Exodus 34:4-9. 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.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
Moses has prayed to see the glory of God – Please show me your glory (33:18). And God, in his great grace, said yes. But no one can see God and live (33:20). So God will place Moses in the cleft of the rock on Mount Sinai as he passes by. Moses will experience God’s glory, but not in its fullness.
Even so Moses will come off of the mountain glowing.
Exodus 34:29. 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.
But here’s the interesting thing. Moses wasn’t glowing because he saw the Lord, but because he heard the Lord. It’s not what God looks like but what God says on the mountain that is most important.
And what God said was his name. He passed by Moses with his hand over Moses’ face and he cried out his own name. His own character.
“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.”
This is possibly the most important description of God and his character in all of scripture. It is a definition of the glory of God. Moses prayed “show me your glory.” God replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name” (33:19).
God’s glory IS his goodness. And his goodness IS his character.
Merciful – this is love from a deep bond. It’s compassion. It’s the same word as “womb.” God’s glory is like the love of a mother for a child.
Gracious – this is love that meets a need. This word comes from the word “to bend.” God’s glory bends down to help those who don’t deserve it.
Slow to anger – God’s glory is his patience with us.
Abounding in steadfast love – the Hebrew word hesed is the covenant love and loyalty. God is glorious because he will never stop loving those he has promised to love.
Faithfulness – everything God says can be trusted. God is glorious because he is the faithful friend that will always tell us the truth.
keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin – it is God’s glory to forever love us and forever forgive us. No matter what we do.
This is the God we all need (and want). The God who will love us like a mother loves her baby. The God who will wrap us up in arms of grace and tell us everything is going to be alright.
It is because God is merciful, and gracious, and patient, and loving, and faithful, and forgiving that he can stay with the sinful Hebrews and dwell with them in the Promised Land. Because of these attributes God can say yes to Moses’ prayer to go in the midst of us.
But there’s more. There’s more to God’s glorious character. There’s more to his goodness.
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.
The same God that forgives every sin will also punish every sin. He will not clear the guilty. He will root out sin until it’s all gone – to the third and fourth generation.
God isn’t good and glorious if he doesn’t forgive. But he also isn’t good and glorious if he doesn’t destroy sin. God must be grace and truth. Love and justice. Mercy and holiness. For God to be good and glorious he must be both. If not sin would destroy us.
But this description of God by God is a great riddle. How can God be BOTH the forgiver of all sins and the punisher of all sins? And of course the answer is Jesus Christ and his cross. On the cross every sin was forgiven by God and every sin was punished by God. God was both the just, the punisher of sins, and the justifier, the merciful and gracious forgiver of sins (Rom. 3:26).
What does all this this mean? It means that the glory and goodness of God is most vividly seen in the cross of Christ. Christ’s sacrificial death for you and me is the greatest display of the glory of God. When we pray show me your glory, God’s answer to that prayer is the cross of Christ. His answer is the gospel that says we are all wicked, deserving punishment, and yet loved, receiving mercy and grace.
The glory and goodness of Spock’s death.
But what this also means is that our union with Christ has placed God’s goodness and glory inside of us. In our hearts. By Christ’s indwelling life we share the glory of God. The same glory that God caused to pass by Moses on Mount Sinai now shines in our hearts as the “face of Jesus Christ.”
2 Corinthians 4:6. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
And it also means we can be transformed into Christ by beholding the glory of the cross.
2 Corinthians 3:18. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The cross of Christ is not only the glory of God that simultaneously punished and forgave all our sins thus securing our place with God. It is also the transforming glory of God that, when beheld, conforms us to the image of Christ – his goodness. We aren’t just forgiven, we’re made new. That’s good news!
God’s glory is his goodness. God’s goodness is his cross. And through union with Christ we are joined to Christ’s good and glorious cruciform life. That’s “to live is Christ.” That’s the glory of God revealed.