The Creator and His Creation: For Which Do We Give Thanks?

Tomorrow, most of the country (USA) will sit down to enjoy turkey, dressing, and a bevy of other tasty plates.  While consumerism, multiple helpings, and televised football encroach on the meaning of the day, for intentional Christians, Thanksgiving really can be a wonderful time of year to contemplate God’s goodness, his faithfulness, and his provision.  Yet, even here, there is the temptation to dwell more on the creation given, than the Creator himself.

Here is what I mean.  For so many of us, thanksgiving can devolve into holy shout-outs for traveling mercies, physical protection, or some kind of vocational or relational blessing this year.  Don’t get me wrong, these things are all worthy of giving thanks!  However, what makes those praises any different than a conservative Mormon family, or the Islamic single who gives praise to Allah for passing grad school, or the sober agnostic who gives indescriminate thanks for three clean years?

I think at Thanksgiving it is possible to focus so much on God’s creational blessings, things we gladly share with the world, that we forget the greater blessings of knowing God.  Or to say it another way, we muffle praise for the Creator by filling our mouths and our plates with praise for the creation.  This is where the Bible comes to lovingly lifts our eyes to behold a greater vision of God, one that will give us reasons for thanksgiving that outstrip anything we might share with the Mormon or Muslim.

Exodus 33:18: A Glimpse of Glory

When Moses prayed to see God’s glory in Exodus 33:18, God responded that he would show him his goodness and his name.  Yesterday, we considered the goodness of God.  Today, we will meditate on the latter, the name of God, to see how the name of God has the potential to elicit more genuine praise and thanksgiving than turkey, dressing, and a new career ever could.

Parachuting into the text, lets notice the name of God as revealed to Moses.  Moses records in Exodus 34:5-9,

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 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.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Now lets unpack this glorious word with consideration to four aspects of God’s name.

God’s Name is Gracious

While he is unswerving in his demands, he is gracious in his approach to Israel.  This is true in the fact that Israel is still alive, but also in answering Moses’ prayer and descending on the mountaintop to proclaim his name.  And his name, not coincidentally, is the definition of grace.  In fact, expounding on the name he revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, YHWH says in Exodus 34, when he passed by,  “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”   The reiteration of his proper name, stresses the continuity of his personhood and the weight of glory, but more descriptive in this apposition is the fact that the four-fold description beams of grace and love.  While God could have rightfully pronounced his name as judicial and holy, deliberate in condemnation and abounding in wrath; YHWH stresses his mercy and love.

God’s Name is Wise

This method of redeeming grace is wiser than any human religion. God’s wisdom is seen in his patience.  His name describes him as one who is “slow to anger,” which means that he is not out of control or overtaken by passion.  Yet, at the right moment, he is capable of great wrath. Wisdom knows when to be gracious, when to be just.

It has been noted by R.C. Sproul and others that God is not infinite in patience.  He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, but he is not infinite in his forebearance.  Yet, unlike short-sighted humanity, he is not confused by when to move from grace to judgment.  Moreover, as Romans 2:4 will say later, his seasons and instances of kindness and slowness to anger are motivations to repent and believe.  In this way, God manifests his inimitable wisdom. 

God’s Name is Loving and Just  

This wisdom is balanced in verse 7. He is a God of love—covenantal love.  The emphasis of this passage is on that reality.  Like a perfect husband, he is loyal to his bride.  Like a father, he loves his own—not based on condition or performance of his people; rather, his love overflows from his own delight in rescuing a people for his own possession.  Thus the love he has for us is depends solely on his choice to love us, not in our choice to love him.

At the same time, he is a God of perfect justice.  In the same place where he describes his overwhelming love, he says, “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 fourth generation.” Unlike fickle judges and hung juries, God will perfectly execute judgment on the guilty and comfort for the afflicted (cf. 2 Thess 1:6-10). 

God’s Name is Glorious 

In all these ways, YHWH proves himself to be the infinitely glorious God.  He is worthy of eternal worship because of these manifold perfections.  In Exodus 34:8-9, Moses models a heart that is overwhelmed with this glory.  While he has not “seen” the glory of God’s face, he has heard his name and has been overwhelmed.  Even as he sought to look at the glory of God, verse 8 records, that he stopped looking at God’s glory to worship with head down. Moses lowers his head and repents for his own request.  In God’s presence he is overwhelmed by God’s glory.

