What God Is Like!
Exodus 34: 6-7: " And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed,
the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious,
and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty."
This text is one of the most remarkable verses in the entire Bible.
It is remarkable because, way back near the dawn of our religious history,
it gives us the essence of what God is like.
As time went on, and as the face of God was unveiled in the person of His Son,
the meaning of these words stood out in bolder relief.
But even the only begotten Son, from the bosom of the Father, had nothing more final
to say than it is said in the words of our text.
Notice the dramatic circumstances in which they were spoken.
We remember how God placed on Moses the responsibility of leading His people out
of their Egyptian slavery.
When God called Moses, and told him what He had in mind, Moses asked for a name
that would describe His character.
God answered, " I will be that I will be" meaning that He could not put
the whole of His character into words, but that He would be proved to be all that His people
needed Him to be, as more and more of their needs were met in Him.
On the basis of that promise, Moses took the job, and started out.
You remember that at Sinai, the people fell into idolatry and bowed down in worship
before the golden calf set up by Aaron.
This makes God angry, and He says to Moses, " Let me alone that my wrath
may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them."
Then, Moses reveals God's true character in an episode which stands out as one
of the brightest on any page of history.
" Oh, this people have sinned a great sin," he says to God,
yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin ...; and if not, blot me, I pray thee out of thy book."
Moses is not only asking that God pardon their sin, he is pledging that, if someone must be
punished, and if God will let the people live, then lay the penalty for their sin on him.
Human leadership can never rise higher than that.
Then, Moses goes on with another question.
He was willing to start on the basis of the blanket promise made at the burning bush.
But this golden calf situation -- his people's sin, and God's anger, and the need of forgiveness
calls for something more definite in his knowledge of God.
He wants to know more of what God is like if he is to lead people who is worshipping a golden calf
behind his back.
So, he repeats the question he asked at the beginning.
Only this time, instead of saying, " Tell me thy name," he says,
" Show me now thy way, that I may know thee."
God says, " All right, how about tomorrow morning?
Come up the mountain by yourself, and I'll put you in a crevice in the rock and pass by
so you can see me.
I'll cover your face with my hand until I have passed by.
Then, I'll take away my hand, and you can see my back -- only a part of me because no man
can know all there is to know of God."
I don't believe Moses slept any that night.
Could you sleep if you knew that you have a date with God tomorrow morning,
and if, God had promised to tell you something that He had never told anybody,
and something everybody would want to know, and the answer to that question
that means most to everybody?
I know that if I had an appointment like that, I would not be able to wait for the time to come
to keep that appointment, and neither could Moses.
The Bible says that he rose up early in the morning and went up the mountain.
His mind was full of the question that had kept him awake all night.
What is God like?
Is He like a policeman waiting to arrest my people?
Or, is He like a judge just waiting to levy a terrible sentence?
Or, is He just a moral weakling who will only wink at wrong-doing?
What is He like?
Then, the time comes!
Moses sees a cloud, and whenever a cloud is seen in the Old Testament, it was an indication
that God is close by.
While Moses is standing in the crevice of the rock, the Lord passes by before him,
and proclaims: " The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering,
and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity
and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity
of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, until the third
and to the fourth generation."
That is the answer to the question of the ages.
And the Bible says that when Moses heard it, he " bowed his head toward the heaven,
When you and I realize the full meaning of the words to Moses, we will want to do the same.
In William N. Clarke's, An Outline Of Christian Theology, he states that God is
in essence Holy Love.
He states that there are many things true about God -- that He is good and kind and just
and pure and faithful, but that all of these qualities are a part either of His holiness or of His love.
Today, the most we know about God is that He is Holy Love, yet that was exactly what God
told Moses 3500 years ago.
There were many facts about God that these people did not take in.
They did not take in the full meaning of either His holiness or His love, and, it took an Isaiah
and his fellow prophets to make them see that God is the only God there is.
And that He controls the entire universe.
Yet, here we are more than 3500 years after God spoke to Moses, and we do not know
any more about the total character of God.
As more of God's truth dawns upon us, we will continue to bow our heads and worship Him.
We stand in reverent awe before this glimpse of the Eternal God Himself.
Let us take a look at the word, " holy," and see what it means for us.
The holiness of God is His inward character of perfect goodness.
If God is perfect goodness, and if, His purpose is to produce that goodness in you and me,
then God will be against all that is bad and evil.
There is an old story about President Coolidge which tells about his coming home from church
one Sunday, and being asked by his wife what the preacher preached about.
He said, " sin."
She asked, " Well, what did he say about it?"
He answered, " He was against it."
And so is God because He is completely holy and completely against all sin.
