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.” …
10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you…
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.
Unpacking the meaning of this declaration of the meaning of God’s name is akin to working through the layers of an onion to get to the core of the matter. In this case, the core is “abounding with steadfast love and faithfulness” wrapped by “slow to anger” and “keeping steadfast love for thousands” wrapped in turn in “a God merciful and gracious,” “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”
The first layer
When God brings us into a relationship with Christ, the first thing we encounter is a God who is merciful and gracious. We are sinners with no case to plead. By his grace alone, Christ calls us to himself. We see him forgiving all of our iniquity and transgression and sin.
The second layer
Next up is the fact that he is slow to anger, keeping steadfast love for thousands of generations. He saves us by his grace and we are spiritual blithering idiots. We deserve his wrath because we are still sinners in continuing need of his grace. He is slow to anger. Now we begin to understand that he keeps steadfast love for us. This steadfast love has been held out to us for thousands of generations. Now get this, it has always been by grace that men have been saved, ever since Adam and Eve, it has been grace alone that saves.
The gospel in the Old Testament
In this second parallel, or second wrapper, in God’s declaration of his name, “slow to anger” and “keeping steadfast love,” it is important to remember, we are being introduced to God in the Old Testament. Many Christians have an understanding that the God of the Old Testament was a wrathful, unforgiving and ungracious God. They don’t see grace appearing until the entrance of Jesus Christ. That is not how God unpacks his name to Moses.
Do you see this with me? God is preaching the gospel to Moses in the middle of the giving of the law. How glorious is that?
The joy of grace
I know my experience is not uncommon. First, we come to Christ with a tremendous awareness of God’s grace that he has chosen us. Then we get focused on “being a good Christian.” We realize at some point that we have lost the joy and sense of victory we had. We got caught up on performing to please God. Then one day the onion gets peeled back another layer, and we eventually see the steadfast love and faithfulness, and it is joy and glory all over again. Are you stuck somewhere between the initial joy of your salvation and the joy that comes from being settled into his steadfast love and faithfulness?
What is your story? It is God’s purpose for you to glorify him by enjoying him forever. Got joy?