Such a feeling should accompany the Christian’s experience.  It is not constant and it is not often, but it is real and unmistakable.  In my own life, I can think of no less than two times when I was struck by such a sense of God’s glory and it is a pride-crushing, self-forgetting experience of his manifold beauty and grace for allowing you to even know Him.  Such an experience confirms existentially what we know expositionally.  God is glorious, and thus the only appropriate way to respond is life-long, indeed eternal, worship!

Give Thanks to the Creator, not Just For His Creation

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, may we not only thank God for the good things he has given us in creation, though by all means we should do that.  Do not merely offer great praise for the benefits of the gospel that secures our redemption,  though you should meditate long on those priceless realities.  But above all, and perhaps in contradistinction from every other Thanksgiving, offer thanksgiving to God for who he is and how he has made himself known to you!  Such praise is based on the greatest motivation to praise–God’s glory.  Moreover, it offers you reason to give thanks even when life has been hard this year and every fiber of your being feels like pouting or screaming.  When we behold the eternally glorious God, whose works are breath-taking and whose name is beautiful, we have endless reasons to give thanks–in empty times and full times.  This is the blessedness of contentment, but even more it is a kind of thanksgiving that can only be offered by a born-again believer.  May we offer such glorious praise to Christ his thanksgiving, and may all who know us, know that God is gracious and compassionate, loving and just, worthy of all their praise!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Goodness of God in What He Does

In Exodus 33:18, Moses makes one of the most audacious requests in all the Bible.  After Israel is nearly destroyed and replaced by a people coming from Moses’ offsprings, Moses asks the God of the Passover and the Red Sea to show him his glory.  Amazingly, God responds in the affirmative.

In Exodus 33:19-34:7, God reveals his glory through the revelation of his goodness and his glory.  Today, we will look at the goodness of what God does; tomorrow, we will consider the greatness of God’s name.

Notice three ways that God’s goodness is revealed in Exodus 33.

God Who Listens and Speaks (33:19).  The first thing to notice in the character of God is that he hears Moses prayer.  He listens and he speaks.  He doesn’t ignore Moses prayers, but he answers with specificity.  God’s goodness is seen in this reply.

However, notice what God listens to.  He is not simply responding to a request for personal help, or a plea for personal safety, comfort, or assistance.  He hears and answers prayers most powerfully, when the suppliant is coming with a heart that longs first and foremost to make Christ famous.  This is not to say that supplications for “my needs” are not legitimate, but they should be secondary to the greater design of prayer for God’s kingdom and glory.

God loves to answer prayers that glorify his name and that satisfy his saints in him.  Just consider the “Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 6, Jesus is asked how they should pray, and in “The Lord’s Prayer,” he doesn’t begin with small, physical, prayers that orbit around people; he begins with audacious prayers that ask God to do what only he can do.  Thus, Jesus’ prayer, like Moses prayer, calls us to ask God to show off his glory on earth as it is in heaven.  The very first command is one that essentially pleas that God who sanctify or glorify his name!  When Jesus tells us to pray for the coming of the kingdom, this is a request for God’s glory to come in tangible form to the earth–now and forever.

All in all, Moses’ prayer, Jesus’ prayer, and our prayer can be lifted with confidence because God’s goodness hears and answers.  Yet, the heart of prayer is one that focuses on God and his glory, as seen in his goodness, more than simply asking God to do good things for us.

Returning to the model of our Lord’s prayer, the requests for daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil all come after we have oriented ourselves towards God.  Prayer that is Christian puts the goals, desires, and demands of God above our own.  The safety, security, health, and help we request should desired as they fulfill his plans and purposes.  Goodness is putting God at the center, and God-centered prayers are the ones God delights to answer.

The God who Protects and Provides (33:20-23).  Next, in verse 20, YHWH tells Moses that he cannot see his face, because he would die, but in the same breath, he makes way for Moses to experience God’s glory.  Verse 21-23, God puts Moses in the cleft of the rock, covers him to protect him, and then shows him the train of his glory.  Amazingly, verse 23 uses three body parts to describe God: Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.

