It’s a mess, isn’t it?
A while back I wrote about peace. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. The specifics have changed, but the principles remain.
Now more than ever.
As we’ve noted earlier, this list of God’s core attributes is repeated throughout the Old Testament, all the way through the age of the prophets and to the return from Babylon. Interestingly, the prophets add a line to the description: “relenting of evil” (Joel 2.13) or “one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4.2).
As the NASB makes clear in the Jonah passage, the word translated “evil” refers here not to moral evil, but to calamity or disaster. God had warned Israel that if they departed from him, he would send calamity their way (Dt 30.15-20). He warned of specific calamities: drought, famine, war, disease (Dt 28.15ff). And Israel played that script out multiple times.
But when his people repent, God relents. He restores the relationship, despite the offense.
Now, when we talk about God relenting, or repenting, or changing his mind, that raises all kinds of logical and theological questions. I plan to deal with that issue in a future post. For now, let’s just grant that the Scripture uses that kind of language about God, as astonishing as it is.
I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t forgive people until they repent, because God doesn’t. Fair enough. But there are some further considerations to the point.
Since God is omniscient, he knows whether our repentance is sincere. Can we know that for certain?
No, we can’t. And interestingly, Jesus tells us to forgive people whenever they ask, with no reference to “sincerity” (Mt 18.22)—and frankly, if my brother asked me to forgive him 490 times for the same thing, I’d start to wonder whether he meant it. But Jesus says to forgive him anyway.
And, come to think of it, when we repent, God know whether we’re going to fail again (and usually, the answer is yes). And he forgives us anyway.
If God, whose plans are perfect, who is never surprised, can forgive and relent of planned disaster, what about us? We’re not omniscient, and our plans aren’t perfect, and we are often surprised. If God can relent, shouldn’t we?
Why not go to your enemy, and offer him your hand, your arms, your friendship? Why not take back the things you said, the threats you made?
Why not make the first move?
The premise of this series is that we ought to treat others—all others—as God has treated us. Mockery, disdain, sarcasm, dismissal, ranting, vilification—God has never done that to us, although we have repeatedly deserved it for the way we’ve treated him.
No, God’s character won’t allow that. Just as he can’t lie, so also he can’t treat us in the ways we so naturally treat people we disagree with, or people we dislike, or people who lie about us or trivialize our concerns.
We need to be like him.
Pick somebody you really dislike—maybe a public figure, maybe a personal acquaintance.
And then think about how God would treat—indeed, has treated—him:
And do those things.
And to get really serious, pray that God would do those things for him too.
Maybe, one relationship at a time, we can be agents of peace rather than strife—lights in the world, instead of darkness.
If your eye is
bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.
If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Mt 6.23).
We’re exploring God’s foundational description of himself, on the assumption—well founded in Scripture—that we ought to treat others the way he does. We’re getting to the end of the list, where there’s a cluster of attributes that we really need to discuss together.
Exodus 34.7 puts it this way:
yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.
We’re tempted to find this troubling. God’s a hard master, demanding perfection and beating us when we fall short, and even bringing our grandkids into it.
Oh, that’s not what this passage is saying at all. Like all of God’s other attributes, this is a good one, one to delight in.
To begin with, let’s observe that he brings justice to the guilty. There’s no reason we ought to look askance on that. In fact, if you’ll think about it, we all want justice, when people have wronged us. The only situation in which we don’t want justice is when we’re the guilty one—or when of one our friends is.
Test yourself. Suppose someone committed a heinous crime against your family, and at his trial the judge said, “Look, I know you’re basically a good person. If you’ll promise not to do anything like this again, we’ll just forget it ever happened.”
How happy would you be?
Not at all. We want justice.
The world’s an unjust place. There’s abuse, and fraud, and falsehood, and violence, and murder. We have justice systems, but we often don’t get it right. We ought to do better. And it’s good—a delight—to know that there’s someone keeping records, who has the power to right all these wrongs, and who will certainly do so.
So the first clause is a good thing. God will right all the wrongs.
But what about the rest of it? What about visiting the sins of the fathers on the children? How is that just?
