Seven Attributes of God (Exodus 34:6-7)

Though Moses sought to behold God’s glory, he could not gaze upon Him and live (Exod 33:18-20). God’s grace to Moses was providing a means of glimpsing His glory. God would hide Moses in the cleft of a rock and cover him with His hand, thus providing a veiled image of Himself (vv.22-23). As God passed by Moses (34:6-7), He proclaimed His character. His self-testimony provides us with a clear and concise explanation of His love and justice. Consider with me the seven attributes referenced.

I. Compassionate

This could also be translated, “merciful; favorable; pertaining to showing favor.” The idea is similar to that of grace, yet with variation in emphasis. This word “compassion” seems to emphasize the concept of having favor on someone. God concerns Himself with the well-being of people. He extends care and mercy to them. You might picture Jesus having compassion on a multitude of 5000 people who have nothing to eat (Matt 9:36). “Compassion” relates to the helplessness of an individual’s situation, in which God chooses to show favor on and aid.

II. Gracious

Though this could also translate “compassionate,” it must be differentiated. The emphasis is on forgiveness in the face of unsuitable behavior. It depicts God dealing with others in a manner which is not warranted or waged. This is the “grace that is greater than all our sin.” God looks upon a rebellious, guilty people and yet pardons their sin. He is in the business of redemption: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).

III. Patient

This could also be translated as “slow to anger; long-suffering before getting angry.” The righteous indignation of God has a reservation; it is not as a river, running swiftly whenever it is filled. It is more similar to a lake, being damned at the mouth of a valley. Rains fall and the waters rise, but God has complete control over when He will open the flood gates. Why do sinners live full lives? Why is there a “final judgment”? How can God’s wrath for sin be abated for a time? Because God is patient.

IV. Loyal in Love

The NASB says “lovingkindness,” which can also be translated as “loyal love; unfailing kindness.” It is a love or affection that is consistent, steadfast, enduring – being built upon a prior relationship. The particular relationship relevant to Exodus 34 is the Mosaic Covenant. God can be counted on to remain faithful in whatever relationship He enters into. He is perfectly dedicated. As time passes and contexts change, His covenant love remains. It is defined by loyalty.

V. True

“Truth” also translates “faithfulness; reliability.” The truth of God is this: whatever He claims is correct, reliable and trustworthy. He does not lie, deceive or bear false witness. This includes willful and accidental misinformation. What He says can be depended on to be infallible. His Word is for us a sure foundation to be built upon with faith. The best of science is only theory; human reasoning is brimmed with fallacy. Yet the Word of God is true in the most coherent, consistent and impenetrable way.

VI. Forgiving

God is “The Forgiving One.” He forgives “iniquity, transgression, and sin” (v.7). This simply means that God forgives all types and kinds of sin. We note here that God truly does accomplish forgiveness. It is not a temporary or partial. God’s forgiving nature is manifested in actual forgiveness being given to individuals. His forgiveness is not reluctant. The Hebrew literally says that God will “pick up; lift up” our sins. He will “bear them up.” Ancient gods would demand that propitiation come from the people themselves. Yet God “Himself bore our sins” (1 Pet 2:24), having become a curse for us (Gal 3:13) in imputation (1 Cor 5:21). God presented Himself, under His own initiative, as the propitiatory sacrifice for His people’s sin (Rom 3:25).

VII. Righteous

The righteousness of God is described in the negative: “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Exod 34:7). “Unpunished” means “be pardoned; not receive a just punishment.” Conversely, God will punish and deal rightly with all guilty people. First, God makes sure that the guilty get what they deserve. The severity of God’s demand for justice was exemplified on the cross, where “the Lord was pleased to crush [Jesus]” (Isa 53:10). Second, God will seek vengeance for sin, no matter how persisted a group of people is at sinning, or no matter how widely accepted a certain sin may be. In all His dealings – the ends of His purposes and the means by which they are accomplished – God is righteous.

Just and Loving?

If God is a just God, how can He be a loving God? If God forgives the guilty, then how can He claim that no guilty man will be left unpunished? This is a contradiction at the most fundamental level and should provoke serious thought. How is it possible for God to be loving and just at the same time?

Exodus 34:6-7 points forward to Christ. His work on the cross allowed God to forgive sin and yet still be just. God punished Jesus for the guiltiness of His people. When God did that, He satisfied His justice. Christ is the rock in which we are hidden, as Moses was hidden in the cleft. Through His mediatory work we enjoy a true relation with God. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom 11:33)