The body-language is metaphorical–because God does not have a body—but it emphasizes the personal closeness that Moses felt as God spoke to him.  Still, the point of this passage is not for us to replicate the experience of seeing God on a mountain, but to receive the Word given to Moses at that time.  The God of Sinai is the same yesterday, today, and forever; but the way he has revealed himself is not always the same.  In Exodus 33-34, we see God’s goodness in the way he reveals himself and protects Moses from an over exposure.  Today, we have a greater revelation and a greater protection in our mediator, Jesus Christ.  What God does in type with Moses, he does in actuality with Jesus.  In Jesus, we see the glory of the Lord, we hear God’s ultimate word, and we have safe passage into the very presence of God.  We are not sequestered into a rocky cleft; we are able to stand upon the temple mount and abide with God.

In this way, the goodness experience by Moses, though more cinematically-captivating, is less than the goodness we now have in the fullness of God’s plans in redemptive history.  Such goodness beckons us to forsake sin and press on towards him!

The God who Gives His Law (34:1-4). Finally, since the tablets were broken, a new set of tablets was needed.  Thus, in Exodus 34, Moses is appointed to cut two new stone tablets just like before.  This is the first element of God’s revealed law in Exodus 34, but this is not it.  Quickly following this charge to rewrite the law, YHWH tells Moses to come into his presence once again (v. 2), and to set a perimeter around the mountain to preserve its holiness and to protect the people (v. 3).  Still, God’s law-giving is seen most clearly in the reissue of the covenant laws laid out in the rest of the chapter (vv. 10-35).

These commands which resonate with the earlier instructions in Exodus 19-24, show the consistency of God’s character, and the fact that he never lowers the standard of his law.  Instead, he will provide means of grace to allow sinners to dwell in the midst of God’s holiness.  Such legal constancy is a revelation of his goodness, for God’s goodness is not just seen in meekness, mirth, and mild treatment of terrorists.  His goodness also executes law-breakers.

Can you imagine the alternative?  What would a world be like in which moral order was erased?  Or a world where God’s expectations were unknown?  God’s laws are demanding and absolute, and this is good.  In them, God’s wisdom, justice, and love are displayed, and thus the world observes who God is.  Which leads to a final consideration: When we come to passage like Exodus 33-34, do we listen to what God is saying?  Or do we interpret it in light of our pre-conceived ideas about goodness, justice, and love?

God Is The Standard of His Own Goodness 

Too often Christians and non-Christians test God according to their own standards of goodness.  This is problematic.  God is his own standard.  He defines and delimits goodness.  Thus what he reveals of his goodness at Sinai and in later installments of inspired revelation must shape and reshape our notions of goodness.  In fact, before delighting in his goodness, we probably need to be offended by it!

Offended because, we as fallen creatures are naturally opposed to the God of Scripture and the God of Sinai.  What we see at Sinai is that YHWH’s goodness is not mutually exclusive with retributive judgment, is not contradictory with legal demands, and is not simply a universal benevolence towards all people.  God’s goodness is distinct, covenantal, particular, and gracious.  God’s goodness is given to some and not to others (Exod 33:19).  This is how God presents himself!  It is offensive to human pride, but glorious to those who have died in Christ.

Failure to understand God’s goodness as he himself presents it will inevitably result in skewed views of God and ultimately Arminian and/or Universalist impressions of how God should act in the world.  Right now I am reading a book by such theologian–Roger Olson–whose views relabel and redefine God’s goodness in countless doctrinal categories.  As an upcoming book review will show, he and others like him, wrestle little with texts and rest their views upon philosophical inventions of the mind, rather than God’s revealed Word.

Considering Exodus 33-34 makes us take a different path.  One that rebukes us mightily for having lethargic views of God’s goodness, but one that opens new vistas of God’s glory.  In meditating on Exodus 33:18-34:7 you will find that the God of glory is the God of goodness, and that his goodness is not submitting to any philosophical law of the greater good.  God is goodness in justice and mercy, and by his grace, he is revealing that goodness to all who have eyes to see.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss