Take time to read Exodus 34:6-7 aloud together and then write down the passage, each in your own handwriting. Then write it again using your own words.
Notice the way Exodus 34:7 begins the way it ends. How does God’s loyal love relate to his justice?
Underline the five characteristics of God named in verse 6 and then circle repeated words and concepts that we notice in verses 6-7. What do you observe about the repetitions and structure?
Take time to discuss other themes, questions, or key takeaways from what you learned together.
Exodus 34:6Exodus 34:7
Jon: The Bible is a collection of many ancient Israelite scrolls, and together they’re telling one unified story.
Tim: Now, if you look at the second scroll, Exodus, you’ll find two important sentences. They’re actually so important that they’re referenced and re-quoted over twenty more times within the Bible itself.
Jon: Okay, yeah. That must be important. What does it say?
Tim: Yahweh, Yahweh (that’s God’s name), a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, overflowing with loyal love and faithfulness.1
Jon: I can see why it’s repeated so often. These attributes of God are really lovely.
Tim: And the statement goes on. He maintains loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, yet he won’t declare innocent the guilty. He will bring the iniquities of the fathers upon the children and grandchildren, to the third and the fourth.2
Jon: Okay, hold on. This last part takes a bit of a turn. We’re first talking about God’s love, and suddenly it’s about his judgment on grandkids? So is God merciful or vengeful?
Tim: Yeah. Great question. Let’s see these words in a larger context by looking at something important in Genesis, the first scroll of the Bible.
The Exodus Story [01:11-03:12]
Tim: There, God chooses one family, the Israelities, from among the nations, and he promises that he’s going to rescue the whole world through this family somehow.
Jon: And Genesis ends with the family of Abraham in Egypt.
Tim: Then the book of Exodus begins, and this book has two large movements.
Jon: Right, okay. So this first movement of Exodus: God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt.3
Tim: And in the second movement, God leads them to Mount Sinai where they camp out for a year. And God invites this whole nation into a partnership called a covenant, so that they can be shaped by his values and character.
Jon: And represent God to all the other nations.
Tim: Exactly. Now, this whole Mount Sinai movement in Exodus4 can be broken up into four literary units. First there’s the actual ceremony where the Israelites agree to be God’s partners.5 And God sets up the terms of the relationship, starting with the ten commandments. The first two are:
Jon: Don’t give your allegiance to other gods, and don’t make any idol images of God. Seems simple enough!
Tim: After that, God shows Moses detailed blueprints for building this sacred home, so that God can come and live among them.
Jon: Oh right, and then comes a really long narrative about the building of that sacred home.6
Tim: But you missed something. Right in between these sections is the story that has our description about God’s character.7 This story begins with Moses going up on the mountain, writing down the partner agreement as the Israelites are at the base of the mountain violating the first two commands!
Jon: That’s ridiculous! They’re breaking the covenant vows while the ceremony is still going on.
Tim: Yes, and so God is hurt and angry. And he warns Moses that this betrayal will keep on happening. God is ready to call it quits.
Jon: But what about his promise to rescue the world through them?
Tim: Yeah, exactly. This is what Moses brings up. And so what is God going to do? Should he end the partnership, which would be fair?
Jon: Or will he be faithful to his promise to Abraham and show them mercy?
God’s Mercy and Justice [03:13-04:57]
Tim: Yeah, exactly. Now look back at the words that we began with, and you’ll see they’re about this very tension between God’s mercy and his justice.
Jon: Okay, so the statement opens like this: “a God compassionate and gracious.”
Tim: In Hebrew, this line has three words that rhyme, el rakhum vekhanun. And the line, “overflowing with loyal-love and faithfulness,” matches the first, as it also has three Hebrew words, rab khesed ve-’emet.
Jon: Each of those lines have two attributes of God, and they surround a fifth attribute, that God is “slow to anger.”
Tim: Right. Now that’s the first half of this description of God. Then comes the second half. God maintains loyal love for thousands. And how is he going to remain loyal to people who keep rebelling against him? By forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.
Jon: Ah, but God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean people can just do whatever they want.
Tim: Right. God’s mercy is balanced in what follows. “Yet he won’t declare innocent the guilty. He’ll bring the iniquities of the fathers upon the children and grandchildren, to the third and the fourth.”
Jon: The third and the fourth what?
Tim: Well, it’s referring to generations of people who repeat their ancestors’ rebellion against God; they’ll get what they deserve. But notice this small number of generations contrasts that massive number up above.
Jon: God’s loyal love to thousands.
Tim: Right. And then check this out. God’s forgiveness of iniquity in this line is contrasted with his justice on iniquity in this line.
Jon: Okay, and all those lines are surrounding a central line here about God’s justice. “He will not declare innocent the guilty.” So while God is slow to anger, he is also just.
Tim: Right. This is the tension that these two sentences are exploring. How does a faithful and loyal God deal with such a rebellious people? This is the challenge God faces in this story, and it’s the same challenge he faces in the whole biblical story as he works to rescue the world through this family.
Jon: With that in mind, we can take a closer look at these five attributes that God declares about himself to Moses, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, overflowing in loyal love and faithfulness.
Tim: And we’ll see how each one leads us deeper into the character of God and into the story of the Bible.