Merciful and Gracious

This article is part of the Gentle and Lowly: A 14-Day Devotional series.

Day 12

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.—Exodus 34:6–7

Who is God?

If we could pick only one passage from the Old Testament to answer that question, it would be hard to improve upon Exodus 34. God is revealing himself to Moses, causing his glory to pass by Moses, whom God has put in a cleft in the rock.

Gentle and Lowly

Gentle and Lowly

Dane C. Ortlund

How does Jesus feel about his people amid all their sins and failures? This book takes readers into the depths of Christ’s very heart—a heart of tender love drawn to sinners and sufferers.

Exodus 34:6–7 is not a one-off descriptor, a peripheral passing comment. In this text we climb into the very center of who God is.

“Merciful and gracious.” These are the first words out of God’s own mouth after proclaiming his name (“the Lord,” or “I am”). The first words. The only two words Jesus will use to describe his own heart are gentle and lowly. And the first two words God uses to describe who he is are merciful and gracious.

God does not reveal his glory as, “The Lord, the Lord, exacting and precise,” or, “The Lord, the Lord, tolerant and overlooking,” or, “The Lord, the Lord, disappointed and frustrated.” His highest priority and deepest delight and first reaction—his heart—is merciful and gracious. He gently accommodates himself to our terms rather than overwhelming us with his.

The asymmetry of Exodus 34:6–7 startles us. Mercy and love loom large; retributive justice is acknowledged but almost as a necessary afterthought. The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is.

This is hard work. It takes a lot of sermons and a lot of suffering to believe that God’s deepest heart is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger.”

Jesus testified that this was his heart throughout his life and then proved it when he went to a Roman cross

The fall in Genesis 3 not only sent us into condemnation and exile. The fall also entrenched in our minds dark thoughts of God, thoughts that are only dug out over multiple exposures to the gospel over many years.

Perhaps Satan’s greatest victory in your life today is not the sin in which you regularly indulge but the dark thoughts of God’s heart that cause you to go there in the first place and keep you cool toward him in the wake of it.

We are being told of God’s deepest heart in Exodus 34. But we are shown that heart in the Galilean carpenter. Jesus testified that this was his heart throughout his life and then proved it when he went to a Roman cross, descending into the hell of God-forsakenness in our place.

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