Well, God has designed the universe so that if you do right, things generally turn out better than if you don’t. (Yes, in a sin-broken universe it doesn’t always turn out that way, but that’s still very much the pattern.)
Now, suppose I kill somebody. I’m not the only one in my family who’s going to be affected by that. I’ll go to prison or even be executed, sure. But my wife will have to carry on without my help, and my children won’t have a Dad—and if they’re school age, they’ll face the reproach of classmates, and on it will go. Because of that trauma, there may well be ongoing effects in their children, and even in their grandchildren. Three or four generations.
God has designed the system that way, and the design encourages us to do the right thing. That’s a good thing.
But maybe there’s still a little itch inside you that wonders if he couldn’t have designed things better than this.
OK, it’s time to broaden the context.
The first time this principle is stated in the Bible is just a few chapters earlier, in the Ten Commandments. Here’s the specific wording:
I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Ex 20.5b-6).
“To thousands” of what? The context is clear: to thousands of generations.
How long is a thousand generations? 20,000 years? 25,000 years?
I’m a young-earth creationist. I don’t think the earth has even been here that long.
Yes, sin carries consequences that involve more than the sinner himself. But grace—that goes on forever. Where sin abounds, grace superabounds (Rom 5.20).
So here in Exodus 34, I think we can tie several clauses together—
This is all one attribute: he maintains justice while extending mercy far beyond the reach of the most heinous sin. He does all things well.
And what of us, and the way we treat our enemies?
Justice. But superabounding mercy.
So far we’ve seen that God is compassionate, and gracious, and slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness, and abounding in truth. The next item in our list in Exodus 34.6-7 is “keeping lovingkindness for thousands,” but with your kind permission I’m going to skip that one and come back to it later, when we look into “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.”
So we’ll move to the next clause, which states that God “forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.” The statement seems clear enough, but there are things to note here that will enrich our understanding of its meaning.
I’d like to start with the end. Why doesn’t God just say that he “forgives sin”? Why does he pile on the synonyms? I think he does this for at least two reasons.
The words God lists here are just 3 of many Hebrew words for sin. Each of these tells us a little more about the problem.
Working backwards through the phrase, we come to the verb. God “forgives” all these things. The root means to lift (2K 4.36) or to carry (Josh 3.6), and thus to carry away (Gen 27.3), to dispose of (Ex 28.38)—of sin, to forgive (Gen 50.17; 1S 25.28). This is a burden the forgiver bears; he is the one who takes action to remove the offense.
God forgives—carries away—our sins, in all their complexity and multiplicity and pervasive rottenness. He throws them behind his back (Is 38.17), to the bottom of the sea (Mic 7.19), as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103.12). He knows all about them, and he can remember them, but he will not (Jer 31.34). “Omniscient, all-knowing, he counts not their sum.”
We should do that too. We should move toward those who disgust us, who revulse us, inexorably drawn to the image of God in them—as God himself is—and act for their benefit in seeking to liberate them from the overwhelming burden of the complex sinful condition they bear.
Doing that is an act of worship.
Hating them isn’t.
So far we’ve seen that God is compassionate, and gracious, and slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness. Now we find that God is “abounding in truth” (KJV NASB) or “abounding in faithfulness” (ESV NIV).
Let me insert a little sidebar observation on what we’ve stumbled into.
The English versions differ substantively in what they say here. Truth and faithfulness are related in meaning, but they can be distinguished: truth is a state, and faithfulness is a character quality. Usually when translations have differences like this, there is one of two things going on—
Now, most people don’t know the original languages and don’t have the expertise to make a judgment about translating a given word or choosing a given textual reading. But you’ve just seen that by comparing several English translations, we did notice that something was up—that there’s a question about the meaning of the phrase. (In this case it’s the former option—a translation issue—which we’ll get to in a minute.) And we didn’t need to know any Hebrew or Greek to recognize that there’s a question. Now we know to consult a commentary to find more information.
Do you see the value of using multiple translations? You get access to training and technical expertise that you yourself don’t have. So don’t ask which is the “best” translation. Use them all. (Yeah, except the heretical ones like that Jehovah’s Witness monstrosity.) Compare them. Think.
End of sidebar.
