When we try to describe a person sometimes we will focus on the things they do. At other times we will talk about what they look like and sound like, or on the kind of person they are. We may describe their actions, or alternatively we may focus on their attributes and their character.
Most of what we know about God has been revealed to us through his actions. We praise and thank God for all he has done for us and all he continues to do for us through his Son Jesus – for forgiveness and new life, for the happy certainty of heaven, for making us his beloved children and for filling us with the Holy Spirit. We can never praise God enough for all the blessings he has poured into our lives. But this morning we are going to look at God’s character, his person, his attributes. What is God like in himself. A beautiful person doesn’t have to do anything to be beautiful – they are just beautiful and we can appreciate that beauty just as we would in a wonderful painting or an inspiring piece of music. This morning I invite us all to appreciate God for who he is, for the beauty and the glory of his divine character. These things are revealed to us by God himself in what he says as well as through the things he does. And we can learn what God is like in himself from this unique encounter Moses experienced on Mount Sinai, when God proclaimed his name to Moses and said here I am, this is me.
4 So Moses chiselled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
God proclaimed his name to Moses. In the Bible, names are much more than merely labels to distinguish one person from another. Names reveal the character of the person. So the name Jesus means God saves. David means beloved. Moses meant drawn forth, or taken out of the water. Israel means striving with God, or he rules with God, from the time Jacob wrestled with God at Peniel. The name of God is Yahweh, which in our Bibles is rendered as the LORD, capital L capital O capital R capital D, the LORD>
5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD.
When God proclaimed his name this was not just giving Moses a label to refer to God by or to address God with. God’s name reveals his character, his attributes. And the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai was of course the same name he had revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush, back in Exodus 3 when he called Moses to become the saviour of Israel. There Moses had seen a bush which was on fire but was not burning up.
Exodus 3 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’
And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’
5 ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ 6 Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
So the God who revealed himself to Moses was the same God who had made all the wonderful covenant promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the ancestors of all the Israelites. And then God had revealed his name to Moses there.
Exodus 3 13 Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’
14 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 you.” ’
15 God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.”
‘This is my name for ever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.
The name God revealed himself by to Moses at the burning bush was I AM. In our English translations this is usually written as the LORD with L, O, R and D all in capital letters. It is most usually pronounced Yahweh and appears almost 7000 times in the Old Testament. God’s name is Yahweh, “I AM WHO I AM”. The Old Testament can be difficult to understand because we only have the consonants, YHWH, and not the vowels. And Hebrew can be confusing because they didn’t always distinguish between past, present and future tenses. So I AM WHO I AM could equally be translated I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, or again I WILL BE WHO I WAS.
So the LORD, Yahweh, is the great I AM. God reveals through that name that in himself God is timeless and eternal and unchanging. This name is repeated to Moses on Mount Sinai.
5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD.
And then God continues to reveal more of his character to Moses. First and foremost God is revealed as
THE GOD OF LOVE
6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
God acts in loving ways because God is in himself love. That is at the heart of God’s divine character. We know this to be true from God’s revelation of himself in his son the Lord Jesus Christ and from the whole of the New Testament. But God had already revealed his loving kindness and his faithfulness to the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. Here we see,
‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
We see God’s patience best in the things he does NOT do – in all the times when he could act in righteous judgment but instead shows mercy. In all the times when God is slow to anger. God’s patience comes from
God is abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
God is completely reliable – he would never let anyone down. God always keeps all his promises.
7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Here is the quality of God’s character without which none of us could ever come into his presence, God’s mercy and forgiveness which is greater than all our human wickedness, rebellion and sin. God had spoken of this mercy just beforehand, as we can read in
Exodus 33 19 And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
So God was showing his mercy even as he revealed his glory to Moses. This lovingkindness is declared in so many places in the Bible, but perhaps especially in a Psalm we often read at funerals.
Psalm 103 7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 the LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger for ever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
You can keep travelling east and you never reach east. Keep travelling west and you never reach west. This is how far God removes our sins from us. That is how great God’s mercy and forgiveness is.
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
So God revealed himself to Moses as the God who is love, patience, faithfulness and mercy. God loves us with the same love as he loved the Israelites – because God is love!
But at the same time God is
THE GOD OF JUSTICE
Exodus 34 Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
God’s love and God’s mercy are both essential elements of his divine character. They are like two sides of the same coin. God is righteous and holy. As well as showing his mercy to Moses in this encounter with God, God had also revealed his holiness.
We read just before in Exodus 33 20 But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’
21 Then the LORD said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’
God’s character is holiness and righteousness and purity and goodness. The God of the Old Testament is the holy God, who was unapproachable. Sometimes I think some Christians in our generation have forgotten this truth. God is unapproachable. Before Moses had gone up Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments, this is what God had said to Moses.
Exodus 19 10 And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Make them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, “Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death.
18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
This is the God of the Bible – holy and unapproachable. And the New Testament has the same understanding of God
1 Timothy 6:15 … God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.
This God who is unapproachable and holiness and justice is also the God who brings judgment.
Exodus 34:7 … Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
God is too pure and holy to allow evil to continue to exist. His standard is perfection and that demands that disobedience and rebellion must be punished. That is not vindictiveness – it is simply justice. When we see violence or crime or injustice, we cry out for justice, so that the punishment will fit the crime. How much more does the almighty righteous God look for justice and righteousness. And the holy God is also
The Jealous God
At the end of our our reading we come to this.
Exodus 34 14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
God only wants the best for his chosen people. He is jealous, and will tolerate no rivals. This is made very clear in the second of the ten commandments
Exodus 20 4 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
If we think God doesn’t care and will just overlook when we compromise with sin, we are greatly mistaken. We should not worship or put our trust in anything else. God is not prepared to be given second place in our lives. God is the jealous God.
No wonder Moses responded to this revelation of God’s glory by
8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshipped. 9 ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘if I have found favour in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.’
Moses bowed down and worshipped. He was filled with the fear of the Lord – awe and respect for the God who revealed his glory in this way – the God who is both LOVE and JUSTICE. That led to confession, acknowledging the sinfulness of the Israelites – we are a stiff-necked stubborn people. And then a plea for mercy, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.’ We should worship God just as much as Moses did. A true encounter with God will always leave us humbled and aware of our own sinfulness and inadequacy and unworthiness and bring us to confession and repentance.
Moses was rightfully afraid that God might still reject the people who had made the golden calf and worshipped and put their trust in it.
GOD RENEWS HIS PROMISES
Exodus 34 10 Then the LORD said: ‘I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you. 11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
In this glorious encounter with Moses, God renewed his covenant promises to the Israelites. He guaranteed that they would be victorious as they would take possession of the Promised Land.
Just before he revealed his glory, God had also promised that his presence would remain with his chosen people.
Exodus 13 14 The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
15 Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’
17 And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’
So God revealing his character to Moses on Mount Sinai was confirmation of that promise that God’s presence would go with the Israelites. God always keeps his promises. As the missionary David Livingstone said, “Here is the promise of a gentleman who would never break His word” All God’s promises would rest on his unchanging character, I AM WHO I AM. Nothing in the whole universe is more reliable and trustworthy than the character of God!
Only God within himself knows the riches and depths of his timeless glory – the mystery of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But here God reveals his glory to Moses. The Lord, Yahweh, the eternal and unchanging I AM. The God who is Love, patience, faithfulness and mercy. The God who is in himself Justice and righteousness and holiness. The God who will always keep his promises.
Bow down and worship – for this is your God!