The Bible talks of " our Father" and in the same breath speaks
of the " wrath of God."
That does not mean that God loses His temper.
It simply describes the reaction of His holiness toward sin.
God is against sin because of who and what He is.
The Bible speaks about God as being a " consuming fire."
That does not mean that He is a God taht acts on a whi.
That is to say that He is a Father one moment and the next that He is a consuming fire.
It means that because He is a Father of perfect goodness, He cannot tolerate badness.
Just as you as a father could not put up with someone's improper advances toward your daughter.
With that fact in mind we are ready to consider the meaning of one thing He said to Moses.
He said: " The Lord, the Lord God,
that will by no means clear the guilty;
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children,
unto the third and to the fourth generation."
He is saying that because He is holiness itself, He can never put up with anything
that is unholy -- that He not only cannot put up with it; He will not put up with it.
That means that we cannot break a law of God to save our lives.
We are fools to try it because that law will break us.
For example, if we eat like gluttons, we can say that we are breaking the laws of health.
But during those long days in the hospital we wake up to see that it is not the laws
which are broken -- it is us.
One day a senator stood with his back against the wall of the rotunda in the Capitol,
and something fell and struck him on the head.
A friend saw what had happened and rushed up to ask what he could do to help.
The senator quickly replied, "Go Into The Senate chamber and have the law of gravitation repealed."
This was similar to a boy who went to confession, and the priest asked if he had learned
the 10 commandments.
" Father, it's this way," he replied. " I was going to learn them,
but I heard tell that they were going to do away with them."
We could just as easily repeal the law of gravitation as we could do away with the 10 commandments.
Both of them are laws that God put in place, and the working of one is just as true
as the working of the other.
So, a person is just a plain fool who tries to beat the law of God.
" The Lord, the Lord God,
that will by no means clear the guilty."
As we take this glimpse of God we must see alongside the holiness of God the love of God.
" The Lord, the Lord God, merciful, gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness
and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."
A woman took a friend with her when she went to a photographer to have her picture made.
The beauty parlor had done its best for her.
She took her seat in the studio, and began to pose while the photographer was adjusting his lights.
Just before he pressed the shutter she said to him, " Now be sure to do me justice."
The friend said, with a twinkle in her eye, " My dear, what you need is not justice but mercy."
Sometimes, we feel imposed on by the universe and say to ourselves,
" There is no justice in the world."
We think that if only we could receive our just desserts, we would ask for nothing more.
Well, the holiness of God guarantees justice.
As in the book of Hebrews we read, " God is not unfair; he will not forget what you have done." (Moffat)
But suppose there was justice in God and nothing more.
Suppose, we get what we deserve and only what we deserve.
What would be our score with God on that basis?
An English author named J. H. Shorthouse was a young man who had trouble believing Christian truth.
This was because he did not feel any need of forgiveness.
Because of this trouble he went to see the Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King.
The Bishop did not argue with him, but did suggest that he should do a rather strange thing.
He gave him two sheets of paper, one plain white and the other with a black edge all around it.
The Bishop told the young man to take that to sheets home, and write down on the white sheet
everything he had ever done that was absolutely good with no touch of self or evil.
Then, he told the young man to write on the black-edged sheet everything in his life
that had been bad, sinful and wicked.
Shorthouse went away and in a few days came back.
He said to the Bishop: " That black-edged sheet is filled on both sides.
It was filled in 5 minutes, and I could have filled a dozen more like it.
On the white sheet I wrote down just one thing.
The only good thing I have ever had in my life -- my love for my mother.
But on second thought I rubbed even that out because I often marred that love by my selfishness."
"What did you do then?" The Bishop asked.
He answered, " Then I got down on my knees and said, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner."
What we need is not justice, but mercy.
And the text tells us that what we need we have.
" The Lord, the Lord God, merrciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth."
The guilty will suffer the consequences because when your child puts his finger into the fire
it will be burned.
No matter how much you love him you cannot prevent the burn.
But you can forgive him.
You can tell him that, even though he disobeyed you by playing with fire,
now that he is sorry for his disobedience, you will forgive him, and not hold it against him any more.
This is so with God, while God is just to visit our iniquity on us, He is still merrciful
and gracious and forgiving.
There are some people who stay away from church because they are ashamed to go
where they think God will see them.
There are some people who do not pray because they fear that they will call attention
of a holy God to their guilty hearts.
If you have felt like this, then you can be encouraged to draw near to the God,
who is " The Lord, the Lord God, merrciful and gracious
abundant in goodness,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."
Come near and behold His portrait in the only begotten Son who said, " Him that cometh to me
I will in no wise cast out."
Will you come to this Jesus, now?