1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” But what are the excellencies of God? Excellencies are character qualities, virtues, astounding attributes and actions that are mighty, amazing, worthy of recognition, honor, and acclaim. We have been saved by God into many privileges, especially as a people He calls His own who are to proclaim His great character and wonderous deeds in the world. One writer A. W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us.” How well do we know God? Do we know His excellencies well enough to proclaim them? One man, Moses, was wise enough and bold enough to ask God to “show me your glory!” (Exod. 33:18).
Let’s set the scene. In the book of Exodus the Israelites were in Egypt and had moved there during a famine, but over four hundred years the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians and they were being mistreated. God heard their cries for deliverance and called Moses to deliver the people (Exod. 1-3). Then the ten plagues happen as God is delivering the people and showing that the Egyptian gods were powerless and not real (4-12). The Egyptians believed their gods had power over nature, animals, and health, but the One True God showed that they were powerless to prevent the plagues (12:12). Now keep this in mind, the Bible is constantly teaching us about the One True God in contrast to other false gods that have been made up and the idols we are prone to worship today. The Egyptian gods were not real, not true representations of who God truly is or what He is like. The Israelites, the Egyptians, and the world were getting a lesson on the power and character of the Sovereign Creator God of the universe.
Then the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea and made their way to Mt. Sinai where the cloud of God’s presence was going to come upon the mountain (13-19). After leaving the land of idols, they were going to experience the presence of the One True God! God’s presence was both a blessing and dangerous, for the sinful people could not come too close to the holy God who appeared in fire on Mt. Sinai (19). As Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments, the law, and other ordinances for Israel, the people made a golden calf and cried “this is the god who led us out of Egypt!” (20-32) It was a tragic event that happened because the people were impatient, afraid, and thoroughly entrenched in the polytheism of the Egyptians.
God and Moses were both infuriated, but Moses interceded for the people and asked God for what they most needed: to know the character of the One True God whose presence would go with them to the Promised Land (33). The bold request was to see the glory of God (33:18). The glory of God in the Bible is the greatness of God’s nature, character, and attributes. It is His greatness appearing in might, power, and majesty that radiates in unapproachable blinding light. It is the combination of everything He is and everything He does that is unimaginably and infinitely great. God grants Moses’ request by saying He will cause His goodness to pass before Moses, but He cannot see His face and live (33:19-23).
Moses then receives one of the greatest revelations of God’s character in the Bible (34:5-7). The LORD proclaims His character, starting with being compassionate and gracious. Compassion means God feels and expresses concern and pity observing the suffering of His people. God acted out of compassion to deliver the Israelites from Egypt when they cried out to Him (Exod. 2:23-25; 3:7-10). And God acts out of compassion for all of us when He sees us lost and in bondage to our sins by sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins (John 3:16; Eph. 2:1-10; Titus 3:3-4). Gracious means God freely gives favor to sinful people who do not deserve it and could never earn it. God acted out of grace to choose and deliver the Israelites (Exod. 2:23-25; 3:7-10; Deut. 7:1-11). And God acts out of grace to save sinners in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20-21; Eph. 2:8-9). Slow to anger or longsuffering means God is patient with rebellious and stubborn sinners, giving them time to repent. God was longsuffering with Israel for hundreds of years before He brought judgment and exile, and God is patient with each one of us, giving us many chances and years to repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:5; 2 Pet. 3:9).
Faithfulness means God is dependable, trustworthy, and true in all His words, promises, and actions. God was faithful with Israel and His covenant with Abraham to deliver them and to make them into a nation (Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:9). And God is faithful with each one of us in offering and promising salvation and eternal life for those who believe in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9; Heb. 10:23; 1 John 1:9; 2:25). Lovingkindness is one of the most multifaceted words: it means love, faithfulness, loyalty, mercy, kindness, and grace. Essentially it is God’s loyal, committed, and faithful loving care that does not end for His chosen people. God’s lovingkindness was expressed toward Israel by being committed to them through all their periods of rebellion, sin, and unbelief, bringing discipline at times, even up to the present day (Jer. 23:3-8; Ezek. 36:24-26; Rom. 11). God’s lovingkindness toward us is the loyal love that secures us in salvation in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:31-39).
Forgiveness means God covers, dismisses, and does not hold our sins, transgressions, and offenses against His holy character against us. God’s forgiveness abounded for Israel continually (Jer. 31:31-34), and God’s forgiveness toward every sinner in Jesus Christ covers and washes away all our iniquities (Eph. 4:32; 1 John 1:9). Lastly, God is just and will not leave the guilty unpunished. He holds all to the holy and righteous standard of His character, because He would be unjust if He did not. God brought justice upon the Egyptians and upon Israel for their transgressions over time, and a day of judgment stands before every person, yet there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Ps. 96:13; Rom. 2:5; 8:1; 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).
At the end of this astounding revelation Moses reacts as we all should: he fell to the ground quickly in worship (34:8). The greatness of God’s perfect character had been proclaimed and nothing but bowing to the ground and giving honor, adoration, and praise was appropriate. Let’s remember God’s character, meditate on it, pray about it, internalize it, so that we cannot help but worship and proclaim His wondrous character and glory to the world.
- Pastor Spencer Carpenter