Day 42 – Compassion and the Stiff-Necked

There was a lot of meat in today’s passages, but I think I will focus on one of my favorites where Moses encounters God (and lives to tell the story):

[The LORD] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Exodus 34:6-7a (NIV)

People like to pontificate about how angry and vindictive “the God of the Old Testament” is (implying there’s another God of the New who’s a really nice guy).

And I confess, I struggle with some of the violence and death found therein (e.g., death for breaking the Sabbath). In fact, I left out the second half of verse 7 that talks about how God punishes guilt for generations.

On the other hand, God also demonstrates his compassion, grace, love, and faithfulness over and over in the Old Testament — and obviously in the New.

He’s already put up with all sorts of grumbling, disobedience, stubbornness (love that phrase “stiff-necked people”), and outright idolatry on the part of Israel – often withholding any discipline at all.

He’s rescued Israel from hunger and slavery, exhibiting love through Joseph and to Moses.

God shows His “softer” side when He reveals as much of Himself as He can to Moses – so that Moses’ face shines after every encounter – when He hangs out with Moses on the mountain for 40 days, and when He says things like:

I will do the very thing you have asked [send my Presence with you], because I am pleased with you and I know you by name. Exodus 33: 17 (NIV)

Are we like Israel? God offers love and faithfulness (like he gave to Moses), yet we respond with rebellious stiff necks? No wonder we get discipline. No wonder we experience deaths.

But all those Old Testament punishments put together must not have fit the crime of spiritual adultery. God really did withhold his anger. For a couple thousand more years.

Then He took it all out on Jesus so that He might fully forgive our wickedness.

Readings:  Exodus 33:1-34:35, Psalm 21:8-13, Proverbs 8:1-5, Matthew 26:1-25. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts.

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8 thoughts on “Day 42 – Compassion and the Stiff-Necked

  1. And who’s to say we’re not attributing to God the lovey-dovey idealist attitudes we wish he had? When both strands seem attested in Scripture, on what basis do we pick one — it seems harmony is necessary, and not just choosing one and using it to dismiss the other. Not that you’re dismissing the other, just saying, in general.

  2. Yes, it’s hard to meld. And you run into folks who completely separate them, and others who seem to honestly feel there’s no conflict at all, and both responses muddy the waters even more.

    Remembering the lover image / analogy IS helpful.

    One thing that comes to mind, an example of the stuff that bothers me, is when it seems like God allows someone to do something he disapproves of — even giving explicit permission — and then sends some kind of judgment plague anyway.

  3. I was messaging a friend today who said God was “cross” at him for not keeping the Sabbath, that God “frowned” on such activity. I said I wondered if we didn’t have different Gods! Those words don’t seem to fit the guy who died for me, yet they seem to fit the OT version at times. It’s so hard to meld those two views of God.

    Therefore, when He is mad, it doesn’t feel like a shaming parent as much as a sad lover. Does that make sense? It’s so hard to know what God is really like. And it felt like my friend was bringing his parents into the picture today – giving God some of the attitudes that his parents have have had.

  4. True, and good stuff to think about.

    (But I still don’t like some of the stuff that seems arbitrary, confusing, petulant, etc. I feel half motivated to read through the whole thing and make two or three columns of incidents that seem contradictory to what I think I know about God, incidents that show him just and gracious in the way I understand justice and grace, and if a third column, I’m not sure yet what it would be. I admit my completely biased and unobjective position in doing such a thing, and yet it seems like it might be helpful for me.)

  5. Marcy — I could be wrong, but I kinda think our tendency to take some things written in the Bible, and try to apply them to other different things they were not really intended for, is a common mistake (which I have made myself many times).

    I’m a parent (my daughter is grown and married now), and so I understand and appreciate all the things I learned through the whole parenting process about how God feels about us, and other related revelations. I realize the Bible says God is our Father, and he disciplines His children for our good, even if it’s painful, we don’t understand it, we don’t like it, etc.

    But I don’t necessarily take that information, and transfer it to how God worked with the nation of Israel, or certain individuals or groups in the OT. At some level, most every type of analogy breaks down. It might be a shocking thing to say, but even “God is our Father” is an analogy that breaks down if you take it too far. Don’t believe me? Consider this: Mormons believe that someday, they will grow into Gods, and have their own kingdom/universe to rule over. After all, we as human parents have children that grow into adults just like us. So God must have little gods that grow to be exactly what He is now — right?

    But we know that’s wrong. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. Holy, Eternal, without Beginning or End. We are nothing like Him in that sense, and never will be. So “we are His children” helps us to understand our relationship to Him, but does not mean that everything He does translates directly to how human parents and children should interact.

    Likewise, I don’t think the way God dealt with Israel, or individual people, in the OT is a direct indicator of how we should do things. He had a specific purpose to all that — to create a bloodline to the Messiah, keep His chosen people separated, and He chose to reveal many things about His nature along the way. I take Him at His word when He says “My thoughts are not your thoughts, My ways are not your ways” etc. He is a wild and untamed God that is very good, very loving, full of grace, even in the Old Testament. To redeem mankind, certain things needed to happen a certain way, and He was not going to let anything or anyone stop it.

    Imagine back in the times of the OT, that God could see all the possible future outcomes of each and every action that each and every individual person in history would take. Imagine that He saw what would become of His chosen people if they continued the way they were, and it meant the Messiah would never find a place in history, because conditions that He needed were going to be spoiled/thwarted by certain actions. Thus, no Savior was born, no redemption happened for mankind, but instead eternal punishment for all the people He loves so much. So He intervenes in history, killing entire nations of people if need be. There need not be rhyme or reason, human “logical” sense of “fair” and “unfair” involved.

    We want to be able to understand it, analyze it, categorize it, make spiritual principles out of it, and so forth. But God says “Trust me. Ultimately, everything I do leads to the good I have promised.”

    Hmmm. I think this comment is getting too long. I hope what I’m trying to say makes sense. I could probably have said the same thing with a lot less words, but apparently I don’t know how. 🙂

  6. I continue to mentally rant about this issue. The more I get into gentle parenting, the more God seems like either one of those permissive parents that keeps finally having enough and exploding, or one of those behaviorist parents that thinks harsh punishment is a reasonable motivator (Isaiah 6, I think, says something like “and yet they didn’t turn to the one who struck them” as if incredulous, whereas I think, of course they didn’t!)

    If punishment has little to no role in good parenting (and I’m becoming more and more persuaded to that point of view, finding how many alternative approaches there are), then why does God use it?

    And I’m just not comfortable with the idea that God’s use of punishment should be taken as proof that parents should punish as well.

    I understand how very much God forbears… and yet, that’s not enough to make the times he doesn’t seem more palatable or more just. I keep reminding myself that my very sense of justice comes from God, so there’s something I’m not understanding, and he will vindicate himself and show himself just in a way that feels just to me.

    • Two quick comments cause I was running out the door. These are thoughts that just flew up: God our Father let the ultimate punishment that was due us fall on Jesus. What does that say about how we should parent? In what way do we absorb the just punishment due our children? I never thought of that before…And I think a lot of God’s so-called punishment is either a reminder of justice, a warning, or discipline that leads to righteousness (Hebrews 12). Not sure how well it works with kids, but it sure works well with me…

  7. Wow, my husband actually bent over my monitor and read part of this days entry. Way to go. I get behind sometimes but always get caught up. Each are a blessing in many ways. TY for shariong. Prayers.

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