What is the first characteristic you think of when I ask you to think about God? We are going to look at what God says we should think about as he expresses himself to Israel while at Mount Sinai. The seriousness of Israel’s sin has been depicted in Exodus 33. God tells Moses that he will be faithful to his covenant and the people will go into the promised land. However, God is not going to go with them because they are a stubborn and rebellious people. Moses intercedes on behalf of the people, pleading with God to go with them all the way to the promised land. God promises that he will go with them and proves he will go with them by showing Moses his glory as his goodness passed before him. God will be gracious to whom he will be gracious and will show mercy on whom he will show mercy. God’s goodness is displayed in that he keeps his word and if God says he will show mercy to the people, then God is going to show mercy. Only now that intercession has been made can the covenant be renewed with the people of Israel.
Receiving the Law (34:1-7)
With intercession made, God tells Moses to cut two tablets of stone like the first and write on it all the words that will be given to him. Notice the emphasis is on Moses. Only Moses can go up and receive the Law or be in God’s presence. The Lord will then come down and proclaim his name to Moses. So Moses goes up early on Mount Sinai and takes two tablets of stone with him. The Lord descends in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed his name.
We have mentioned many times that the name represents the character of the individual. God is going to proclaim his name, which reflects who he is. Listen to his name in verses 6-7.
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, 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.” (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)
The name of God proclaims the glory of God. Please think about what God says about himself. Where does God begin in describing who he is? God is merciful and gracious. God is slow to anger. God is overflowing in steadfast love and faithfulness. God keeps his steadfast love for thousands. God forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin. But God will not clear the guilty, even to the third and fourth generations. This statement about God is a statement that the whole Exodus narrative has been driving toward. How can a holy God live among sinful people? Because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving sins. Is this how we think about God? God says this is how we are to think of him. This is his name. This is who he is. Remember that the prophet Jonah uses the character of God as a criticism against him.
We cannot have a one-dimensional view of God. We cannot see God as only compassionate and merciful who would never judge. But we cannot see God as only judgment and wrath. God’s primary description of himself toward these rebellious people is mercy and grace, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. But this does not mean that those who hate him will have no consequence (cf. Exodus 20:5). Being a merciful God does not mean there are not consequences for turning against God. God will be merciful on his terms that he stipulates, not the terms we want to imagine.
Moses Worships (34:8-9)
The immediate response Moses has to the describing of God’s name and glory is worship. God has declared he will be merciful and has promised to go with his people. So Moses asks for the Lord to go in the midst of the people. Bring back the tabernacle project. The whole purpose of the tabernacle was so that God could live in the midst of his people. So notice exactly what Moses requests. Moses asks for the Lord to go with them, knowing that they are a stiff-necked people, so pardon our iniquity, and take us for your inheritance. God, forgive us and take us as your people. What a beautiful prayer to offer to the Lord! Go with us, forgive us, and take us as your inheritance.
This is a shadow of what redemption is supposed to look like in the lives of every person. The covenant will be broken by the people, intercession will be made, and God will renew the covenant because of his own character and nature, causing people to worship God and desire God to be with them. God will be merciful. God will renew the covenant. People will worship and love him because of his mercy and faithfulness. This is what plays out in the next paragraph of Exodus 34.
Covenant Renewed (34:10-28)
God declares he will make a covenant with the people. This is amazing because God could declare Israel to be in breach of the covenant, having every right to walk away from the covenant. Rather than doing so, God renews the covenant. Moses is bringing up two tablets of stone and all the words that were given the first time will be written on these tablets. God will still work on behalf of the people. This is the full realization that God is truly merciful and slow to anger. Further, the people will see how awesome God’s work will be (34:10).
It is the covenant that shapes our identity. This is why God is going to describe key concepts of the covenant that he is making with Israel. The covenant is not a bunch of rules but a reflection of our identity in God. If we belong to God, then this is what we must look like. We do the same thing in our families. You have probably told your kids or heard from your parents something like this: I know that they are doing that activity, but that is not what we do. I know they act that way but that is not how we act. What are we saying except this is what it looks like to belong to this family! This is what God is saying to the people through his covenant. This is what is looks like to be in this family. There are things we do and do not do, not merely as rule keeping, but because we belong to God.
So notice some of the distinctive marks the people of Israel were to have as this covenant is renewed. First, do not make treaties and covenants with foreign peoples because they will cause you to no longer act like my people (34:11-12). Second, do not join in the religious practices of the surrounding nations (34:13-17). These activities will also turn your hearts away from the Lord. Third, worship is the reinforcement of your covenant identity (34:18-26). Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread which incorporated the Passover. Remember the redemption God brought you. Keep the Sabbath. Celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Bring the best of your first fruits to the Lord. Notice that God is reinforcing these distinctions in how they worship so that they are set apart for God.
You know that we also have distinct acts in worship that reinforce our covenant identity: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and worshiping on the first day of the week. These are key aspects that reinforce our covenant identity. This is why these acts are not to be considered ritual or acts of worship, but defining who we are. Baptism defines who we are, as we symbolizing moving from being dead in our sins to being alive in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is the proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes, showing that our life is directly tied to Jesus’ life and death. The worshiping of God on the first day of the week reminds us that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week and would forever remain as a memorial to the Lord. We cannot throw away the acts that God gave us which show reinforce our covenant identity.
I want us to see why all these things are so important. It functions almost like a parenthetical in Exodus 34:14. “For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” God just gave himself another name, which describes who he is. God is jealous. God is jealous for his people’s affection and commitment. Now, this is not a bad thing. Usually we think of jealousy in negative terms. But there are ways that jealousy is right and good. Jealousy in marriage is right. It is right that we would not share our spouse with another person in ways that are special and unique to the marriage relationship. God uses this image to speak about our faithlessness to God as adultery. God is jealous for us and will not share us. God cares that we are not completely with him. He cares about that. He does not act indifferent to our relationship with him. God would be a terrible God if he did not care about the faithlessness of his people and the relationship he has with them. He cares. Not only does God care, but God is deeply hurt when we choose to worship and serve others instead of him.
We have seen the New Testament implications throughout the lesson. But I want to bring in one more idea as we close. We see an extraordinary picture foreshadowing Jesus in these events at Sinai. Moses is fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, not eating bread or drinking water (34:28). While on the mountain, God delivers the Law to Moses who will deliver it to the people. This is the renewing of the covenant with the people of Israel. When we come into the New Testament and we look at the life of Jesus, consider what we see. Jesus goes into the wilderness where he is fasting for 40 days and nights (Matthew 4). Jesus succeeds in the temptations against Satan. After his success in the wilderness after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting, Jesus walks through Israel, goes up a mountain, and delivers a sermon that we have called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). God delivers the renewal of the covenant with Israel. These are the terms of the covenant and if you desire to be in relationship with him, then these are the stipulations. Jesus is the new Moses who delivers to us the new covenant through which we can have forgiveness of sins and enjoy eternal life. Jesus came because he is jealous for a relationship with you. He wants your heart and he wants your life. He loves you and gave himself for you. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty. Come to Jesus and have life.