KEY TEXT: Psalms 145:4-8 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
KEY THOT: The declaration that "the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" was first used by the Lord in his self-revelation to Moses. Moses asked to see the glory of God and this is how God chose to reveal himself: "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" (Exodus 34:5-6). Since then it has been used like a creedal formula to summarize God's character in 6 other places in the OT, including today's text: Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2. These four attributes form the inner core of God's character and motivations.
Let's unpack each of these four major attributes of God:
- "gracious": Grace is the basic attribute of God, even in the OT revelation of God. It's a mistake to teach that Grace is revealed only after Jesus Christ died on the Cross. Grace is God's inward character and cannot change with time. He has always been dealing with sinful humanity with grace ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. And this grace of God has always been contingent on the Cross, even though historically, the Cross has not happened in the OT: "because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:9-10). From the moment of Adam's sin, when God killed an animal to provide its skin as garments for Adam and Eve, the blood of Christ has been been flowing for sinners: "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21).
- "merciful": Because God is gracious, he is also merciful towards us who are sinners when we call upon Him in faith to forgive our sins. According to the grace to be revealed fully in Christ, God dealt mercifully with sinful humanity wherever faith was present. Paul has written in Romans 9 that Israel's mistake was to think that righteousness was dependent on their keeping of the Law given by Moses, when all along with or without the Law, our righteousness was based on faith: "Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works" (Romans 9:31-32). We are made righteous because we believe in a gracious and merciful God, not because we believe in ourselves and self-efforts to be righteous.
- "slow to anger": Because of His grace and mercy, God is slow to anger, always waiting for us to turn back to Him in repentance and ask Him to forgive our sins. If God were to express His anger as soon as we sin, we would be judged and condemned. But because He is slow to anger, we are given many chances to repent and return to Him, without facing His wrath. But though he is slow to anger, he is not without anger--if we persist in our stubborn disobedience, as in the case of Israel: "But concerning Israel he says, 'All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.'" God's patience ran out for Israel when they finally put His Son to death on the Cross. And His anger resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 and the expulsion of Israel out of the land of Judea in the second exile until 1948 when Israel was reconstituted as a nation.
- "abounding in steadfast love": God's love is steadfast (constant and consistent) and is abounding. God is not a stingy God--when He blesses, He blesses in a lavish fashion: "according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us" (Ephesians 1:7-8). God's love is abounding and since He did not withhold even His own Son but gave Him to us, what else would He be unwilling to give to us: "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32). Jesus also said: "I come that that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10b).
Abba-Father, what a joy to call You Abba because You are like a father to us in the way You treat us. You do not discipline us in anger but in love whenever we stray away from You in our stubbornness. For it's in Your core nature to forgive and to love without limit. Amen.