As I’ve implied already, the word truth here has a broad range of meaning. At its most literal, it speaks of firmness and consequently permanence, what we might call “long-lastingness” (e.g. Jer 14.13). More abstractly, it speaks of faithfulness—of sticking to a task or a promise or a commitment (Gen 47.29; Neh 7.2; Is 16.5), or of being genuine (Is 10.20; Jer 2.21; 28.9). And since a person’s promises are true if he keeps them, it means “correctness” (Gen 24.48; Pr 22.21) or more commonly “truth” (Gen 42.16; Dt 13.14; Pr 29.14; Is 43.9).
God abounds in this. Most simply, he speaks the truth; he cannot lie (Ti 1.2), and so his Word—the incarnate Christ (Jn 1.1) and the resulting inerrant record about him (Jn 16.13)—cannot be broken (Jn 10.35). Any statement you find in the Word—assuming you’re reading it as the Spirit intended*—you can take to the bank.
But God’s character, and the words describing it, are deeper and richer than that. He speaks the truth, yes, but more to the point here, he keeps his promises. He persists in the loyalties that he has established. We’ve developed that concept already in the previous phrase.
God has a relationship with you. And he will persist in that relationship to the end of time and eternally beyond, because that’s the kind of person he is.
And that means that to be like him, we’re going to have to tell the truth too. We’re going to have to regard our word as our bond, to keep our promises. When we sing of the grace “that saved a wretch like me,” we’re going to have to mean it, and we’re going to have to be gracious to other wretches, even when they’re still deep in their wretchedness, as we were when God found us.
I haven’t said yet what the actual Hebrew word is. It’s ‘emeth, which is related to the word ‘emunah, “faithfulness,” which is where we get our word “Amen”—“May it be so.”
* I suppose that calls for a series here on hermeneutics, doesn’t it?
The fourth characteristic that God emphasizes about himself is that he is “abounding in lovingkindness.”
If you’ll compare the different ways that last word is translated, you find that it has a broad range of meaning and significant theological depth—
In other passages it’s rendered widely: kindness, mercy, devotion, favor, loyalty.
Abraham’s servant says that God has “not forsaken his lovingkindness” to Abraham by revealing a wife for Isaac (Gen 24.27). What does that mean? God had promised Abraham an abundant offspring and had miraculously provided a son, Isaac. For the offspring to multiply, Isaac’s going to need a wife, which God has provided. This is more than simple kindness; it’s keeping a promise. It’s being faithful to the relationship that God himself has instituted with Abraham.
A generation later, Jacob says that his prosperity, after his having left home hurriedly and penniless, is evidence of God’s lovingkindness (Gen 32.10). Again, God is honoring his relational commitment to Abraham’s line.
On the far shore of the Red Sea, Moses sings that God has “led the people whom you have redeemed” through the sea “in your lovingkindness” (Ex 15.13).
So what does this word mean?
It speaks of being faithful to an existing relationship, of being loyal to a covenant.
It’s the couple who have loved and cared for one another without pause and without question through 63 years of marriage. It’s the soldier who steps forward to volunteer for a critical mission that will almost certainly result in both a strategic advance for his nation’s cause and his own death. It’s the pastor who serves the same little flock with little pay for his entire working life, arriving at the emergency room at 3 am in his pajamas to minister with his presence to suddenly childless parents.
It’s loyal, covenant-based love. No matter what.
We all want that, don’t we?
We want long-lasting and joyous marriages. We want elected officials to act for our benefit with no thought of their own. We want neighbors who will call the cops if something doesn’t look quite right. We want passing drivers to stop and ask if we need some help with the steaming engine, just because we’re all in this together.
But our experience poisons our hopes, because we’ve seen too many apparently happy marriages turn out to be secretly horrific, and politicians fit all too easily into the stereotype, and friends abandon us when we could no longer benefit them, and helpful strangers turn out to be predators.
We’re not loyal to our relationships. We’re not.
But God is.
He has made promises to you and me.
He has bound himself to us in a loving, covenant relationship—a marriage—and he will be faithfully committed to that relationship, come what may.
This is infinitely serious business. He’s all in.
He can’t act in any other way.
And what of us?
We, too, are in relationships.
