The LORD said to Moses:

Chisel Out Two Stone Tablets

34: 1-9

    DIG: Why was it so important to have another set of stone tablets? In the days before computers and instant copiers, what was involved in replacing the first set? Moses wanted to know more about God. Do you think he was surprised at what he found? Why or why not?

    REFLECT: How has the LORD revealed His name to you? What character traits of His have come to mean the most to you? When you learn more about the character traits of God, how does it affect your relationship with Him? If the LORD has taken away your sins as far as the east is from the west, where have they gone?

    The concrete symbol of the covenant between God and Isra'el was to be replaced. Earlier, Moses had destroyed the original tablets (32:19) because of the golden calf incident. Afterwards, the LORD commanded that a similar set of stone tablets be made. ADONAI told Moses to chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones made by His hands (24:12, 31:18, 32:16). God wrote the same exact words that were on the first tablets. The first set of stone tablets were cut by ADONAI, but the second set Moses had to chisel out by himself. The fact that Moses had to chisel them may indicate God’s displeasure with him for having destroyed them to begin with (34:1).

    In any event, Moses was to be ready by morning and travel up on Mount Sinai for the third and last time to receive the Torah. He was to present himself alone on top of the mountain. As in 19:13, all others, including Joshua, were to keep their distance from the mountain. For the third time Moses ascended to the top of Mount Sinai, and ADONAI came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name (34:2-5).

    YHVH, YHVH Elohim: YHVH began his self-revelation to Moses by pronouncing His divine name twice, YHVH, YHVH, followed by the El, or the biblical name for Deity. This is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where this exact formula occurs. The translators of the Septuagint apparently thought the second YHVH was redundant, so they deleted it. Some have taken the double name as meaning, YHVH, He is YHVH. But however one interprets it, it seems clear that the double name emphasizes God’s name, and causes the reader to pause and reflect on its meaning and the description that follows. Because the Jewish tradition forbids the pronunciation of the Divine Name, many choose to use ADONAI in its place (see Ac – Introduction to Exodus).

    In the past, God had revealed Himself to Moses by His actions in relationship to His people. But now, as He passed in front of Moses (33:19), He revealed Himself through His character. ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, overflowing with kindness and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet, He does not acquit unrepentant sinners; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generations (34:6-7). Here we find the solution to the golden calf incident, and the fulfillment of what the LORD said He would do in 33:19-23. God said He would pass in front of Moses, reveal Himself in His grace, mercy and compassion.698

    Compassionate: The first thing God revealed about Himself is that He is El Hanun, the God of compassion. This describes a deep love rooted in some natural bond. This love is usually that of a superior being (God) for an inferior being (us). The psalmist declared: As a father has compassion on his children, so ADONAI has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13). It is a deep and tender feeling that is aroused by the sight of weakness or suffering in those who are dear to us or need our help.

    God, Your deep sorrow and sympathy for my suffering and troubles strengthen my resolve to press through. You bless me with perseverance and vigor so I can reach my goal.

    Another concept associated with God’s compassion is His sovereign decision. He says: I will show compassion on whom I will have compassion (33:19). His compassion is a sovereign decree to those whom He chooses. It is also linked to His faithfulness. For ADONAI your God is a compassionate God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which He confirmed to them by an oath (Deuteronomy 4:31). And because He is compassionate, He is also forgiving. The psalmist declared: Yet He, being compassionate, forgave their sins and did not destroy them (Psalm 78:38). Through the exercise of His compassion, the LORD spared the Hebrews who were deserving of judgment. Deuteronomy 31:1-3 tells us that repentance from sin will be met with God’s compassion and restoration to blessing. The prophets reveal that God’s compassion provides the basis for Israel’s future restoration (Isaiah 49:13; Jeremiah 12:15), national redemption (Micah 7:19), and far eschatological hope (Isaiah 14:1; Jeremiah 33:26; Zechariah 1:16). Anticipating the future blessings for His people Israel, ADONAI declared: For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back (Isaiah 54:7).

    The LORD is a compassionate Father. He loves His children and He will never abandon them. He will always be available in a believers’ times of need, seeking their good for His ultimate glory. Although infinitely holy, His compassion allows Him to deal gently with weak and failing people. He is full of tender sympathy for the sufferings and the miseries of human frailty. Because of His compassion, YHVH is always ready and willing to forgive sins and to restore fallen people to Himself.699

    Gracious: The second fact God wanted Moses to know about Himself is that He is gracious. This tells us the basis on which ADONAI gives His grace. It has nothing to do with mankind, but solely because of His kindness. All of the LORD's grace is a gift, freely given to a people entirely devoid of any worthiness.700 The kindness people extend to others may have some hope of reward. But with God, things are different. He has no ulterior motives. Because God is gracious, He will hear the cry of the poor (22:27). Since the LORD is gracious, He will not turn away from the repentant (Second Chronicles 30:9). Given that God is gracious, He will not abandon His people (Nehemiah 9:17 and 31). His grace is featured throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, emphasizing the basis for God’s kindness toward His people.

