And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7 NKJV).
This statement is made about God more than any other in the Old Testament. If you want to know God’s character, memorize this. Internalize it. It represents the varied nature of His character and personality: merciful and gracious, forgiving, yet holy.
Our world, even within Christian circles, often wants to make God in its image. We like a loving and forgiving God, so that’s what we often focus on. The God we imagine would never judge anyone harshly. Or we want God to bring judgment quickly. However, we don’t get to make God what we want Him to be.
This (Exodus 34:6-7) is who He is. He is merciful and compassionate. He forgives our sins, yet He also holds us accountable, especially if we do not repent. He doesn’t deal with us as we deserve, but that in no way lessens His holy and righteous demands.
We tend to gravitate to either extreme—a loving God who tolerates everything or a harsh God who forgives little. Yet the Bible makes clear who God is. It never loses the balance of His mercy and His justice. In fact, it makes clear that you cannot have genuine mercy without justice, just as you cannot have justice without mercy.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves swayed by our own personal preferences or what our world tells us God should be like. We look to our society to define biblical ideas like justice, mercy, righteousness, and holiness; yet these characteristics find definition in God within the Bible—how He acts and how He expects us to act.
He is compassionate and gracious, forgiving of sins. If we want our world to see Him, then we must behave the same. He is just; we must demonstrate His justice too. That’s hard for us; we tend to go one way over the other. But God’s not like that; He keeps His mercy and justice in perfect balance.
When God passed before Moses and proclaimed this, Moses bowed down and worshiped God. Take a moment today to let the words of this confession penetrate your heart and soul. This is who our God is.
Father, we stand in awe of You. You are merciful and compassionate. You are just. How mighty and awesome are You. Amen.