BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 158 (January-March 2001): 36-51
Copyright © 2001 by
IN EXODUS 34:6-8
J. Carl Laney
TO GET ACQUAINTED WITH SOMEONE, a person can ask others
about that individual. Or a person can meet the individual
personally and ask appropriate questions. In seeking to
know God many Christians study what others say about Him. But
a better way to get to know God is to ask Him about Himself. This
is exactly what Moses did in Exodus 33:18 when he said, "I pray
You, show me Your glory." The answer to Moses' request is given in
34:6-7, in which God revealed several of His divine attributes. This
passage is one of the most important theological texts in Scripture,
because it is the only place where God actually described Himself,
listing His own glorious attributes.
The importance of Exodus 34:6-7 as a foundation for biblical
theology is evidenced by the fact that this statement is repeated
many times in the Old Testament (Num. ; Neh. ; Pss.
103:8, 17; 145:8; Jer. 32:18-19; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2). Echoes of this
self-revelation also appear in Deuteronomy 5:9-10; 1 Kings 3:6;
Lamentations ; Daniel 9:4; and Nahum 1:3. The biblical writ-
ers clearly regarded Exodus 34:6-7 as a foundational statement
Strangely, this great passage has received little attention from
systematic theologians. For example it does not appear in the
Scripture index of Chafer's Systematic Theology.1 Berkhofs Sys-
tematic Theology cites Exodus 34:6 twice and 34:7 once, but only as
proof texts for certain divine attributes, without discussion or
comment.2 Erickson cites the text in support of the graciousness of
Carl Laney is Professor of Biblical Literature, Western Seminary,
1 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (
2 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 69, 73, 370.
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 37
God and the persistence of God.3 Grudem recommends the text for
Scripture memory, but offers no comment or discussion.4 Exodus
34:6-7 has fared slightly better in biblical theologies,5 but it is sel-
dom given detailed attention as a foundational text for one's under-
standing of the character and attributes of God.
THE CONTEXT OF THE REVELATION (EXOD. 32-33)
God's self-revelation to Moses is set in the context of one of the
spiritual low points in
rael's sin of idolatry resulted in the breaking of the newly estab-
lished covenant with the Lord. While the Israelites were camped at
receive the tablets of the Law. When this took longer than ex-
pected, the people approached Aaron with a request, "Come, make
us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who
brought us up from the
become of him" (32:1).
Three failures can be noted here. First, the Israelites failed to
recognize their exclusive allegiance to the Lord, with whom they
had entered into covenant. The first of the Ten Commandments
stated, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (20:3), but the
people demanded of Aaron, "make us gods [Myhilox<] who will go be-
fore us." Second, they failed to acknowledge that it was God, not
Moses, who had delivered them from
credited God with
the Israelites were attributing their deliverance to Moses. Third,
the Israelites failed to rely on Moses, their covenant mediator.
Moses had not told the people when he would return from his
mountaintop meeting with God. So when Moses delayed, they gave
up hope and sought someone else to lead them.
Surprisingly Aaron quickly yielded to public pressure by fash-
ioning a golden calf, which he then presented to the people, "This is
your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the
(32:4). This calf may be reminiscent of the Apis bull cult, which was
3 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 321-22.
5 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (
dervan: 1978), 233; Walther Eichrodt, Theology of
the Old Testament (
teuch," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament,
ed. Roy B. Zuck (
Moody, 1991), 54.
38 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA I January-March 2001
Wood suggests that the bull cults connected with the worship of
Horus more likely influenced Aaron.6 Aaron announced to the peo-
ple, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD" (32:5). These words
suggest that Aaron intended for the image of the calf to represent
unsuccessful attempt to dissuade the Israelites from worshiping
the calf and to encourage them to turn back to the Lord.7
On Mount Sinai God informed Moses of the idolatry that had
taken place in the camp. God charged the people with having "cor-
rupted" themselves (v. 7). Then He threatened to destroy the Isra-
elites, suggesting to Moses that He could raise up a new nation
from his descendants (v. 10). This was a real test
he choose his own exaltation over
ter all that he had experienced with these rebellious people, one
can imagine that he was tempted to stand back and let God deal
with them. But instead, Moses interceded on behalf of the people,
and so God withheld His judgment (vv. 11-13). The words "the
LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would
do to His people" (32:14) are not inconsistent with the doctrine of
God's immutability. Announcements of judgment are frequently
conditional. God sometimes withholds His judgment in response to
repentance or intercession because He is unchanging in His com-
passion and grace (2 Pet. 3:9).8
Lord withdrew His presence from among the people in the camp
(Exod. 33:1-7). He promised to send an angel to lead them into the
Promised Land, but God would not go on in the midst of such sinful
covenant-breakers. Moses was no doubt
failure. He wanted to be with God, and yet God had left the camp.
