who He is, focusing only upon this one characteristic. When I say we “do not have the right” I’m really saying we do this all of the time and doing this is wrong. Focusing solely upon the mercy of God takes Scripture out of context by infusing our own meanings into Scripture without trying to discover what God is saying. Our sin is ever before God, permeating our very beings. We have to work at keeping perspective. God does this for us.
In the two verses quoted Moses is instructed to cut out of stone two tablets. Upon those tablets God will write the Law for His people. God had already done this with the first tablets, cut from stone and engraved with words by the finger of God. Moses, upon hearing the loud sin of the people as he was coming down the mountain, threw them down, breaking them. God did not rebuke Moses for breaking the first stone tablets. Moses broke the physical set upon which God had engraved the “ten commandments” in stone. None had the right to break any of the Laws given.
Could the people plead ignorance because they had not received the commandments? They had experienced the miraculous protection of God as He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They had eaten food miraculously provided by God. Each one of them was created, formed and fashioned in the image of God. They had been told to consecrate themselves and wait as Moses went up the mountain to listen to God. Yet, the people lost patience with God and with Moses, rebelling against God and the very way He had made them while God was writing His words to them in stone. It was wholly appropriate for Moses to break them and then place the copy of the commandments, now broken, in the ark of the covenant as a continual reminder of man’s sin and rebellion.
When God gave the Law, the ten commandments, a second time to Moses and the people, He gave us divine characteristics which define who He is.
He is merciful and gracious.
He is slow to anger.
He is abounding in steadfast love.
He is abounding in steadfast faithfulness.
He forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.
But, He does not ignore the guilty.
And then, He makes a statement which should stop everyone in their tracks. He states the sin of the fathers (and mothers) will follow their families. Children will repeat the sins of their parents. Does He limit by saying to the “third and fourth generation“? No, He is not limiting the affect of sin but showing how it cascades down through the ages, from person to person, generation to generation. Sin cannot be stopped until it is destroyed.
We cannot understand or grasp God’s mercy unless we, at the same time, understand and grasp His righteous judgment against sin. Sometimes the easiest way (for me, at least) to understand what is being said is to work through from the end to the beginning.
Sin is pervasive and He will hold guilty all who sin. He does not ignore sin. Having created man in His image He will not overlook anything which corrupts, not His character but what represents and reflects His character. Sin corrupts His creation and He must judge not only sin but the desire to sin and debase anything which reflects Himself. When we sin, when we actively rebel against God, we augment the corruption. God has judged sin and sentenced all those who sin to death.
But, He says He “forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.” There must be something between the forgiveness of sin and the not ignoring the guilty. That something is Christ, the mercy seat, the One whose blood covered the broken Law. We will examine the mercy seat in another post. For those who belong to Christ, when God sees them it is through the blood of His beloved Son. He forgave us because His Son took upon Himself our sin giving us His righteousness. He is the divine reason for our acceptance by God.
Notice He is steadfast in both love and faithfulness. He does not facilitate or waver in who He is. He is not influenced by outside forces, or compromise His character to appease anyone, or ask. If anyone can find a place in Scripture where it is undeniable God asks anyone to obey His will please show me. Better, find two or three places. When He says He will love and be faithful to those who are His, He is. But, He demands obedience.
He is slow to anger. This does not mean He does not get angry. There are too many places in Scripture where He obviously acts in anger. In every instance His anger is righteous and justifiable. His judgment against sin is righteous and justifiable. His anger brings suffering but not all suffering is caused by His anger. Ultimately, all suffering is brought by sin. Though we all feel the effects of sin, His common grace continues sustaining our lives. He drives people to repentance through suffering. He allows suffering to teach the reality of sin.
Being slow to anger and decreeing a means for forgiving sin exhibits His active love, mercy, for those He created, and His eternal grace. Beyond a doubt, God’s intent in leaving those who are His in this sinful place, in a world at war, is so we might be convinced, completely, utterly convinced, of His love and mercy.
How do we know?
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. [Galatians 4:1-7 ESV]
In His mercy He changed our genealogy.