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