To resolve this situation Moses set up a small tent some distance
from the Israelite camp, where he could meet with God (v. 7).9
118, n. 37.
7 U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967),
8 See Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Does God 'Change His Mind'?'" Bibliotheca Sacra
152 (October-December 1995): 387-99.
9 "Tent of meeting" (dfeOm lh,xo) here does not refer to the tabernacle, for it had not
yet been built (see Exod. 40). Cassuto concurs with this assessment (The Book of
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 39
Sheltered there from the desert wind and sun, Moses spent time
alone with the Lord. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of
cloud descended to the tent entrance and God spoke with Moses (v.
9). This must have been a very special experience for Moses. Re-
flecting on this time he spent with God, he wrote, "Thus the LORD
used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his
friend" (v. 11). The expression "face to face" (MyniPA-lx, MyniPA) is used five
times in the Old Testament to describe close intimacy between God
and His people (Gen. 32:31; Exod. 33:11; Deut. 34:10; Judg. ;
More than anything else, Moses wanted to know and experi-
ence God. This desire is clearly reflected in his prayer, "Now there-
fore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know
Your ways, that I may know You" (Exod. 33:13). By desiring to
know God's ways Moses wanted to become better acquainted with
His actions, directions, and manner of doing things. He wanted to
know God more intimately, more intelligently, more personally
than ever before. With this desire in mind he said, "I pray You,
show me Your glory" (v. 18). The word dObKA ("glory") is associated
with a verb that means "to be heavy." The noun is sometimes used
with reference to someone's "weighty" reputation or honored posi-
tion (1 Kings ). The word refers to being "weighty in the sense
of being noteworthy or impressive."10 Similarly it refers to the re-
ality and splendor of God's glorious presence. Sometimes His glory
was made visible in association with the tabernacle or temple
(Exod. 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11; Ezek. 9:3-4).
In Exodus 33:18 Moses was asking for a full self-disclosure of
God's glorious person--a revelation that would sustain and en-
courage Moses, enabling him to carryon as
Moses asked for more than God was willing to grant. The Lord re-
sponded by telling Moses that mortal man cannot see God in the
fullness of His divine glory and still survive the experience (v. 20;
see also John 1:18; Col. 1:15). But God graciously accommodated
Himself to Moses by announcing that He would make His "good-
ness" pass before Moses and would "proclaim" His name in Moses'
presence (Exod. 33:19).
may imply the "beauty" of the Lord and so it anticipated a
10 John N. Oswalt, "dbeKA'" in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R.
Larid Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody, 1980),
40 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 2001
theophany.11 But in this case God gave Moses not a vision of how
He appears but a description of what He is. The promise to pro-
claim His name is probably another way of saying the same thing.
In biblical times a person's "name" (Mwe) was associated with his or
her character and reputation.12 For Yahweh to proclaim His name
meant He would declare or announce His attributes, the essence of
His divine character.
God told Moses that He would place him in the cleft of a rock,
covering him with His hand until He passed by. Then God told
Moses, "I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but
my face shall not be seen" (v. 23). This statement is rich in anthro-
pomorphisms, attributing to God the human features of a hand,
back, and face. Since God does not have a physical body (John
), these terms reveal how intimately and personally God would
disclose Himself to Moses.
THE REVELATION OF GOD'S GLORY (EXOD. 34:6-7)
God fulfilled His promise to give Moses a fresh revelation of His
glory. Once again He called Moses to
"descended in the cloud and stood there with him" (v. 5). In its
many uses in Exodus and Numbers, the word "cloud" (NnAfA) is associ-
ated with and represents God's presence. The last phrase in verse
5, "he called upon the name of the LORD, is somewhat ambiguous.
Did Moses "call upon" the name of Yahweh, or did Yahweh "pro-
claim" His name? Though the Hebrew verb xrAqA can be translated
either way, it seems preferable in this context to understand that
God proclaimed His name or attributes, for this is what He had
promised Moses (33:19). Davies points out that there is no change
of subject for the verbs "passed by" and "proclaimed" in verse 6. He
translates it this way: "Yahweh passed by before him, and (Yah-
weh) proclaimed. . . ."13 This interpretation has the support of a
number of noted commentators.14 What follows, as Fretheim notes,
11 John I.
12 Walter C. Kaiser, Mwe," in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2:934:
13 G. Henton Davies, Exodus (London:SCM, 1967), 246.
14 For example George Bush, Notes on Exodus (
1976), 243; Brevard S. Childs, Exodus (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974),603; Cas-
suto, Exodus, 436;
John Knox, 1991), 301.
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 41
is a "virtual exegesis"15 of Yahweh's name as God disclosed His
character and attributes to Moses.
YAHWEH, YAHWEH EL
God began His self-revelation to Moses by pronouncing His divine
name Yahweh (hvhy) twice, followed by El (lxe), the biblical designa-
tion for Deity. This is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where this
precise formula occurs.16 The translators of the Septuagint appar-
ently took the second occurrence of "Yahweh" as redundant, so they
deleted it. Cassuto takes the double tetragrammaton as apposi-
tional, translating "The LORD, He is the LORD."17 Davies interprets
the construction as a doubling of the divine name followed by a
designation and description, "Yahweh, Yahweh, a God. . . ."18 Dur-
ham comments that the double occurrence of hvhy is "a deliberate
repetition of the confessional use of the tetragrammaton, empha-
sizing the reality of Yahweh present in his very being, linking this
proof to Moses to the earlier proof-of-Presence narratives that are
begun in Exodus 3, and providing an anchor line for the list of five
descriptive phrases to follow."19 It seems clear that the twofold oc-
currence of hvhy emphasizes God's name, thereby causing the lis-
tener to pause and reflect on its meaning and the description that
The meaning of God's name Yahweh was first revealed to
Moses in Exodus 3:13-15.20 "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.'
This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to
15 Fretheim, Exodus, 301.
16 The abbreviation h.yA ("Yah") does occur twice together in Isaiah 38:11.
17 Cassuto, Exodus, 439.
18 Davies, Exodus, 246.
20 The meaning of the name Yahweh, a worthy study by itself, is beyond the scope
of this article. Many scholars have contributed significantly to the understanding of
this name. Among them are W. R. Arnold, "The Divine Name in Exodus iii.14,"
Journal of Biblical Literature 24 (1905): 107-65; William F. Albright, "Contribu-
tions to Biblical Archaeology and Philology: 2. The Divine Name," Journal of Bibli-
cal Literature 43 (1924): 370-78; E. Schild, "On Exodus iii 14-'I Am That I Am,'"
Vetus Testamentum 4 (1954): 296-302; S. D. Goitein, "YHWH the Passionate: The
Monotheistic Meaning and Origin of the Name YHWH," Vetus Testamentum 6
(1956): 1-9; David Noel Freedman, "The Name of the God of Moses," Journal of
Biblical Literature 79 (1960): 151-56; R. Abba, "The Divine Name Yahweh," Journal
of Biblical Literature 80 (1961): 320-28; S. Mowinckel, "The Name of the God of
Moses," Hebrew Union College Annual 32 (1961): 121-33; and Roland de Vaux, "The
Revelation of the Divine Name YHWH," in Proclamation and Presence, ed. John I.
42 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 2001
you'" (). The words "I AM" translate a first-person form of the
Hebrew verb hyAhA ("to be"). The meaning is that God is the self-
existent One. As Allen states, "He exists dependent upon nothing
or no one excepting his own will."21 When God said, "I AM," He was
referring to His active, life-giving existence. The words "I AM" ex-
press the meaning of God's name, but they are not the name itself.
God's name is revealed in verse 15 as Yahweh. The Hebrew name
Yahweh is probably best understood as derived from a third-person
form of the Hebrew verb hyAhA ("to be"), emphasizing, as in the case of
"I AM," that He is the self-existent One.
The word lxe is an ancient Semitic term used in the Bible as a
generic name for "god" and as a designation for the true God of Is-
rael.22 Scholars have debated the root meaning of the term. Fre-
quent suggestions for the original meaning include "power" or
"fear," but these proposals are challenged and much disputed.23 It
is rare to find lxe in Scripture without some word or description
that elevates and distinguishes the true God from false deities that
bear the designation "god." Yahweh, the God of Israel, is "the great
lxe" (Jer. 32:18), "the lxe of heaven" (Ps. 136:26), and "the lxe most
high" (Gen. 14:18-19). In Exodus 34:6 lxe is used in connection with
the double name Yahweh. God identified Himself to Moses with the
words "Yahweh, Yahweh God." As the double name provides em-
phasis, the designation lxe begins to provide a description. The One
speaking to Moses was none other than Yahweh, the true and liv-
THE LIST OF ATTRIBUTES
In critical studies scholars have discussed the origin and use of the
list of characteristics revealed in the proclamation of Yahweh's
name. Dentan concludes that in Exodus 34:6-8 and related pas-
sages the entire "formula" was produced by
the circle of
sages and inserted into the Exodus narrative by them in their re-
daction of the Pentateuch.24 Other scholars have assumed a cultic
origin and liturgical use for this summary of Yahweh's characteris-
21 Ronald B. Allen, "What Is in a Name?" in God: What Is He Like? ed. W. F. Kerr
(Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1977), 122.
22 J. B. Scott, "lxe," in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1:41.
23 Ibid., 1:42.
24 R. C. Dentan, "The Literary Affinities of Exodus XXXIV 6f.," Vetus Testamentum
13 (1963): 34-51.
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 43
tics.25 Others argue that the origin of the "formula" must be found
in the narrative context of
about Himself in His self-revelation. "Yahweh's compassion had
just been demonstrated (32:14), and his tendency to be favorable
was in the process of exercise (33:12-17). His slowness to grow an-
gry had been attested from
the moment of
sea (-12), and his unchanging love and reliableness were the
reason Moses had still been able to plead after the terrible cancel-
lation made by the people's disobedience with the calf. His keeping
of unchanging love to the thousands and the removal of their guilt,
their transgression and their sin. . . were in process."26
God had revealed Himself to Moses by His works in relation-
ship with His people. Now in Exodus 34:6-7 He revealed Himself
Compassionate. The first thing God revealed about Himself is
that He is compassionate. The word MUHra describes a deep love
rooted in some natural bond.28 This love is usually that of a supe-
rior being (God) for an inferior being (a human). The psalmist de-
clared, "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the
LORD [Yahweh] has compassion [MHara] on those who fear Him" (Ps.
103:13). Girdlestone defines it as expressing "a deep and tender
feeling of compassion, such as is aroused by the sight of weakness
or suffering in those that are dear to us or need our help."29
The Old Testament uses MUHra thirteen times. Twelve of those
occurrences refer to God, and one (Ps. 112:4) refers to man. When
used of God, the word points up the strong bond He has with those
He calls His children. He looks on His people much as mothers and
fathers look on their children--with concern for their needs and
tender feelings of love.
Another concept associated with God's compassion is His un-
25 W. Beyerlin, Origins and History of the Oldest Sinaitic Tradition (
Blackwell, 1965), 137-38; and J. P. Hyatt, Exodus (London: Oliphants, 1971),
27 The discussion of these attributes builds on J. Carl Laney, God: Who He Is,
What He Does, How to
Know Him Better,
Swindoll Leadership Library (
Word, 1999), 48-56.
