“What does God think when he looks at you?” This was a question I read in a book. I began to make a mental list of the things that plague me, the ones God’s sure to see and say, “That’s gotta go.”
But then I read what the author said next: what God’s consumed with is how much he loves us, so much so that it’s entrenched in his name.
A lot has happened since my last post. God’s people, the Israelites, have finally made it to Mount Sinai from Egypt after fighting a battle against some enemies on the way (for that story, see https://iwantmore.blog/2021/02/03/february-3-the-banner/). Once they’re settled, Moses meets with God on the mountain where he receives two tablets of the covenant including the famous Ten Commandments, inscribed by God’s finger, Ex 31:18.
Moses is gone for so long–40 days and nights–that the people begin to wonder if he’ll return. He’s their link to the Almighty, and he seems to have disappeared. They tell Aaron, who’s in charge, to make something to lead them, meaning a god they can believe in. Maybe they think they’ve lost their connection to God right along with Moses, Ex 32:1.
So Aaron makes a calf of gold from everyone’s collected earrings, and he puts an altar to God in front of it. Maybe he thought he could combine idol worship with God’s? But mixing idolatry with God’s worship turns out to be a hot mess. They offer sacrifices and offerings early in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day eating and drinking and indulging “in revelry,” Ex 32:2-6.
When Moses finally returns, he finds the people engaging in all sorts of wickedness, which he dubs as “running wild,” and he throws the two stone tablets down in disgust. They’ve clearly broken the covenant they’ve made with God to be his people and to obey him, so breaking the tablets of the covenant kind of makes sense, Ex 32:19-25. (Commentators say their “running wild” was a veiled way to refer to their immoral use of sex in worship, http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/exodus-32/).
They’re disciplined by the tribe of Levi, who steps up at Moses’ request and kills 3,000 of them. A plague breaks out to punish the rest. God says he’ll send them on to the land he’s promised them with his angel, but he’s not going with them because they’re just too rebellious. Distraught at this news, they seem to repent, Ex 32:26-33:6.
So God tells Moses to chisel out two more tablets and to meet him again on the mountain. Early in the morning, Moses goes up and God comes down in a cloud and “stood with him there.” God plans to reinstate his covenant with Moses, but before they talk about terms of the promise, there’s something more important to do first–Moses and God enjoy each other’s presence, Ex 34:1-5.
God passes before Moses as he proclaims his name. He says,
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation,” Ex 34:6-7.
And Moses bows down “at once” and worships, Ex 34:8. Moses enjoys the glory and goodness of God’s loving presence, and God enjoys Moses’ spontaneous worship. Communing with God like this is the greatest joy on earth, because it’s also the greatest joy of heaven. It’s getting all the feels from God’s very real and abundant love and offering back our own in joy and praise to him. I love this little peek we get when they first meet.
Then it’s time for making requests. Moses asks God to change his mind about not going with them, and he asks because of Moses’ favor with him, “…if I have found favor in your eyes…then let the Lord go with us.” Even though the people are stiff-necked, just as God has said, Moses asks him to “forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance,” 34:9.
Moses hasn’t engaged in the idolatry the people have done, but he includes himself with them when he uses first person pronouns, “us” and “our.” He asks that his favor with God be stretched to cover the people he’s a part of so that they’re forgiven. It would take great humility for Moses to take on the sins of his people and not remind God that he didn’t participate in them himself.
And God honors his request. He says he will make a covenant with Moses, and “before all your people,” will do wonders never done for any other nation. The people will see “how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.” God says his part is to be their God and to care for them. Their part is to obey what he commands, Ex 34:10-11.
God repeats some of the identical terms from the covenant he made before, Ex 23:14-19, (also all of chapters 19-24). He summarizes briefly what would later be written up more thoroughly in the formally written book of Leviticus (Le 23:4-44). It’s interesting that God doesn’t go off on how he’s already done this once, for goodness sake. He doesn’t ask, “How many times am I going to have to put up with this?” because he already knows it will be quite a lot. God doesn’t shame; he simply repeats himself.
This covenant, called the “old covenant” by Bible scholars because it was made in the days of the Old Testament, was eventually replaced by the “new covenant” when Jesus came, but understanding its terms is still a good way to understand God, since he’s the same and never changes. But the thing that keeps calling my name in this passage isn’t the terms of the covenant, but that little interchange between God and Moses at the beginning.
When God passes before Moses, he tells him his name which is “the LORD, the LORD,” a translation of God’s Hebrew name, Yahweh. And then he goes on to explain what Yahweh means, “compassionate and gracious,” “slow to anger,” “abounding in love and faithfulness,” “maintaining love to thousands,” “forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin,” and “punishing the guilty and their children,” Ex 34:6-7.
God could have started off describing himself with words like “sovereign” or “holy” or “majestic,” or “judge,” words we tend to think of when we think of God. But when God describes himself, what he most wants to be known for is his great love.
How do we know? Because he uses the name Yahweh in chapter 34. He could have used one of his other names, like Elohim or El Shaddai or Adonai when he talks to Moses, all of which convey the idea of majesty, power, and might, (http://bible.org/article/names-god/).
But he doesn’t.
He uses Yahweh, a verb which means “to exist, to be,” (bible.org). Along with self-existence, the meaning of Yahweh can also be understood by how it’s used in Scripture. God himself gives a fuller meaning elsewhere in Exodus. He says included in its meaning is his desire to free his people and save them, and to have an intimate relationship with them:
“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name the LORD (Yahweh) I did not make myself fully known to them…Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you…I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God,” Ex 6:3-8.
