Exodus 34: Paradox

Exodus 34 is a bit of a do-over. God and Moses basically redo the entire covenant in less than one chapter. Which kinda makes me wonder why we had to take so long with it the first time.

The chapter ends with the famous  “Sunshine Sparkle-Face Moses.” Ordinarily I would try to think of something clever to say about Mr. Brightside but something else I read leaped off the page, grabbed my mind-grapes and started squeezing.


The Paradox

On top of Mt. Sinai, Moses waits while God “stands with him there.” That deserves its own post all by itself. But as God then passes by, he tells Moses his name again and then a bit more about himself. Have a gander at this:

‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.’

Did you catch it? You should have. I bolded it for cryin’ out loud.

Here we have what might be described as the most God has ever revealed about himself in one sitting. This is important, need-to-know information for Moses, and it is beautiful.

And it also makes no sense.

He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin but at the same time will by no means clear the guilty?

How does that work? How can someone have as a key piece of their identity incredible mercy and ruthless justice?

How does God hold those things in tension?

Sit In It

Some of my readers of the Christian faith will want to jump immediately to Jesus. And as a Christian myself I think that is probably the right thing to do.

But can we hold off on that for just a moment? Can we sit in this? Can we try to put ourselves in Moses’ sandals?

What did he hear? How did he put those together? How did these words match up with his experience with God so far?

We have seen God be merciful and we have seen him be ruthless. Sometimes it has seemed completely arbitrary and sometimes it has made perfect sense.

But here, in the same sentence, God has shown himself to be a paradox. He is more gracious and compassionate than we could ever dream (the thousandth generation?! Wow!) And yet will make sure that you children’s children’s children of transgressors will bear the punishment for your sin.


And yet, in some strange way, I like it. I like that God is ok with that. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.

How about you? What do you do when God seems paradoxical?


7 responses

  1. I like that God seems paradoxical sometimes, because that means a couple of things. First of all, it means that he’s bigger than we can comprehend, which is something we’ve always suspected, but then we always try to figure him out anyway. Secondly, it means that it may actually be possible that God is big enough to be a “living paradox.” And that’s bigger than we often imagine God to be.

  2. I think it is interesting how much longer he extends his steadfast love than his punishment. I am also wondering if he is referring to clearing the consequences of our actions on Earth verses our eternal consequences. For instance, a girl can commit adultery, realize she sinned and repent. God will forgive and she can have a completely loving relationship with Him, but that doesn’t mean she is safe from pregnancy or STD’s.
    I also think God speaks in paradoxes because in the end, we aren’t supposed to understand everything. We are simply to be in relationship with Him. If I don’t know the answers to life’s problems, I am going to stick closer to the guy who does.

    • I did notice how much longer the love and faithfulness extends. I was thinking this morning that maybe God needs to be understood more as a long term God rather than a short term one. Like if you look at the big picture, you will see faithfulness and love. Maybe.

  3. Keep reading past the bolded section as if it is one continuous sentence without the comma – is God saying that he “forgives the iniquity” but the guilty are not cleared because the affects of their sin pass down to future generations?

    Great post, by the way.

    • hard to say. I honestly don’t know what to do with God’s description of himself. It doesn’t seem to me like he is just talking about the affects of sin or the natural consequences. It seems like he is intentionally visiting the iniquity on the 3rd and 4th generations. And I have no idea what to do with that.

  4. This is what scholars call the ineffability of God. He is entirely above our ability to impugn His motives, or character. Oh, sure, we can fling the poo like no one’s business–but it never sticks. He will have mercy on who He will have mercy. Good, bad, or indifferent, He’s God, and we’re so not. Go ahead: call Him unfair–He doesn’t care. But then take a gander at what He did to His own Son. Talk about unfair.

    Oh, my bad–I skipped ahead. 😉

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