28 L. J. Coppes, "MHarA," in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2:841.
29 R. B. Girdlestone,
Synonyms of the Old Testament (
44 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 2001
conditional choice. "I . . . will show compassion on whom I will show
compassion" (Exod. 33:19). God's compassion is extended by His
sovereign decree to those whom He chooses. God's compassion is
also linked with His faithfulness. "For the LORD [Yahweh] your
God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you
nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them"
(Deut. 4:31). And because He is compassionate, He is also forgiv-
ing. The psalmist declared, "But He, being compassionate, forgave
their iniquity and did not destroy them" (Ps. 78:38). Through the
exercise of His compassion, God spared a repentant people who
were deserving of judgment. Deuteronomy 30:1-3 reveals that re-
pentance from sin will be met with God's compassion and restora-
tion to blessing. A brief survey of prophetic literature reveals that
compassion provides the basis for
tion (Isa. 49:13; Jer. ), national redemption (Mic. ), and
eschatological hope (Isa. 14:1; Jer. 33:26; Zech. ). Anticipating
the future blessings for His people, God declared, "For a brief mo-
ment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you"
God is a compassionate Father. He loves His own, those whom
He chose. And He will never forsake them. He will always be avail-
able in believers' times of need, seeking their good for His ultimate
glory. Although infinitely holy, His compassion allows Him to deal
gently with weak and failing people. He is full of tender sympathy
for the sufferings and the miseries of human frailty. Because of His
compassion He is always ready and willing to forgive sins and to
restore people to Himself.
Gracious. The second fact God wanted Moses to know about
Himself is that He is gracious. The Hebrew adjective NUn.Ha depicts "a
heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one
who has a need."30 The verb NnaHA usually refers to a stronger person
coming to help a weaker one who has no claim for such favorable
treatment. Most of the occurrences of this verb in the Hebrew Bible
have Yahweh as the subject. Jacob explained to his brother Esau
that his family and property were due to the fact that God had
"dealt graciously" with him (Gen. 33:5, 11). In praying and fasting
for his dying son, David said, "Who knows, the LORD may be gra-
cious to me, that the child may live" (2 Sam. ). Showing such
grace seems to be a divine prerogative, for Yahweh declared to
Moses, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" (Exod. 33:19).
Often God's grace is seen in His delivering of His own from their
30 Edwin Yamauchi, "NnAHA," in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1:302.
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 45
enemies or from their sins (Pss. 26:11; 51:1; 123:3).
The word "gracious" is used thirteen times in the Old Testa-
ment, eleven times in combination with MUHra ("compassionate").
Like the verbal form NnaHA the adjective NUn.Ha denotes the free favor of a
superior given to one who is needy but undeserving. Yamauchi
notes that all the occurrences except one refer to Yahweh, who is
favorable toward the afflicted and needy (Exod. ; 34:6;-2
Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17, 31; Pss. 86:15; 103:8, 111:4; 116:5; 145:8;
Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2).31 The single exception to this pattern, in Psalm
112:4, uses the adjective to describe the God-fearing person, who
shares certain characteristics with God. Yet with humankind this
attribute is not perfect. The kindness people extend to others may
not be unbiased or without hope of reward. With God, things are
different. He has no ulterior motives. Because God is gracious, He
will hear the cry of the poor (Exod. ). Because God is gracious,
He will not turn away from the repentant (2 Chron. 30:9). Because
God is gracious, He will not forsake His people (Neh. , 31).
The grace of God is featured throughout the Bible, from Gene-
sis to Revelation, emphasizing the theological basis for God's good-
ness and kindness toward His people. Ryrie wrote, "Christianity is
distinct from all other religions because it is a message of grace.
Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God's grace; salvation is
by grace; and grace governs and empowers Christian living. With-
out grace Christianity is nothing."32
Slow to anger. The Bible reveals that God has a legitimate ba-
sis for anger: The sin and disobedience of His people dishonors and
displeases Him (Exod. 32:10). But God's anger, though fierce (Num.
25:4; 32:14; Josh. ; Jer. 25:37), is not sinful or evil. It is
grounded in His holy character, which is offended by the sinful re-
bellion of His creatures. God's anger often issues in His chastising
(Pss. 6:1; 38:1) and punishing (2 Sam. 6:7; Jer. 44:6) His people.
Yet while God may be rightfully angry over sin and disobedience,
He is not quick to become angry. The Hebrew expression MyiPaxa j`r,x,
("slow to anger") is used ten times in the Bible to refer to God's pa-
tience in dealing with those whose sins arouse His wrath. The ex-
pression includes the noun j`r,x,, meaning "long," and MyiPaxa, a word
for "nose." In Hebrew the nose is associated with anger, apparently
because when a person is angry, his or her face and nose may in-
voluntarily redden and appear to "burn."
