Monday, February 3, 2014

The Character of God

There are many Old Testament stories that I never learned in Bible Class. I'm not sure why.  Maybe cause they're R rated (Amnon and Tamar for instance), or perhaps they just seemed like details. It wasn't until I was in college that I began to see how crucial some of those stories are and how they might inform my own spiritual growth. 

Buddo Rock, west face - - 165432
For example, Moses being hidden in the rock. The 10 plagues, the exodus, manna, all those are really clear but I only vaguely remember learning about Moses being covered with God's hand.

If you're memory's failing too, let me fill you in. Because of the incident with the golden calf, God has decided it would be safer if he doesn't actually travel with the Israelites. Moses comes to God and boldly asks him for three things: that the people not travel without the presence of the Lord going with them, that God show him his way, and that God identify this people as His people.  When God agrees, Moses bravely asks for one thing more.  He says, "I pray you, show me Your glory."  The Lord decides to hide Moses in the cleft of a rock, cover him with his hand and pass before him "declaring" his name (Exodus 33-34).

God came down to earth in some kind of physical manifestation so amazing that Moses, who met with him in the temple and on the mountain, was not allowed to look at it.  His purpose was to tell Moses and us who he really is. Here's what he said:

The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.

Some of the most important words in the Old Testament are here where God describes himself. The writers of the Old Testament knew it, echoing the words as they praised the Lord, invoked the promises of God and even when they complained to him. (Psalms 103, 145, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2).

There is no need to wonder about God.  He told us.  In his own words.  He declared his name, explained his reputation, and let us in on the secret of his identity.  He began with his proper name, transliterated into English as YHWH.  It was this name that he told to Moses to bring to Israel that they might know their God (Exodus 3:12-18). 

Then he lists his basic characteristics.  Compassionate. Gracious.  Slow to anger.  Each of these is illustrated in the life of Jesus.    Compassion is undeniable in a Savior who cried with the mourners at a friend's grave.  Grace is the essence of a God who shows his favor to the tax collector up a tree looking for him.  Slow to anger is the story of Jesus refusing to fight back even with his words against those who were dragging him not only through the mud but up a hill to his death.  Abounding in lovingkindness is translated from a single hebrew word: "hesed." It means covenant faithfulness.  In other words did Jesus do in all mercy what he said he would do?  He sweat blood in the garden and went to the cross anyway.  That's "hesed."  Does he forgive?  Does he leave the guilty unpunished?  Jesus showed himself the epitome of every characteristic of God.

The real question is do we? We were made from the beginning in the image of God and when we are reborn of water and the Spirit, God transforms us again into the image of his son (John 3; Romans 12: 1-2) Let's take a look back at who God is.  Let's remind ourselves of some Old Testament wonders that might have slipped through the cracks in our minds.  And let's keep the question in mind.  Are we reflecting the image of our Father? (2 Corinthians 3:18)


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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