Exodus 34:1-9 (ESV)
34:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 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, 7 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.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
Day 1: Loving God
God proclaims His name, YHWH (the LORD) in two short verses (vv. 6-7), but this divine self-proclamation is so profound and portentous that it reverberates throughout the entire Old Testament. Some variation of these two verses occurs 24 times or so in the Old Testament (Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9-11; 7:9; 2 Kings 13:23; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17, 31; Pss. 25:6; 78:38; 86:5, 15; 99:8; 103:8; 106:45; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8; Jer. 30:11; 32:18; Dan. 9:9; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2; Mic. 7:18-20; Nah. 1:3), like thunder that echoes through a cavern again and again and again. This is what God is like: “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
The word “merciful” is sometimes translated “compassionate.” It’s a word that captures the tender, caressing love of a mother toward her children, and it’s related to the Hebrew word for the womb. So think of the tender love of a mother who is carrying and nourishing her child in her very own body. In 1 Kings 3, King Solomon is confronted with a difficult court case. Two women, who live in the same house, both gave birth to a son around the same time, but one of the women, accidentally rolled over her son while sleeping and killed him. She, then, realizing what had happened, took her dead son and placed him beside the other woman, and took that woman’s son and laid him beside herself. They were fighting over the living baby, arguing, “the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” So Solomon orders that a sword be brought in, then he commands one of his guards to “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” The woman who is not the real mother says, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him,” but it says of his real mother that “her heart,” or more literally, “her [womb] yearned for her son,” so she says, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” Solomon determines that the woman who had compassion on the child is the real mother and gives the baby boy to her. That yearning tenderness of the mother’s heart or womb is captured by this word “merciful.”
Do you know of God’s womb-like mercy toward you? Do you know that God’s heart wells up with compassion for you? God says to His people in Isaiah 49:15, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Maybe you didn’t grow up with your mother, but even if your mother forgets you, God will not forget you, He will not fail to have “compassion” on you. Again, it says in Psalm 103:13-14, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.“ Compassionate parents don’t expect children to behave like adults. They know that children will throw tantrums from time to time, they know that children are not always going to be reasonable and considerate. Likewise, God is not cold or indifferent toward our weaknesses and sufferings, He knows that we’re only children, He knows that we’re only creatures of dust, and because He well knows our weaknesses, God is compassionate and merciful toward us.
Recommended Song: “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
Spend some time remembering/rehearsing what God is like and what He has done, and praise Him and give thanks.
Confess the hard thoughts you have about God, not believing that He is as compassionate as He actually is.
Day 2: Loving One Another
The word “steadfast love” translates the Hebrew word hesed, which really doesn’t have an English equivalent. It combines the idea of loyalty and love. This word is used to describe Ruth in Ruth 3:10. Even though her husband and father-in-law have both died, and even though her mother-in-law Naomi has no other sons she can give to Ruth in marriage and releases her to return to her mother’s house (Ruth 1:1-17), even though she has no legal obligation to stay with Naomi, Ruth continues to show kindness to her deceased husband and insists on staying with Naomi, saying, “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17). And later on, when she could have married a handsome young man, she waits for the marriage proposal by Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, who can legally continue the line of her deceased husband. And why does she do this? According to Scripture, it’s because Ruth has hesed, “steadfast love,” covenantal love. This enduring love finds its pinnacle in the love that God shows to His covenant people. Even though His people are repeatedly unfaithful to Him, God continues to care for them because of His steadfast love. There is a limit to human love. Human love is fickle. Human love fluctuates. Human love fails. But God’s love for His people is “steadfast.” Marriage is supposed to be characterized by this covenantal love, “I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health…” It’s a love that doesn’t fluctuate with changing circumstances. Not because of what you have done or because you deserve God’s love, but because God has bound Himself to you in covenant, because God has unreservedly and irrevocably committed Himself to you, because of His hesed God will always be for you! Hosea 6:4 compares Israel’s love for God to a “morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away,” like an ephemeral mist that evaporates and vanishes at dawn, but in contrast, the חֶסֶד of God, Psalm 136 celebrates 26 times over, “his steadfast love endures,” how long?“Forever“!
Recommended Song: “Forever” by Michael W. Smith (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
Pray for married couples in our church that they would love one another with steadfast, covenantal love, and that their relationship would be a picture of Christ’s love for the Church and the Church’s submission to Christ.
Pray that all our church members would love another within the covenant community of the Church, steadfastly bearing with one another, forgiving one another, and serving one another.
Pray that our church would truly know the steadfast love of God, and that we would love God because He loved us first.
Day 3: Sharing the Love of Christ with Others
The word “steadfast love” is repeated and explained yet again in verse 7, “keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Three words are used to refer to various types of offenses against God, “iniquity and transgression and sin.” Whether you’re committing high-handed sin against God, willfully going against His will and undermining His authority, whether you’re transgressing a boundary that He has set for you, grasping for that which is forbidden to you because you think that He is begrudging good things from you, whether you’re missing the mark that God has set for you, falling short of the standard that He has set you due to some weakness or fault, God “forgive[s]” the full range of your sins! Why? Because He “keep[s] steadfast love for thousands“!
But that’s not all. Verse 7 continues, “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.” Notice the intentional contrast formed by the repetition of the word “iniquity.” On the one hand, God forgives iniquity, but, on the other hand, God visits iniquity. The distinct emphasis of this passage, however, is not on God’s visiting iniquity on sinners but His forgiving iniquity. Verse 7 says that God “keep[s] steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” but this is contrasted with God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” God will visit your iniquity to the third and fourth generation, but He will forgive your iniquity and show steadfast love for a thousand generations! The third and fourth generations represent the maximum number of generations that a person might live to see, so it still represents one lifetime. You will see the consequences of your sin in your lifetime, but you will see the effect of His love and faithfulness, long after you’re dead and gone, for a thousand generations. We see an example of this in 2 Kings 20, when the nation of Judah is besieged by Assyria, even when they deserved punishment and exile due to their sins, the LORD says to King Hezekiah, who is the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great (12x) grandson of David, “… I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” God’s memory of our faithfulness far outlasts his memory of our unfaithfulness. This is a testament to God’s mercy and grace!
God is merciful toward sinners. 1 Peter 3:9 says, “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.” God is patient, so that He might be merciful and forgive the iniquity of sinners.
Recommended Song: “His Mercy Is More” by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
Pray that we would boldly proclaim the mercy of Christ to unbelievers during this time of divine patience.
Pray that sinners of all stripes would come to our church, repent of their sins, and receive the mercy of God.
Pray that unbelievers in our midst would come to faith in Jesus and get baptized.