And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, 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)
Think of it — God took the time to describe and define Himself, not only to Moses, but to every generation. Whatever our perception of God may be, it stands to reason that we should conform our assessment of who and what He is to the way that He, the One and Only God, presents Himself to us. And of all attributes that He possesses, He began this description with the declaration that He was merciful, long suffering and gracious. I find this interesting for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that many view the so-called “Old Testament God” as harsh, cruel and vengeful. That, however, is not what we see when we look honestly at His words and actions.
We should remember that this encounter whereby God makes this proclamation came just after the Golden Calf incident. When He could have destroyed the nation and started over, He displayed mercy, long suffering and grace. We must also point out that, though He spared the nation, the guilty paid the price of their sin, thus He says, “by no means clearing the guilty.” While He is merciful, He is also just and, consequently, will not remove the eternal distinction between light and dark, good and evil. So it is important to understand that His goodness doesn’t destroy His justice — He doesn’t excuse the unrepentant and rebellious. Furthermore we see that, unfortunately, unrepentant sin creates consequences that ripple through to the 3rd and 4th generation.
Compare that, though, with the fact that He extends mercy “To a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Think of this way: if we could observe the Heavenly Scale of Justice, on one side would be the 3-4 generations that experience the consequences of their sins and the sins of their fathers. On the other side of the scale would be 1000 generations — an expression intended to mean “forever” — that enjoy the mercy that comes from the Almighty. In other words, His mercy, loving kindness and long suffering far outweighs His will to render judgment agains the guilty. The truth of the matter is that the “Old Testament God” is the same God we see in the New Testament — He never changes. And so, as the Psalmist declared, “Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1).
Blessings and Shalom,