You know how John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” is the most quotable verse in the New Testament? It’s as if these two verses, Exodus 34:6-7, were the John 3:16 of ancient Israel. They come up so much as you read throughout the rest of the Bible.
In part one (0:00–17:15), Tim and Jon introduce Dr. Carissa Quinn, who will join this new series on the Character of God. Throughout the series the three of them will unpack attributes of God found in Exodus 34:6-7, the most referenced passage within the Hebrew Scriptures.
Yahweh, Yahweh, a compassionate God and gracious, slow to anger and abundant of loyal love and faithfulness, keeper of loyal love for thousands, forgiver of iniquity, transgression, and sin, yet he will surely not clear the guilty, visitor of the iniquity of the fathers upon sons and the sons and sons, upon the third and fourth generations.
Jon reflects that the first half of this description is wonderful, but the second half seems to take a turn and depict God as vengeful. Tim says it's better to understand the passage as striking a balance. The symmetry of these verses helps us to appreciate their tension.
These verses are the first description of God’s character in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are also the most quoted verses in the Old Testament. Looking at these instances helps us discern how the biblical authors understood the original verses and the character of God.
In part two (17:15–25:20), Tim brings up the next time Exodus 34:6-7 is referenced in the Hebrew Scriptures. It appears in a prayer of Moses in the book of Numbers after Israel decides not to enter the promised land.
But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as you have declared, “The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Forgive, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your lovingkindness, just as you also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
Carissa points out that God said he wouldn’t clear the guilty, yet Moses concludes that God should forgive. When an appeal to God’s mercy is made, God almost always responds with mercy. Tim points out an interesting counterexample in Jeremiah, where God tells Jeremiah not to pray for Israel. The logic is that when a righteous person asks for God’s mercy, God delivers.
In part three (25:20–40:50), the group looks at the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses retells the ten commandments to a new generation.
You shall not worship them or serve [other gods]; for I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.
Tim says there are two key differences in this description that are not found in Exodus 34. God identifies the disobedient as those who hate him and the obedient as those who love and obey him. This difference helps to clarify how God deals with future generations. God’s covenant promise is ongoing; God is making a promise about the stability of his character toward all generations.
Carissa points out how God promises to be consistent, yet given all of Israel’s rebellion and failure, he seems to more often fall on the side of mercy and compassion. Tim says the entire context of Exodus 34:6-7 would have been assuring to the people of Israel, who lived in a world where gods were perceived as unpredictable.
Tim and Jon discuss the description of God as passionate or jealous (Hebrew: קַנָּא, qanna'). In our modern use, jealousy has come to mean the same as envy, but qanna' describes the response when someone covenantally connected to you gives their allegiance and wellbeing to someone who will hurt them.
In part four (40:50–end), Tim brings up the prophet Joel, who describes the consequences of Israel’s sins and implores them to come back to God.
And rend your heart and not your garments.
Now return to the Lord your God,
For he is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in loyal love
And relenting of evil.
Joel sees the consequences of Exodus 34:7 all around him, but even in the midst of that, he brings up the first half of the passage, emphasizing God’s grace and compassion.
Another striking example comes up in the book of Jonah after the prophet preaches to Nineveh and the whole city turns to God.
But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loyal love, and one who relents concerning evil.”
In his anger, Jonah accuses God of having consistent character. Jonah could do nothing to prevent God from showing compassion toward those who turn to him.
The prophet Nahum quotes Exodus 34 to emphasize the punishment of God on the Assyrians.
A jealous and avenging God is the Lord;
The Lord is avenging and wrathful.
The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries,
And he reserves wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
Carissa observes that this passage specifically calls out God’s enemies who oppress, just as Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites. Tim points out how Nahum says God is “great in power,” a phrase that highlights God’s authority over the nations who are not covenant partners with him.
Tim shares a couple of closing conclusions. Most often in these passages, God’s grace and compassion are emphasized by people who choose to return to him. The promise of God’s judgment offers stability and assurance in God’s response.
In future conversations, the group will unpack the elements of God’s character, including his anger. The next episode will unpack the narrative context of Exodus 34 and examine why God gives this description of himself.
Interested in the other 22 references to Exodus 34:6-7 in the Old Testament? Find a full list beginning on page eight of our Character of God: Exodus 34:6-7 Video Notes.
Show produced by Dan Gummel and Camden McAfee.
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