Last week we started our dive into Exodus 34:6-7. Moses is in the clef of a rock with the God of the universe covering his face so that God can pass before him. Only after God has gone by that it is safe for Moses to look. As God passes by Moses, he says the words we are studying:
“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (faithfulness); keeping mercy and lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; but He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting (avenging) the iniquity (sin, guilt) of the fathers upon the children and the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations [that is, calling the children to account for the sins of their fathers]”
God states ten attributes of who He is. We covered the first six last week. This week we are going to deal with what, for many, is a sticking point.
It comes in the last part: forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; but He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…
Michael Card in Inexpressible writes, “the first (word), avon, has to do with guilt. The second (word), pesha, has to do with breaking away or becoming a rebel… The final term, hata, is the most common word for sin…it connotes, “missing the mark.”
God’s statement covers every sin from our perversity or depravity, our willful (intentional) rebellion, and sins of thoughtlessness. God is forgiving of all of it. He cleanses it. He forgives. If we confess and repent, it is forgotten. But the impetus is on us to turn and repent.
It would be easy to stop there. We have a loving, gracious, forgiving God! And many people do. They portray God as passive, waiting for us like a dopey, gullible, genie who forgives anything and gives us what we want.
But God does not stop there!
He could have stopped at “and I forgive.” Moses just came back from rebuking the people for their idolatry. It would be amazing to believe that because they repented and God forgave, they could all move on. But there is more to it than that.
Two Sides of Justice
God is a God of justice. Part of that is forgiveness. The other part is accountability. God says He will not leave the guilty unpunished. Therefore our actions have consequences. Adam and Eve were still banned from Eden. Moses’ generation never got to see the Promised Land because of their rebellion. Israel was taken into captivity because they repeatedly chose to put other things in God’s place.
This is the part of God that is hard to take. It is the one that gets misrepresented when people want to talk about a vindictive, cruel God. But taken in light of the other nine descriptors, we see that it is just not true.
God forgives. But He also holds accountable. For me, this is a breath of fresh air. I know that as unjust as this world is, as often as the bad guys do get away with it, as often as innocent people suffer because of the greed, power, and abuse of others – God sees.
God saw the injustice against his people in captivity.
God saw the pain of those the Pharisees had written off as unworthy.
God sees every child that is abused and sold for the pleasure of others.
God sees those left behind as His church today focuses on all the wrong things.
And He promises that someday those who injure others will be held accountable. If you read the “rules” God gave to His people to further define their covenant, you will see that justice for those overlooked in society is a recurring theme. It is central to the heart of who God is.
Sins of Generations
One note, as we close out this section. God says He will: visiting (avenging) the iniquity (sin, guilt) of the fathers upon the children and the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations [that is, calling the children to account for the sins of their fathers]”
This does not mean generations will pay for their forefathers’ mistakes (see Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20). Rather, it means that sometimes we live in the consequences of what our forefathers have done. Case in point, the younger generations were forced to wander for forty years until the rebellious generation died off before they could enter the Promised Land. God did not hold their parents’ choices against them, but they had to live in the fallout.
Some commentators think these verses apply to generational sin. Exodus 20:5 is a repeat of this generational statement – but includes the words “of those who hate me.” If we do not clear up the generation pain and sin in our bloodlines, we will fall into the same traps our ancestors did.
It is hard to look at someone living under the dysfunction and pain of their parents’ choices. We can ask why God doesn’t intervene. But He does! God is the other nine things He told Moses. We are free to choose for ourselves a life of obedience and surrender. We do not have to carry on the pain of our family. We do not have to repeat their mistakes and carry on that lineage.
The Message says, “He does not ignore sin.” And He can’t. To truly be a God of justice He has to see what happens and respond. There are other parts of the Bible where it says we will be held accountable for how we choose to live this life, what we do, and what we leave undone. This is not a cause to live under cowering fear, but rather a realization that just as we expect God to take care of the “worse of these” we cannot expect to not have our actions and choices held up as well.
Next week we dive into The Beatitudes of Matthew 5. I am so excited to dive into these ten verses with you.
Be well friends.