God takes his relationships seriously, and he’s loyal to those in relationship with him. He acts in their best interest, even when he acts in wrath.
We should too.
God’s primary description of himself begins with his compassion, and then his grace. Next is the phrase “slow to anger” (Ex 34.6). The KJV renders that as “longsuffering”; the God’s Word translation says “patient.”
The Hebrew phrase is picturesque; the two words literally mean “long of nostrils.” That is to say, it takes a long time for God’s nose to turn red with anger.
The phrase occurs 13 times in the Hebrew Bible. Moses uses it twice (Ex 34.6; Num 14.18) to describe God’s character. Four prophets—Jeremiah (Jer 15.15), Joel (Joel 2.13), Jonah (Jon 4.2), and Nahum (Na 1.3)—use it similarly. David makes the same statement 3 times (Ps 86.15; 103.8; 145.8), and Nehemiah closes out the Hebrew Scripture’s emphasis on the concept (Neh 9.17).
That’s 10 statements about God’s slowness to anger. (I’ll say more about the other 3 occurrences of the phrase in a bit.) If the Bible says something just once, we ought to take notice. But 10 times? That’s emphasis. God really wants us to see him as slow to anger.
That’s not the picture many of us have of God, especially of “the God of the Old Testament.” Oh, he’s a mean one, he is. He gets angry and strikes people dead. Korah, the rebel against Moses (Num 16.32)—but then, I suppose he deserved it. But what about Uzzah, the poor fellow just following David’s orders to take the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem for installation at the worship center there? The ox stumbled, and the wagon tilted, and Uzzah, just trying to protect the precious ark, reached out to steady it, and ZAP!—he’s dead (2Sa 6.7).
Looks a lot like God lost his temper and lashed out at somebody who was just trying to do what he was supposed to, right?
We tend to get our ideas of God from our fathers. We remember when we were little, and we did something that made Dad mad, maybe without intending to, and he descended on us like Nebuchadnezzar on Jerusalem, and in a burst of anger he put us into a world of hurt for a few minutes. He just lost it, and it took him a while to cool down.
And then we overlay that personal experience on the Uzzah event, and we figure that God just lost it and lashed out, because that’s the way things go.
God is our Father, but he is not our father. Your father, and mine, were fallen human beings, just like us—in fact we’re fallen because they were fallen. For most of us, our fathers did the best they could, but sometimes they failed.
God our Father is not like that, and it’s deeply unfair to impose our fathers’ failures on him.
He’s long of nostrils. He never “loses” his temper or “falls” into a rage. When he’s angry—and he often is, since he is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7.11)—that anger has been building for a long time, and it is absolutely and perfectly justified. In the case of Uzzah, God was not surprised when he reached out to steady the ark. He had seen it coming literally forever. Uzzah, an Israelite man, knew better; he knew the Law, as all Israelite men did. He was not innocent. It’s surprising, frankly, that he was so far down the road to Jerusalem, in direct disobedience to God’s clear instructions about how the ark should be handled, before God struck him.
So no, God doesn’t lose his temper. He doesn’t fly into rage over the kinds of things that we do. He controls his anger perfectly and long, exercising it only purposefully and rightly and justly. He tolerated the vile sins of the Canaanites for 4 centuries (Gen 15.16)—during which time, apparently, they had warnings from priests of the Most High God (Gen 14.18)—before moving against them. He withheld judgment on millennia of human rebellion and violence and hate (Ac 17.30) before pouring out his wrath—and when he released that wrath, he did so with a precise surgical strike, focused perfectly on his willing Son, with absolutely no collateral damage (Rom 3.21-26).
You’ve made God angry, consistently and repeatedly. And yet you continue to enjoy his abundant grace with every breath. That’s the kind of person he is.
Now for those other 3 uses of the phrase. They’re about us. David’s son Solomon applies the “long nostrils” principle to people, noting that those who imitate God in this way are wise (Prov 14.29), peaceable (Prov 15.18), and powerful (Prov 16.32).
Reflexive anger is godless. Lashing out is hellish.
So don’t react to an infuriating meme with a “like and share if you want to make Nancy Pelosi lose her mind.”
