No passage in Scripture is more important for our understanding of God than Exodus 33:18-34:9. Before you read this post grab your Bible and read it for yourself then come back to read.
Moses gives us a first-hand account of God defining God. Do you have thoughts about God? That is good, you should. But the real question is do your thoughts about God match God’s thoughts about God? The only definition of God that matters is God’s and that is what we have in this passage.
The evidence from the Old Testament shows us this is true. Exodus 34:6-7 is explicitly referred to or alluded to thirty times in the Old Testament. Here are a few examples
- Nehemiah 9:17, “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and did not forsake them.”
- Psalm 103:8, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
- Joel 2:13, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster.”
To know God and understand Him as He revealed Himself we must come to grips with what Moses relates in this passage.
Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the law from God directly. He came down from the mountain and the people had made a false god, a golden calf (Ex. 32). Moses broke the original tablets of stone and went back up the mountain. God said He would not go with the people (Ex. 33:12-19) and Moses intercedes for them because he knew the importance of God’s presence for His people.
God’s presence is a sign of His favor toward His people and that they are His people.
God grants Moses’ request and tells him that he is favored (Ex. 33:17). Those are astounding words. “Moses I favor you. I don’t just know you but I know you by name.” If Moses were alive today he might respond by taking a selfie for instagram (#blessed #highlyfavored).
But Moses was not content with that. He asked God to show Him His glory (Ex. 33:18). Think of what Moses experienced in His life and He still asks God to see His glory.
- The burning bush
- The ten plagues
- Parting the Red Sea
- The giving of the Law
- Face-to-face communication with God
After all that, Moses still wants to see God’s glory. Moses was not making a demand of God but a desperate plea, “Please show me your glory.”
God grants his request (Ex. 33:19). God will make His goodness pass before Him and will proclaim His name, the LORD. Why did God say this if Moses asked to see His glory? Jim Hamilton writes,
“When Moses asks to see God’s glory, God responds that He will show him His goodness and proclaim His name. This means that God’s glory is seen in His goodness, and the proclamation of His name reveals Yahweh’s goodness, which is His glory.”
To see God’s glory is to see God. Therefore we need to pay attention to God’s words to Moses if we want to know God, if we want to see God.
God Declares His Name
God’s name is the LORD. In most English translations this word is in all caps. God’s name stands for His entire being. It is His nature. It is who He is. So when God passed by Moses and said, “the LORD, the LORD” He revealed Himself as the God of creation and redemption-the God who made and saved His people.
The LORD (Yahweh) is God’s personal name and not a title. There is another word for Lord (Adonai) that serves as a title for God but not His name.
What does it mean that God’s personal name is the LORD?
- He exists, He is. The LORD is closely related to the Hebrew word “to be” which we find in Ex. 3:14 when God says I am that I am. Our God lives. He is, always has been, and always will be. He alone is pure being, never changing, and always existing.
- The LORD shows that God is a person. He relates to His creatures. He is true personhood and we live and move and have our being in Him.
God Defines Himself
What does God want us to know about Himself? God reveals six truths to us in this passage.
The LORD is Merciful
He is perfect in mercy. His mercy has been on display throughout Exodus. He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and heard the cry of His people in Egypt. He sent Moses to deliver the people from Egypt. He judged the Egyptians and their judgement was God’s means of saving them.
He parted the Red Sea. Remember, the people were complaining that God brought them out of Egypt to kill them and He saves them. They did not deserve mercy but God gave it to them.
“God’s mercy describes Him as having deep compassion for creatures (people), such that He demonstrates benevolent goodness to those in a pitiable or miserable condition, even though they do not deserve it.”
The LORD is Gracious
“God’s grace describes God as perfectly bestowing favor on those who cannot merit it because they have forsaken it and are under the sentence of divine condemnation.”
You and I rightly deserve to be shunned by God forever. We deserve wrath and judgment but God is gracious and in Christ we can be made right with Him. Because God is gracious we can fulfill the purpose we were created for, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
The LORD is Slow to Anger
The Apostle Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)
The Apostle Paul wrote, “In his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Rom. 3:26)
God is patient. Have you experienced God’s patience in your life? As you’ve been reading this God has been patient with you. When you commit that same sin again God did not turn away from you. He sticks with you. He is patient with you. God does not lose His cool with you when you sin. He is patient with you.
The LORD is Abounding in Steadfast Love and Faithfulness
“God’s perfect love is His determination to give of Himself to Himself and to others, and is His affection for Himself and His people.”
ABOUNDING. God is not stingy with His steadfast love and faithfulness. If you are in Christ God is abounding in steadfast love for you. God always will be faithful to you. If God the Father could stop loving Jesus then He could stop loving you. Christ is the apple of God’s eye and in Him you are the apple of God’s eye. God will never stop and can never stop loving Christ therefore He can never stop loving you.
God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are so abundant that they extend to thousands of generations.
The LORD is Forgiving
God shows His steadfast love to us by forgiving us. God has been wronged but in Christ He forgives us. 1 John 1:9 tells us that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when we confess them to Him. How can God do that? Because He is a forgiving God.
The LORD is Just
God is loving and God is forgiving but He is also just. The guilty will not go unpunished. If we remain unrepentant, if we continue in sin, and stay in the old man, we will receive the just judgment of God. God cannot be just if He does not deal with the violation of His law. In Christ God can be both just and the justifier for all who have faith in Christ (Rom. 3:26).
If we want to know God and see His glory His character, His person must be revealed to us. Moses asked God to see His glory but Moses heard more than He saw. He saw the back of God but He heard a beautiful, glorious declaration of God’s character. This is our God. May we remember that if we wish to see God’s glory we must let God define God.
Additional Passages for Study
- Isaiah 6
- Revelation 4-5
- What do you notice about God?
- What is the significance of the throne?