The readings from Exodus these past few days have inspired in me a new respect for Moses. Of course I have always been a fan of the great things he did. After all, he did part the Red Sea! What he does in the long years of wandering, though, is in some ways even more impressive. He stands in the breach, offering to bear God’s wrath when the people worship a golden calf. God declines Moses’ self-sacrifice.
Perhaps what really strikes me about Moses here is not something he is or does, but that he seems to bring out the best in God.
[Moses] called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin; yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.’ And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’
God reveals the divine nature as kind and compassionate. Even though sin may not go ‘unchecked’, we know (and Moses seems to know, too) that the only fault that persists is the fault not surrendered to God, the sin not confessed. God forgives. And Moses pleads with God to forgive God’s people again and again, and God does: God remains with the people, leads the people, brings the people safely to the promised land.
God doesn’t leave. However persistent the faults we bear, God stands ready to forgive and to heal. The psalm response reminds us: the Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. If only we could hold onto that firmly in dealing with ourselves and others…well, I have no idea what might happen. But I would dearly love to find out.
The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.