Lecture 7: Characteristics of God - Part 1
Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: What God Says About Himself
This is the 7th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
(Any slides, photos, study guides or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded separately. If they are not available, you may be able to find something similar using the Google© search engine.)
I. God is Compassionate toward Others
We want to continue to talk about the personal God who has a name and the theme of this lecture concerns what God says about himself. How you define God is critically important. I have asked people what is the most important thing about God? We see that the Bible quotes itself all the time. For example, the verse from Genesis 15:6 is quoted in Romans chapter 1 and other places. Then Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in the New Testament. So there is a verse quoted more often by the Bible, more than any other verse, where Yahweh comes and introduces himself and says some things about himself. The first thing that Yahweh tells us about himself is that he is compassionate, holy, almighty, loving and sovereign. These of course are all true about God. The passage is known as the ‘cleft of the rock passage.’ We have Exodus 32 with the golden calf and then Exodus 33 is the tent where God and Moses meet and Moses speaks to God face to face. Toward the end of Exodus 33, Moses says to God, ‘I want to see you face to face.’ This was Moses’ desire, but God told him that it would kill him. Gold told him that he would put him in the cleft of the rock and I will cover you with my hand and you will see the trail of my passing or my backside or something like that. The passage is in Exodus 34, starting at verse 6, it says, ‘and 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, for forgiving wickedness,, rebellion and sin.’ So God passed in front of Moses claiming that he was compassionate. So this was the first thing that God says about himself in introducing himself to Moses. So this is the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible. He says his name twice, Yahweh, Yahweh and by saying this, his desire is to enter into a personal relationship. Other translations will say merciful instead of compassionate but it is the same idea. Another way to translate compassionate is saying that I care. So the very first thing God says about himself shows that he is a caring person.
II. God is also graceful, Slow to Anger, Loving, Faithful and Forgiving
Gracious is saying that I help and it is a personal presence kind of helping. We think of grace as unmerited favor but we are not sure what that means. So God says that he cares and that he helps. God is also slow to anger. You can make God mad but he doesn’t start there as he is not irritable, he is not on edge, thus he is slow to anger. But you can make him mad by persistent sin and betrayal. God can hold his anger until the right time and the right way in order to express it. He also maintains love to thousands and also forgives sins and wickedness. So he is compassionate, graceful, slow to anger, loving, faithful and forgiving, yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. Another characteristic of God is that he is just. Interestingly, these characteristics come in context of horrible sin where his own chosen ones turn their back on him by creating a golden calf, an idol to worship and to act out all kinds of abominations while Moses was waiting and receiving the Law of God on Mount Sinai. But our picture of God is certainly shaped on how we think about him, even in this situation with Moses and the Israelites and their sin.
III. God is a Jealous God
God goes on to tell Moses that he is going to make a covenant with him and the Israelites, but there are conditions. They are to obey his commands and more specifically, they are to go against the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebutsites. They were to also break down their altars and smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. They were not to make treaties with them. They are not to worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. So God’s name is Jealous! These other gods I think are fallen angels, they pretend to be God. I think they are powerful spiritual beings. God is saying not to worship them. God is telling them not worship these false gods because he is protective of the relationship he is establishing with Moses and the Israelites and today with us. Those other gods are like pimps and drug dealers in the neighborhood and in worshiping them; it will not go well for them for they will hurt you. The nature of those gods is lies and deceit. God wants his relationship with the Israelites to be pure and good so he can give all the blessings that he wants to give.
IV. God is Holy
So we have seven characteristics plus we have the very name of God, Yahweh. If we can understand these characteristics and act on them, everything thing else in our lives will align to those characteristics. They are to be taken in balance and considered together, not one by itself otherwise it will be out of sequence. So these characteristics give us a fundamental picture of God which a good place to start in understanding who God is. Another important fundamental characteristic of God is in Isaiah chapter 6; he is holy. Read the following:
‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory. At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Woe to me! I cried. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
It says that the whole earth is full of his glory. This is astonishing! This is another foundational picture of God, this holiness which means fundamentally, dedicated to himself and for us being dedicated to God in purity and integrity. We see here that the temple with its doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. The temple could have been the heavenly temple or the Jerusalem temple. Here it shows Isaiah to be a man of unclean lips who lives among a people of unclean lips. In this scene, Isaiah’s posture becomes one of bowed with his face to the ground possibly. Isaiah is full of fear because he is standing before God in his sinful state. A Seraph, an angel flew to him with a live coal and touched Isaiah’s mouth. In doing so, his guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for. The atonement refers back to Genesis in regards to prophesy of the coming Messiah. Yahweh will come among us in human form and make a final sacrifice for our sins. God will die for Isaiah’s sin that will be the atonement that he is talking about. The holy God is going to do this. In verse 8 we have two questions: whom shall I send and who will go for us? The ‘us’ here is a trinity word and God is looking for someone to join him in his rescue of sinful people on earth. Isaiah volunteers to be that person. I think he is now standing up in the presence of God as a covenant partner.
A. Purity and Integrity
So we see two aspects of holiness: dedicated to purity and integrity. Isaiah was cleansed in his response to God. He first acknowledged his uncleanliness and he was cleansed by the coal that the seraph put to his lips. In the Old Testament, if you have leprosy for example, you are unclean and if anyone touches a leper, they become unclean. In the New Testament when Jesus approached lepers and touched them, the lepers are made clean. That is what happens to responsive sinners in the presence of the holy God. So holiness isn’t something that drives us away or down, it is something that purifies and cleanses us and thus lifts us up to join with and thus we become dedicated to God and partners with him in the work he is doing. So we see Isaiah as a sinner and God comes to him and cleanses him.
So what is the message of Isaiah? In Isaiah 1:18 we have the theme verse of Isaiah: ‘come now, let us settle the matter, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. It goes on to say, ‘if you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land, but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ So back in chapter 6, God instructs Isaiah to go and tell these people. So the message is, ‘come, let us reason together.’ They see a cleansed prophet but don’t perceive the cleansing of Yahweh that changed his life. So they resist and rebel and of course the consequences are not good, but if they are obedient, they will eat the best from the land. Their hearts become calloused and their ears dull and their eyes closed because God is inviting them to come and repent of their sins. We see that Isaiah responded to God but the people continued to resist and rebel becoming calloused and not understanding and not seeing. God’s desire is for them to turn and be healed and those who respond like Isaiah are healed.
Isaiah wanted to know how long was he to keep calling them. God answered, ‘until the day of judgement is accomplished.’ So he will keep saying this until the day of judgement comes. So we proclaim the compassionate and holy God and his message of forgiveness and his promises and his judgement until the end of time. The very last words of Isaiah 6 shows the Genesis 3:15 prophesy of the holy seed being the stump in the land. So the message of holiness is that God is dedicated to himself and his mission; he is pure and full of integrity and truthfulness and for responsive sinners, that holiness cleanses and lifts us up as we respond we become covenant partners, both whole and related to God.
So God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, loving, faithful, forgiving, justice, jealous, holy; what an amazing God.