    Slow to anger: Thirdly, the Bible reveals that ADONAI has a legitimate basis for His anger, because the sin and disobedience of His people dishonors and displeases Him (32:10). But His anger, though fierce (Numbers 25:4, 32:14; Joshua 7:26; Jeremiah 25:37), is not sinful or evil. It is grounded in His holy character, which is offended by sin. God’s anger often results in His chastising (Psalms 6:1, 38:1) and punishing (Second Samuel 6:7; Jeremiah 44:6) His people. Yet while God may be rightfully angry over sin and disobedience, He is slow to anger. It is as if He takes a long, deep breath with sin, and holds His anger. Because of His character, He must punish sin, but He is in no hurry to punish. That doesn’t mean He isn’t serious about sin, rather, God’s patience gives the wicked time to repent. As Peter wrote: The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (Second Peter 3:9). Yet, there will be a day when the wicked must stand before God’s great white throne and be judged according to their deeds (Revelation 20:11-15). Meanwhile, God continues to demonstrate His patience and grace. Though His anger is being kindled by human sinfulness, it is being kindled very slowly.701

    Overflowing with kindness: Fourthly, the Hebrew word translated kindness has the basic meaning of unfailing love or loyalty. God’s kindness is demonstrated throughout the Scriptures. He is kind to all He has made (Psalm 145:9), even when His creatures are ungrateful and unworthy (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35). His kindness is intended to lead to repentance through Him, not rejection of Him (Romans 2:4). Therefore, it is the believer who can truly celebrate God’s kindness, even in areas not related to salvation. This can be seen in the deliverance from physical or mental distress, fear and trouble. Nonetheless, our salvation comes from the kindness of ADONAI (Ephesians 2:7-8). What is true of the LORD in general is also specifically true of Christ, who is gentle (Matthew 11:29-30). God’s favor is based upon His kindness and His unfailing love (Deuteronomy 7:8).702

    Abundant in faithfulness or truthfulness: Fifthly, the basic idea here is that of firmness, certainty and dependability. This word if frequently applied to God as a characteristic of His Divine nature. The chronicler used it in describing the true God (Second Chronicles 15:3). As a characteristic of God, it is the means by which people come to know and serve Him (First Kings 2:4; Psalm 119:42). Here, in 34:6, the Hebrew word emphasizes faithfulness or truthfulness. Both, of course, are equally true of God. They are two sides of the same coin, because He is reliable and faithful, His words can be trusted. When you think about it, there is no reliable truth, or valid truth, apart from God. All truth comes from God and is true because it is related to God. His Word is as sure as His character. Jesus Christ acknowledged this truth about ADONAI when He said: Your word is truth (John 17:17).703

    Maintaining love to thousands of generations: Sixth, God’s attributes are not just theoretical, they are very practical. They are not revealed to us merely to be discussed and admired. They reflect the very nature of ADONAI and how He showers His grace and mercy to those in need. The LORD continually maintains His love towards His children. The participle, translated maintaining, does not mean retaining. Rather, it means that God extends His love to those in need. The rabbis teach that the word thousands means thousands of generations. This fits the context, which mentions generations in 34:7. Whereas the results of sin extend only to the third and fourth generations, God’s covenant of love extends for thousands of generations (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; First Chronicles 16:15; Psalm 105:8).704 So ADONAI extends His faithful and truthful love to thousands of generations, not only the distant Israelites who were with Moses on Mount Sinai, but to the multiplied thousands who need His help and deliverance every day.

    Forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin: Seventh, another great truth God wanted Moses and His people to know about Himself was that He was willing to forgive. Although this passage isn’t the last of the LORD’s divine attributes in this section, it is probably the climax. The Hebrew word forgive means to lift up, carry or take away. The verb is used figuratively here and elsewhere of ADONAI’s taking away sin (Genesis 50:17; Numbers 14:19; First Samuel 15:25, 25:28; Psalm 31:1), so that the guilty receive pardon and forgiveness. The ugliness of sin can be forgiven and forgotten, because it is lifted up and carried away.705

    When we reciprocate His covenant of love, ADONAI responds by forgiving our wickedness, rebellion and sin, the three terms used in the TaNaKh to describe disobedience toward God.706 The first word, wickedness, refers to an action that involves crooked behavior, a turning away from the straight and narrow way. It is literally the bending or twisting of the LORD’s will and purpose. The second word, rebellion, can refer to a breach of relationships, civil or religious, between two parties (Genesis 31:36; Isaiah 58:1). The verb designates a revolt against rulers. In a religious sense, it refers to an open revolt against God’s authority and commands. The third word, sin, which is by far the most common term, means missing the mark, or missing the way that ADONAI has set for us. Therefore, missing His standards, or failing to fulfill His requirements constitutes an act of sin. Micah thought about God’s wonderful attribute of forgiveness when he said: Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the rebellion of His people? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy (Micah 7:18).

    Yet not acquitting unrepentant sinners: The eighth attribute is the other side of God’s forgiving grace. Although He delights in forgiveness, His grace cannot abolish His justice. Those who refuse to repent are responsible before a holy God. The Hebrew could be translated, He will most certainly not acquit the guilty. The word acquit means to be clean, pure or spotless. In the context of the courtroom it means to go unpunished. Proverbs 6:29 declares that the one who commits adultery with his neighbors wife will not go unpunished. In 34:7 it says that God does not leave the guilty unpunished. Because God is holy and just, as well as loving and forgiving, the unrepentant will face the most serious consequences of their sin and rebellion. He does not leave unrepentant sinners unpunished (Exodus 20:7; Job 9:28; Jeremiah 30:11).707

    Not erasing the consequences of sin: The ninth and last phrase in God’s self-revelation to Moses reflects on the consequences of sin. While it is in God’s nature to forgive the repentant (First John 1:9), it is not in His nature to remove the natural consequences of foolish and sinful behavior. Some people believe that when the Bible says: He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generations (34:7), that it means God punishes children for the sins of their parents or descendants. That would not be right. Yet that was exactly what people were saying in Ezekiel’s day, as expressed in their proverb: The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge (Ezekiel 18:2). They were saying that in allowing the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem, God was punishing the Israelites for the sins of their ancestors. God responded by saying: As surely as I live, declares the ADONAI Elohim, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel (Ezekiel 18:3). Then, settling the matter for all time, He announced: The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share in the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked man will be charged to him (Ezekiel 18:20).

    The fact that ADONAI will visit the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generations means the children can expect to experience the consequences of sinful behavior of their parents. While God is willing to forgive and pardon, He does not interrupt the natural consequences of sinful behavior. And children and grandchildren experience some of these consequences. When a parent goes to prison, the children suffer loss. Unfortunately, many children have suffered the tragic consequences of growing up in a family with an alcoholic or abusive parent. ADONAI does not interrupt the natural consequences of foolish and sinful actions. Children do reap what sinful parents sow. Yet the influence of evil is limited to a few generations, to the third and fourth generations, while the LORD extends His love for thousands of generations.708

    Earlier, Moses had prayed: Show me your glory (33:18). In response ADONAI revealed Himself to Moses in a most unique and memorable way. He passed in front of Moses and proclaimed His name by revealing His attributes. How did Moses respond? He saw himself with new insight. He could no longer stand in the LORD’s presence, so he bowed down to the ground at once and worshiped (34:8). The two verbs bowed and worshiped are often used together to convey a single idea – the reverence and humility before One who is far greater than the worshipper (Genesis 24:26 and 48). When Moses performed the three signs for the elders of Israel in Egypt, the Hebrews responded in the same way (4:30-31).709 Whenever we see righteous believers, or the four living creatures around the throne of God in heaven, they are continually falling down to worship before the Lamb.

    Then Moses said: ADONAI, if I have found favor 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 (34:9). At that time, Moses was fully satisfied that all three of his petitions would be granted (33:12-23), and when the Tabernacle was built God would dwell with the people of Isra'el.

    J. Wilbur Chapman, who wrote the song, Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners, told the story of a German mathematics professor who was converted under his ministry and became a member of his congregation. One morning during a men’s bible study, Chapman commented that ADONAI had taken away our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He turned to the mathematics teacher and asked him, “How far is the east from the west?” The man responded in tears, saying, “Men, you cannot measure it, for if you put a stake here and keep east ahead of you and west behind you, you could go around the world and come back to your stake, and the east would still be ahead of you and the west behind you.” The distance is immeasurable. And then he added, “Thank God, that is where my sins have gone.”710


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