The following is an actual sermon preached at Southside Church of Christ. I post this as an example of preaching from the Hebrew Bible. Those out there who are master homileticians please be merciful.
A young man once loved his bride. In fact he simply adored her. He practically "worshipped" the ground upon which she walked (as young men are prone to do). He married her. She, however, did not return his love with with faithfulness. They were scarcely back from the honeymoon when he discovered he exploits with other men. Everyone told him she was trouble and to put her away. She cried for him to forgive her. He loved her dearly and he forgave her. Not long after he discovered she was with yet another man -- this time she was pregnant. What was he to do? She had had her chance so everyone told him to divorce her! But he loved her dearly so he forgave her. By this time, as you can imagine, people began to think this husband was crazy but he loved her. Within a year she had simply ran off with yet another man leaving him with children not his own.
I do not know the people personally in the that story but I can feel the pain, I am sure you can too. The amazing thing is this woman has surfaced again. What do YOU think this husband should do? Should he take her back? What would you do? Think on that deeply.
Another true story -- as sad as the first. There was a man, rich andpowerful. He was a politician. We would probably call him "wicked!" He was guilty of adultery not once but dozens of times. He had people killed. He got involved in witchcraft and lead almost his whole nation into this evil. He was so deranged that during one of his demonic services he murdered his own son in a ritual. Sick! Depraved!Degraded! We cannot multiply the adjectives enough. I do not want this man as a senator, congressman, or president. In fact this man has been thrown into a prison for his crimes. Yet he has had the audacity to ask for forgiveness. What shall we do?
MERCY, MERCY, MERCY, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
Before you answer that question let's look at our text for this morning in light of these painfully true stories. Our text comes comes fromExodus 34. 5-9. Read with me:
"Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And when he 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. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
Yahweh, the Lord God, claims to be a compassionate and gracious God. He claims to be a God of Steadfast Love (RSV). He claims to be slow in anger and rich in forgiveness. Now I am free to identify the people in our opening stories because I feel they are perfect examples of what this text claims. The man in the first painful story is Hosea and his wife is Gomer. You may want to know that he did forgive her and he did take her back. In fact it may surprise you that God commanded him to take that unloving and unfaithful wife -- who has already blown a number of chances -- he told Hosea to take her back. This was to symbolize his own compassionate and gracious forgiveness of us. We are the unfaithful Gomer, yet he accepts us back -- over and over again!
The sick -- disgustingly evil -- man in the second story is Manasseh, king of Judah. Not only did God quickly forgive this man when he asked, the Lord to but he restored him to power and kingship. Talk about grace. Talk about undeserved compassion. I know -- beyond doubt that had Manasseh been president of the United States and had done the things he had done his chances for a public life would be less than zero. But God is not man -- his compassion, his graciousness, his love proves that beyond doubt. The Bible uses these stories to show uswith concrete and specific examples what Exodus 34 claims. The God of the Bible is a Gracious God. The God of the Bible is slow to anger and a God who is rich in forgiveness.
We learn that God loves us, he pursues us like a man does his bride, he enters into a covenant of love with us. Yet we daily go after other gods. Things and people in this world take away our love that should be directed solely to Yahweh. But God, like Hosea, takes us back. God offers to us, like he did Manasseh, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Exodus says he does that simply because that is what kind of God Yahweh is.
It is "easy" to be forgiving when nothing really bad is going on. But a lot of "bad" things are going on in the context of Exodus 34. Starting with ch. 32 (only a month after Israel's "wedding" vows[sticking with our analogy of Hosea] and only two months after the miracle at the Red Sea -- and Israel is unfaithful. She is building other gods/idols. Moses had gone up the mountain and the people wandered off after false gods. The people wanted "gods they could see -- humbler gods, gods who would comfort them with a gentler, VISIBLE presence" as Walter Wangerin insightfully notes (The Book of God, p. 140). So Aaron gave them what they wanted - a visible god. He made a golden calf and dared to call it the God of the Exodus. The people went cheerfully into their adultery against Yahweh -- less than a month after their honeymoon! Like any husband, Yahweh is angry, as any husband would be, but he forgives his people (32.9-15). God did not destroy her or desert her. He took her back.
