God is Gracious
by Audrey Christensen Corinth Baptist Missionary
Exodus 34 is a pivotal chapter in the Old Testament because, in it, God characterizes Himself. Moses has recently received–and subsequently broken–the original Ten Commandments, so God is having him remake them. And God says to Moses about Himself:
“The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD [proclaimed His own name]. The LORD passed before [Moses] 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 fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5-7, ESV)
So God uses a lot of adjectives to describe Himself, and gracious is, interestingly enough, one of the adjectives He uses at the re-giving of the Law. Now, before this passage, there are a couple of times where God’s actions are called gracious, but here, we learn that graciousness is a characteristic of God. And it is specifically a characteristic of God toward His people.
The Hebrew word used here is only ever used as an attribute of God Himself, as something shown toward a “vexed debtor.” It also seems to be covenantal in nature; meaning, only God’s people experience His grace.
So what is graciousness? This is God’s undeserved mercy and favor extended to His people through redemption. In other words, because of the stain of sin (which we covered many weeks ago), every person who has ever lived deserves the undiluted wrath of God. We all deserve hell. But because of His grace, God’s people will not experience His wrath because Christ has borne that wrath for the Christian. Christ’s death and resurrection brings forgiveness to the sins of believers.
To go back to Exodus 34, it is also very gracious that the Lord does not clear the guilty. It is a good thing that sin is punished. As Christians, we should long for the day when Christ returns and makes all things new and banishes sin and death forever. The book of Psalms often sings of this looking-forward-to of God’s grace. Though the enemy is fierce, God will not forget the cries of His people. He will be gracious to them (see Psalm 9).
There is great hope for the believer because the Lord is gracious. And that is exactly how He designed it. Because of our sin, we may more fully see and treasure the Lord’s grace.