Exodus 34:6-7 is the first description of God’s attributes found in the Bible, and it’s referenced throughout much of the Bible. Here we learn that all of God’s actions are an expression of these attributes: compassion, grace, patience, loyal love, and faithfulness. This list of God’s character traits has been carefully designed to help us see the meaning and importance of each trait in relation to the others.
In this week’s Bible study, we’re looking at the character of God as revealed to Moses in Exodus chapter 34. We see in this passage that though God is first and foremost a loving and merciful God, he will not ignore injustice or evil. We see in the story of the Bible that God is willing to put up with a lot of human failures.
But our choices matter, and God will maintain a balance between mercy and justice, which at times means handing us over to the consequences of our decisions. As followers of Jesus, we may be wondering what God is going to do in the world in response to this time of deep unrest and upheaval. But the better question may be to ask ourselves, what are we going to do to carry out God’s will in the world?
Biblical authors often referenced and quoted their favorite parts of Scripture, and the list of God’s character traits found in Exodus 34:6-7 is the most repeated and re-quoted text in the Bible. In this video we explore this foundational description of God’s attributes that illustrates what God values and why he acts the way he does.
For example, how does God’s mercy relate to his passion for justice? Sometimes God brings severe consequences in response to human evil. How does God’s mercy and love balance with his anger at destructive human behavior? These are crucial questions that the biblical authors love to explore in narrative, poetry, and in the literary design of this Exodus passage.
The passage tells us that God’s core character traits are rooted in generous mercy and loyal love, which means that God’s anger is not a primary attribute. It’s a divine reaction to selfish and destructive human decisions, and it’s rooted in God’s love. Just like you would get angry if you saw a beautiful work of art being vandalized, so God’s anger is a response to evil done to or by his human images. God would not be good if he didn’t get angry at evil.
In this story the Israelites have just violated their covenant with God by making the golden calf idol. God is angry and ready to walk away from his commitment to Israel, but Moses pleads with God to fulfill his ancient promises to Abraham and forgive the people’s sins. This is the context of Moses’ request to see God’s face, so he can know God’s character in intimate detail. And God reveals his mercy but also his commitment to justice in response to human evil. This story, and the words in Exodus 34:6-7, explore the tension between God’s mercy and judgment. This is the dilemma that drives the biblical story forward. How is God going to bring about his plan to renew creation if he’s committed to doing it through flawed and faithless humans?
Read Exodus 34:6-7. What do you think it would be like to live in a world that had compassion but no consequences for wrongdoing?
What do you think it would it be like to live in a world that had consequences for wrongdoing but no compassion?
Why is it good to have both mercy and justice?
God’s anger and judgment is a really important theme in the Bible, but it’s not the whole story. God’s core character is one of generous love that created the world as we know it and plans to rescue and restore that world from human evil. Exodus 34:6-7 invites us into a lifetime of pondering the depths and mysteries of the character of God.
After Moses encountered God’s glory, he came down from Mount Sinai with a glowing face. We’re told that his transformation freaked the Israelites out, so he wore a veil to conceal himself. As we continue the story of the Bible, we learn that the new covenant comes with even greater glory because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This greater glory liberates Jesus’ followers to see and reflect his glowing character from the inside out, no veil needed. By his Spirit our hearts learn to mirror the mercy and justice we were created to image. His presence and character transforms us into new creatures who are empowered to represent and live out his new creation plan.
Read 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. What stands out to you in this passage?
In what ways has God shown you his mercy? What would it look like for you to mirror the mercy that God has shown you?
In what ways does God stand up for justice? What would it look like for you to stand up for justice this week?