The Bible enables us to encounter God like we would any other person. We start in Genesis, in the beginning, and we begin to see something of what God is like. He is the all-powerful Creator of all things. He is oriented toward the Sabbath. God’s work culminates with his resting.
At the same time, God also is oriented toward relationship. He desires a relationship with his Creation and, specifically, with his special creation – humanity, made in God’s image. These are things we learn about God as we read the Bible.
We also learn that God is a God of justice. The flood story tells us that. And God is a God restoration and divine choosing. The long story of Abraham’s family tells us that.
And then we get to the point where God’s people break their covenant with him. They agreed to worship no one but God, and then they constructed the golden calf. The God who desires relationship with us, as well as justice on earth, turns out also to be the God of mercy and grace.
It is here that we begin fully to see that God is not a harsh taskmaster, like Israel had in Egypt. God’s very “name” is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”
Certainly, we don’t lose sight of God’s justice in this “name.” But the new thing here is the broad mercy of God. Israel sinned against God in the most grievous of ways. They did not trust him. They abandoned his covenant. They were ungrateful and grumbly.
And yet, God forgave them, and the covenant was renewed.
We have a merciful and gracious God. And Christ is the foundation of this mercy and grace. In fact, Jesus’ death on the cross is the very picture of God’s mercy and grace. The mercy God showed the Israelites in the wilderness was carried out with the knowledge that the sins of the faithful later would be paid for – in fact, already were paid for – by Christ on the cross.
The apostle Peter, living 1,500 years after Moses, wrote this: “(Jesus) was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21).
God knew from before the creation of the world what the Son of God would do for us. And so the mercy he showed to Israel – totally unmerited, of course – sprang from the cross of Christ. Jesus paid the cost for the sins of the faithful.
This can be confusing stuff because we like to think in a linear and chronological way. I’m certain this is not the only way God thinks about things.
Suffice it to say for today that we have a merciful God. If the cross was powerful enough to apply even to those ancient Israelites who never had heard of the Son of God, then it is powerful enough to cover over your sins and apply God’s mercy to your life.