God's being "slow to anger" means that He takes a long time
31 Ibid, 304.
32 Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God (Chicago: Moody, 1963),9.
46 BIBlIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 2001
before getting angry. It is as if He takes a long, deep breath as He
deals with sin and holds His anger in abeyance. In discussing this
would "take forever to burn completely."33 However, this wrongly
seems to suggest that God would never actually become angry and
express His divine wrath, a view not supported by Scripture (Exod.
; Num. 11:1; ; Josh. 7:1). Because God is holy, He must
respond with wrath and judgment on sin and disobedience. His
righteousness demands that He not leave wickedness unpunished.
Such lenience would be contrary to His holy character. But God
does not hasten to punish the sinner. Instead, He exercises His at-
tribute of longsuffering. God's prolonged and patient dealings with
the wicked should not be interpreted to mean that sin is not seri-
ous or does not matter. Rather, God's patience gives the wicked
time and opportunity to repent. As Peter wrote, God is "not wishing
for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).
God is in no hurry to judge sinners. Yet there will be a day
when the wicked must stand before God's great,white throne and
be judged according to their deeds (Rev. 20:11-15). Meanwhile God
continues to demonstrate His patience and grace. Though His an-
ger is being kindled by human sinfulness, it is being kindled very
Abounding in lovingkindness. The next thing God revealed to
Moses about Himself is that He is "abounding in lovingkindness
and truth." The word bra ("abounding") is used to describe what is
present in abundant quantity or quality. The phrase tm,x<v, ds,H,-bra
occurs thirteen times in the Old Testament.34 Some scholars say
this phrase is a hendiadys, a figure of speech in which two words
represent one idea. Cassuto, for example, says this phrase speaks
of the attribute of "lovingkindness of truth," or "true and faithful
lovingkindness."35 Others say the phrase could refer to God's "true
love" or "faithful love." However, since there is no absolute cer-
tainty that the compound phrase reflects a single idea, and no con-
sensus as to the idea being represented, it seems preferable to treat
the words as separate attributes of God.
The Hebrew word ds,H, variously translated "kindness" (JB),
"lovingkindness" (KJV, NASB), "love" (NIV), or "steadfast love"
(NRSV), has the basic meaning of "unfailing love" or "loyalty." The
33 Victor P.
34 Genesis 24:49; 47:29; Exodus 34:6; Joshua 2:14; 2 Samuel 2:6; ; Psalms
25:10; 61:7 (Heb., 8); 85:10 (Heb., 11); 86:15; 89:14 (Heb., 15); Proverbs 3:3; .
35 Cassuto, Exodus, 439.
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 47
Septuagint uses the Greek word e@leoj ("mercy" or "compassion") in
Glueck points out that in ancient treaties the term ds,H, was
used to describe an aspect of the covenant relationship between
kings and their subjects.36 As the king was expected to demon-
strate ds,H, to the people with whom he had entered into covenant,
so his subjects were to show ds,H, toward their king. This "love" on
the people's part suggested loyalty, service, and obedience. As an-
cient kings entered into a relationship with their subjects, ex-
pressed in terms of "covenantal love," so God established His cove-
for their loyalty in return.
Not all scholars agree with Glueck's view that ds,H, is so closely
tied to fulfilling prior covenantal duties. Others hold that ds,H, ex-
presses love in a more general sense, emphasizing the freedom of
God to love without any sense of obligation. Sakenfeld argues that
ds,H, denotes free acts of rescue or deliverance, which includes the
idea of faithfulness.37 Clearly God's relationship with His people
31:16; 34:10), but there is freedom, initiative, and grace in Yah-
weh's ds,H,. That is, all of God's favor is based on His love (Deut.
7:8). God entered into a covenant with His people because of His
love. The covenant simply guarantees the perpetuity of His love.
Yahweh's "loyal-love" is an undeserved, selective affection by
which He binds Himself to His people for their sake. He graciously
and sovereignly grants gifts and blessings beyond anything they
might hope for. And He grants these blessings contrary to what
people deserve. His abounding ds,H, will never diminish or be ex-
hausted since it is founded on His character and covenant com-
mitment. And so the psalmist wrote, "Give thanks to the LORD, for
He is good; for His ds,H, is everlasting" (Ps. 136:1).