And on Mount Sinai with Moses, he says even more plainly that Yahweh means “love,” which also means that “he exists in love” since his existence is what’s involved in Yahweh, “who exists, who is.” Even more direct is this, “I am love.” John would say it straight up, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them,” 1 Jn 4:7-9, 16.
If God is love, then love is what all of his actions flow out of. He cannot do anything unloving, just like he can’t be a liar or a cheat. Love is always his motivation. He cares about how we feel, about our issues, about our troubles. He sees how hard life is. He doesn’t look on us with exasperation when we fall asleep reading his word or forget to pray or lose it with our spouses; he looks on us with understanding love and compassion. When we mess up, he’s not out to get us. He’s slow to anger. He’s patient. He forgives.
Jesus is both God and man. He shows us what the Father is like, and he tells the Father what it’s like to be human. He’s been here on earth, and he knows exactly what we face. He feels with us, he cries with us, and so does God the Father. When “Jesus wept” at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, we learn he loves us at least as much, Jn 11:35, Jn 14:9.
Jesus even weeps with grief over his enemies. When the leaders of the Jews reject him, he weeps over their unbelief, saying he longs to gather them like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but “you were not willing,” Mt 23:13, 37-39; Lk 19:41.
Jesus’ compassion runs deep enough to include those who hate him. We see it elsewhere when he’s on the cross and speaks to God about those who crucify him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Lk 23:34. We can let ourselves believe he cares for us at least as much, even when we’re at our worst.
God goes on to tell Moses on Mt Sinai that he punishes sin, so this is also part of what Yahweh means. But it’s not the first thing God says to Moses. First, he tells about his compassion and grace. He crafts his case for love like a master chef, serving up one delicious piece after the other, each adding its own layer of flavor, the way the courses of a sumptuous meal leave us completely convinced that this was the best meal of our lives. God’s rich love satisfies.
But what about punishing sin? How is that a part of this meal? God’s love includes his holiness, which means he must deal with our sin. It’s why Jesus had to die, to pay what it cost to connect us to him. He can’t pretend sin doesn’t matter. It’s for love that he points it out because it hurts us, and it leads us away from him. If unrepented of, it keeps us eternally separated from him and all the good things he has for us. God can’t truly be loving and not punish sin.
What does God think when he looks at us?
If what he tells Moses is true, what he thinks isn’t what I’ve secretly feared, “She’s a slow learner, and she still needs a lot of work.” No. When God looks at me, he says, “I love that girl!” And he says the same when he looks at you, “There’s the apple of my eye!” “He’s my favorite guy!”
It’s the enemy who wants us to believe he’s disappointed in us, or ticked-off, or sick and tired of our weakness, as if we can ever need more love than he has to give or out-sin his ability to forgive. God’s love is stored up in warehouses and in the depths of the sea, stacked up in streets, spilling in tears down his very own cheeks. “God is for us. Who can be against us?” If he’s provided for us eternally, surely we can trust him for today’s bills and burdens, Ro 8:31-32. And surely we can trust what he says right here in Exodus.
God’s love is always turned on like a busted water main, pouring out a powerful, splashing, everlasting supply. Even when he disciplines us, his love never turns off. Love is what prompts his correction, just like any good parent’s does, who wants what’s best for his kids.
I’m stunned when I think that God loves me at least as much as I love my children and grandchildren. I can’t love them more than God loves me, can I? That would make me better at loving than God is, and that can’t be right. I have trouble believing that God loves me this much, but when I think of my kids, my heart melts.
This much love, God?
The book mentioned is Surrender to Love by David Benner.
Pilate washes his hands of being responsible for Jesus’ blood and says it’s on the Jews instead. And “All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and our children!'” v 24-25.
It’s a cryptic sort of irony, one completely lost on them, because on the one hand, they say these words meaning, “we’ll gladly be responsible for his death. He deserves to die!” But on the other, the truth is that unless “his blood be on us and our children,” they will eternally die, because that’s the penalty for rejecting and crucifying him.
But because of who God is–the Yahweh he proclaims himself to be–he’s long suffering and loving enough to forgive even this.
What kind of God is he who forgives our evil and ignorance, our proud shouts of “we don’t need a thing, least of all him!,” and then turns us unto beloved sons and daughters who worship him?
Only God could do such an astonishing thing.
God looks down from heaven and sees mankind. He watches everyone who lives on earth and considers everything they do. Nobody is saved by their strength or by the strength of another. Even having a back up plan is a “vain hope for deliverance,” v 13-17.
But God sees those who fear him, who trust in his “unfailing love.” They wait for him in hope, trusting him to be their help and protector. Their trust turns up their joy, so I’m guessing it turns anxiety down.
“We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
even as we have put our hope in you,”
I keep trying to self-improve, to others-improve, to save myself and those I love by my own strength. I’m impatient with the slow way of God and want him to hurry up. I’ve come late to real faith, and I feel like I’m behind—“Get a move on, God…Here, just let me do it.”
But there have been reminders in Exodus and in Psalms this last week to rest and trust, to wait and hope, not to strive, (Ex 13:13; Ps 27:14).
And I see that if God is my hope, then it’s on him to grow me. He is my help and shield–I can’t be. His unfailing love is the only thing that softens meanness, opens eyes to pride, tempers impatience, trades safety for lies. I have no power over these.
He must think that growth needs to come s l o w l y, because it surely does.
Forgive me, God, for thinking I know better than you. I want to trust like Moses, who experienced your love and simply enjoyed it.
My take away today
is God’s love
that inhabits his name,
that’s chiseled in stone,
that pours out of heaven on his people below,
that made Moses radiant,
that gave Jesus grace
to forgive those who killed him,
and asked his Father the same.