In Exodus 34 we have recorded God’s descent in the cloud and His passage before Moses. While we cannot begin to imagine what the vision that passed before Moses’ eyes was like we can meditate upon what was proclaimed as the event took place.
There is a twofold revelation.
The names revealed are Jehovah, and El. In Jehovah, the name repeated in the title ‘the LORD’, there is an expression of His eternity, the One which was, which is, and which is the coming One. This is the title specifically mentioned in Revelation 1. 4 and is present in thought in John 1. 1. The other title, El, is an expression of His majesty and power. He is the mighty God! We are witnesses of His creatorial power as well as His power to sustain that creation, Heb. 1. 3. We also see His sovereign power in government, Eph. 1. 19. That power is evidenced in Christ in resurrection, ascension, and exaltation.
Firstly, He is merciful, v. 6. Mercy is described as the outward manifestation of pity (Vine) as mercy withholds from the guilty the judgment they deserved. This is most wonderfully illustrated by God’s dealings with Job, Jas. 5. 11. Similarly, Paul is quick to emphasize this essential characteristic of the nature of God, Eph. 2. 4, and the thought is echoed in the phrase of verse 7, ‘keeping mercy for thousands’.
‘Gracious’, v. 6. Grace provides for sinners what they don’t deserve. This thought is exemplified in God’s dealings with Nineveh because they repented of their sin, Jonah 4. 2. But the greatest expression of grace has to be that taught by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8. 9.
‘Long suffering’, v. 6. As Jonah mentioned, He is slow to anger. He does not punish promptly, but exercises self-restraint in the face of provocation. While some men count this as weakness, Peter teaches us, 2 Pet. 3. 9, that this is an essential feature of the nature of God. It is a fact that Paul turns into the offensive in Romans 2. 4. Rather than it appear weakness it is a positive desire on the part of God to see men respond in repentance rather than suffer the punishment that is their due.
‘Abundant in goodness and truth’, v. 6. Goodness can be seen in a moral sense. The rightness and consequent goodness of God is undeniable, cp. Psa. 25. 8, 119. 68; Matt. 19. 17. But goodness is also evident in a practical or beneficial way as we have seen in Romans 2. 4 and this thought may be more appropriate to the marginal rendering ‘loving kindness’. It is perhaps in verse 7 that we see where these characteristics are best displayed and they are certainly seen in their abundance!
‘Forgiving iniquity and transgression’, v. 7. This is God’s goodness. The Pharisees rightly said, ‘Who can forgive sins but God?’ God’s character requires a righteous basis upon which to forgive and pardon. God does not overlook sin, Psa. 32. 1. Hence, Paul preached in Acts 13. 38 that only the work of Christ could form the basis for forgiveness of sins. The guilty will not be cleared as they reject God’s way of salvation and their guilt remains with them.
We see him bowed. He is not filled with a sense of his own importance but rather he is overwhelmed with awe by the glory of what he has seen. He bows his head in worship before God. Perhaps we need a deeper vision of the greatness of our God to stir our hearts in worship as well as witness.
In verse 9 Moses appeals on behalf of the nation. He recognizes their need but also aligns himself with them as needing pardon. While worship comes first, Moses is concerned for the people around him and desires to supplicate the throne of God on their behalf. Any true vision of God must emphasize the enormity of man’s need and lead us to more earnest prayer on behalf of the perishing.