After that unfaithfulness, God calls Moses back up the mountain and there in the grievous context of sin claims to be a compassionate, gracious and loving God. "Yahweh, Yahweh," is pronounced. Then God proceeds to "exegete" his name -- he tells us what "Yahweh" means. His name defines who he is. His name means "compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, full of great and abounding love, full of faithfulness and forgiveness." That is what God says his name means, that is what kind of God we serve. That is the kind of God that deserves our whole hearted devotion, our worship, our obedience. These six aspects of God are practically indistinguishable. Ones cholar noted there isn't any real difference in the words. "The whole list [compassion, gracious, steadfast love, slow to anger, etc] boils down to: mercy, mercy, mercy. Does God have just one attribute -- this text seems to suggest that." (Ronald M. Hals, Grace and Faith inthe Old Testament, p. 16). Each word contributes to a picture that compliments and extends the rest. For example "merciful/compassionate" (Hebrew, rhm) literally comes from a root that means "womb." The word conjures up the image of the tenderness of a mother's care with the newborn infant she has carried in her womb. What a moving picture of God and his dealing with you and me. The word translated "abounding love" or better "steadfast love" (RSV, Hebrew, hsd) is closely related to the word "grace." The term simply means that God will not, indeed refuses to give up on us. He is a God who loves FOREVER (Ps. 136) despite our rebellion and sin. So, indeed, God is compassion, compassion, compassion! Mercy, mercy, mercy! Love, love, love! Did not the apostle John say "God IS love."
The text says that when Moses heard God pronounce his awesome and holy name he fell to the ground and worshipped. You know that is the only acceptable response we can give to such a great God as ours. We pay homage to our great and compassionate God.
At this point have the congregation sing, "Glorify Thy Name" to worship him for his love for us
ARE YOU LEAVING SOMETHING OUT??
I can already hear someone objecting to the text and saying, "Bobby you are leaving out the part about punishing sin! See there is more to God than this love stuff!" My response to that is -- No I am not leaving anything off about sin. God does not overlook, minimize or excuse sin. But in the Hebrew text -- and in the English -- the judgment on sin is NOT part of the explanation of God's holy and awesome name!! Wrath is "not a continuous aspect of the nature of God but a PARTICULAR response to a historical situation" (T. Fretheim, Exodus: Interpretation, p. 302).
God does punish because it is an affront to his holiness but that is NOT the point of this text. God in pronouncing his name deliberately contrasts the fact that he shows love to THOUSANDS -- forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin -- with punishing a FEW. The contrast is unmistakable and glaring. The context of Exodus 34 highlights this very thing. God says to Moses that if we are to know the one true God and not some idol of our own making (of the kind Aaron made) then we must know him as a compassionate and gracious God who is rich in forgiveness. God says you cannot say his name without saying compassion, graciousness and love -- to do so is to evoke a false deity. Due to his name, God acts in forgiving ways. He forgives unbelievable sin. Look at the life of Manasseh. Look at Gomer. Look at Christ on the cross and hear him say "Father forgive them!" The cross proves beyond a doubt that God does not excuse our sin -- he suffers for it and forgives it and there is a huge difference. At the cross Christ took the punishment that would fall on all of us. In that event, in the bloody murder ofthe Innocent One we see Exodus 34 in full action. God forgave"wickedness, rebellion and sin." He forgave the ones who not only were committing adultery but the ones torturing his own Son. The voice of God thunders through the universe -- "Father Forgive them!" Brothers and sisters that voice was heard in Exodus: "The LORD, theLORD, the compassionate and gracious God . . . " God forgives overand over and over. It cost him dearly to forgive.
If you and I are to know God we must become people who are like him. We must become compassionate, merciful, and loving. We must become slow to anger, full of love and forgiving -- even in the face of painful and grievous sin. Just like Gomer's. Just like Manasseh's. Just like mine! In the NT these same traits are calledthe Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.22-23: "love, joy, peace,patience, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." When we know Godwe start to look and act in a manner that looks like him.
To God's glory and grace,