Abundant in truth. Besides being "great" (bra) in His loyal love,
God also abounds in tm,x<. The word tm,x<, which can be translated
"truth" or "faithfulness," is associated with the verb NmaxA, "to con-
firm, support, or establish." The basic idea of both the verb and the
noun is that of firmness, certainty, and dependability.38 This word
is frequently applied to God as a characteristic of His divine na-
36 Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, ed. Eleas L. Epstein, trans. Alfred Gottschalk
(Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1967).
37 K. D. Sakenfeld, The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible: A New Inquiry
(Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1978), 1-13.
38 J. B. Scott, NmaxA," in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, -52.
48 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 2001
ture. The chronicler used it in describing the "true God" (2 Chron.
15:3). The term is fittingly applied to God's words (Ps. 119:142,
151, 160). As a characteristic of God, tm,x< is the means by which
people come to know and serve Him (1 Kings 2:4; Pss. 25:5; 26:3).
In Exodus 34:6 the word may emphasize "truth," or it may fo-
cus on "faithfulness." Both, of course, are equally true of God. But
reliability, stability, and faithfulness seem to be fundamental to
tm,x< when applied to God. And because He is reliable and faithful,
His words can be trusted. As Scott comments, "As we study its
various contexts, it becomes manifestly clear that there is no truth
in the biblical sense, i.e. valid truth, outside God. All truth comes
from God and is truth because it is related to God."39 God's Word is
as sure as His character. Jesus affirmed this when He said, "Your
Word is truth" (John ).
Keeping lovingkindness for thousands. God's attributes are not
revealed merely to be discussed and admired. They reflect the na-
ture of God who extends Himself and His divine mercies to those in
need. The word translated "lovingkindness" in verse 7 is ds,H,, used
already in verse 6. Once again God was revealing His steadfast,
loyal love frequently exhibited in terms of covenant loyalty toward
His people. But here He declared that He does not limit the exer-
cise of His ds,H,, but that He extends this abounding love to the mul-
titudes. The participle rceno, translated "keeping" or "who keeps,"
does not mean "retaining." Rather it means that God extends His
ds,H, to those in need. Cassuto says the word "thousands" means
"thousands of generations."40 This fits the context, which mentions
"generations" at the end of verse 7. God extends His loyal love to
thousands of generations, the distant descendants of the Israelites
who were with Moses at
tend His loyal love to the thousands of people who need His help
Forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. Another great truth
God wanted Moses and His people to know about Himself is that
He is willing to forgive. Although this is not the last of the divine
attributes God noted in this passage, Bush regards this statement
as "the climax of the present proclamation."41 The word xWAnA ("to for-
give") means "to lift up, carry, take away." The verb is used figura-
tively here and elsewhere of God's "taking away" sin (Ps. 32:1, 5),
39 Ibid., 53.
40 Cassuto, Exodus, 440.
41 Bush, Exodus, 2:246.
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 49
so that the guilty receive pardon and forgiveness. This use of xWAnA
appears often in requests for forgiveness (Gen. 50:17; Exod. ;
32:32; Num. 14:19; 1 Sam. 15:25; 25:28). As Kaiser notes, "Sin can
be forgiven and forgotten, because it is taken up and carried
Three words are used to describe the actions and attitudes
that God forgives. The first word, NOfA ("iniquity"), refers to an action
that involves crooked behavior, a turning away from the straight
and narrow way. The second word, fwaP, ("transgressions"), refers to
a breach of relationships, civil or religious, between two parties
(Gen. 31:36; Isa. 58:1). In the context of international relationships
the cognate verb designates a revolt against rulers. In a religious
sense it refers to a rebellion against God's
regards it as a "collective which denotes the sum of misdeeds and a
fractured relationship."43 The third word, hxAF.AHa ("sin"), is related to
the verb xFAHA, "to miss the way." Missing God's standards or failing
to fulfill His requirements constitutes an act of sin. Cassuto is not
convinced that Moses intended to differentiate
rieties of sin; he says that the three are synonyms that are used to
cover "the entire range of wrongdoing."44 While this may be the
case, there are significant differences in nuance between the words.
