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.
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?