Micah contemplated God's marvelous attribute of forgiveness
when he said, "Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and
passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession. He
does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in un-
changing love" (Mic. ).
Not acquitting unrepentant sinners. The next attribute fea-
tures the other side of God's forgiving grace. Although He delights
in forgiveness, His grace cannot abrogate His justice. Those who
refuse to repent are responsible before the holy God.
The Hebrew text could be translated, "He will most certainly
not acquit [the guilty]." The word translated "acquit" (hqAnA) means
"to be clean, pure, or spotless." Fisher and Waltke note that of the
forty Old Testament occurrences of this verb the vast majority have
an ethical, moral, or forensic connotation.45 In a judicial context it
takes on the meaning "to be acquitted" or "to go unpunished." A
42 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., xWAnA," in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2:601.
43 G. H.
44 Cassuto, Exodus, 440.
45 M. C. Fisher and Bruce K. Waltke, "hqAnA," in Theological Wordbook of the Old
50 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 2001
husband is "acquitted" of any guilt if he, in declaring his wife un-
faithful, follows the legal procedures required by law (Num. ).
The word is sometimes used with a negative particle, thereby
yielding a strong warning of accountability and judgment. Proverbs
declares that the one who commits adultery with his neigh-
bor's wife "will not go unpunished" [hq,nA.yi]. In Exodus 34:7 the verb is
used with the negative xlo, to affirm that God will not regard the
unrepentant sinner as innocent. Because God is holy and just, as
well as loving and forgiving, the unrepentant will face the most
serious consequences of their sin and rebellion. God does not leave
sinners unpunished (Exod. 20:7; Job ; Jer. 30:11).
Not erasing the consequences of sin. The last phrase in God's
self-revelation to Moses reflects on the consequences of sin. While
it is in God's nature to forgive the repentant, it is not in His nature
to remove the natural consequences of foolish and sinful behavior.
Some people assume that the words, "visiting the iniquity of fa-
thers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and
fourth generations," mean that God punishes children for the sins
of their parents and ancestors. But Ezekiel 18 shows that this is
not the case.
Of course it would be unjust for God to punish children for the
sins of their parents. Yet this is exactly what some people were
saying in Ezekiel's day, as expressed in their proverb, "The fathers
eat the sour grapes, but the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezek.
18:2). They were saying that in allowing the Babylonians to destroy
cestors. God responded by saying that they should not use that
proverb any more (v. 3). Then He announced, "The person who sins
will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniq-
uity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity;
the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the
wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself (v. 20). It is also
evident from Deuteronomy 24:16 that God does not hold children
responsible for the sinful actions of their parents.
The fact that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the
children" means that children can expect to experience the conse-
quences of the sinful behavior of their parents. While God is willing
to forgive and pardon, He does not interrupt the certain and natu-
ral consequences of sinful behavior. And some of these conse-
quences are experienced by children and grandchildren. When a
parent goes to prison, the children suffer loss. Sadly, many children
have suffered the tragic consequences of growing up in a family
with an alcoholic or abusive parent. God does not interrupt the
natural consequences of foolish and sinful actions. Children do reap
God's Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6-8 51
what sinful parents sow. Yet the influence of evil is limited to a few
generations ("to the third and fourth generations"), while God ex-
tends His ds,H, ("loyal love") "for thousands."46
THE RESPONSE OF MOSES (EXOD. 34:8)
Earlier in his encounter with God, Moses had prayed, "Show me
Your glory" (Exod. 33:18). In response God revealed Himself to
Moses in a most unique and memorable way. God passed in front of
Moses and proclaimed His own attributes. How did Moses respond
to the Lord's self-revelation? He "made haste to bow low toward the
earth and worship."
When Moses saw God in the light of His self-revelation, he saw
himself with new insight. No longer could Moses stand in God's
presence. And it did not take him a long season of deliberation to
decide what response was appropriate. Having heard God pro-
claiming His attributes, Moses "made haste" (rhamA) to prostrate
himself on the ground in worship. Good theology is the foundation
and impetus for God-honoring worship. May all who aspire to
proper theology be as quick to understand and practice its implica-
46 Cassuto, Exodus, 440.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
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