In his foundational self-description, the first thing God tells us about himself is that he’s compassionate. By nature, he feels deeply for the hurts and trials of his creatures—even the animals (Jon 4.11), but most especially those in his image.
The second thing he tells us is that he’s “gracious” (Ex 34.6). We tell one another that he is, too; one of our most common names, John (and Jean or Joan or Johanna for women), comes from the Hebrew Johanan, short for Jehohanan, which means simply “Yahweh / Jehovah is gracious.” It’s same word used in all those OT refrains.
This isn’t the first time God has told us this about himself. The word occurs earlier in the Law, in Exodus 22.27, where God tells Moses that if a man’s clothing is illegitimately taken from him, and the man cries to God for help, “I will hear; for I am gracious.” The word occurs 12 more times in the Old Testament, and in every occurrence it’s describing the character of God. No other being is said to have this specific quality.
So what is it? What does the word mean?
In Exodus 22.27 it sounds a lot like compassion; a poor man is in desperate need, and God hears his cry. But I think it’s a step beyond compassion. Compassion is feeling strongly about a situation; it’s caring. Grace, on the other hand, is getting up and doing something about it. It’s intervening on behalf of those in need.
And since we’re all in need, being gracious is a commitment to actions of infinite scope and complexity. It’s a really big deal.
But there’s more. Since we’re all sinners, rebels against God, we really don’t deserve his intervention on our behalf. After all, we’ve declared ourselves to be his enemies.
And that means, in turn, that God gives us things, and does things for us, that we don’t deserve.
Now that’s grace.
I’ve posted before on the immensity and breadth and depth of God’s grace. These things ought to be at the forefront of our thinking; and I’ve noticed that people who reflexively think that way—gratefully—tend to approach the exigencies of life with considerably more confidence and even joy. The truth will do that for a person.
I suspect that some of you are thinking about my observation that in the Scripture only God is said to be gracious. Maybe that means we aren’t expected to be? Maybe we don’t have to give people things they don’t deserve?
Not so fast. For starters, we’re in the image of God (Gen 1.27), and we’re undergoing a process—sanctification—that’s designed to refine that image in us as we become more like Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit (2Co 3.18). So if God is fundamentally gracious, then we ought to seek to be as well.
Further, the Scripture gives us things to do that are gracious at the root. Jesus told us that the second great commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 22.39)—and Jesus surely knows that our neighbors aren’t deserving of that. And he told us to love our enemies, even those who abuse and mistreat us. Walking the second mile, giving our coat, and all that (Mt 5.38-48).
We’re supposed to give people around us—our neighbors—what they don’t deserve. That’s what grace is all about.
I’ve grown up in political conservatism—my parents were both employees, for a time, of the John Birch Society—and I’ve noticed that in conservatism there is a certain amount of social Darwinism. Individual responsibility. Your own bootstraps. Get a job, ya lazy bum.
And there’s a lot of truth to that. He who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat. The Bible says that (2Th 3.10). Personal responsibility is a thing.
But there’s also grace. We’re called to help people who don’t deserve or even want help. We’re called to lessen people’s pain, even when they brought it on themselves. We’re called to help the unloving, the hostile, the rebellious—the sponge, the lawbreaker, the entitled.
God has done that for us.
So what about those bums on the other side of the political divide?
Extend a hand. Recognize the image of God in them. Refuse to hate. Give them what they don’t have coming.
In his primary description of himself, God includes a list of related attributes (Ex 34.6-7):
And in the parallel prophetic passages,
For easy comparison, I’ve posted a chart of the parallel passages here.
There’s a lot here that calls for investigation, rumination, and careful analysis. God describes himself in ways that emphasize tenderness without the weakness of permissiveness. We’ll take a few posts to cover this list, occasionally combining similar terms for efficiency and clarity.
We begin, as God does, with compassion.
The Hebrew word is closely related to the word for “womb”; it speaks of the intense feeling we get in our midsection when we’re deeply affected emotionally. We speak informally of being “punched in the gut” or “kicked in the stomach” when we received intensely emotional news.
Interestingly, the Gospels speak of Jesus as often feeling this way, of being “moved with compassion.”
Paul, recognizing this characteristic of his Lord, speaks of longing for the Philippians “in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Php 1.8 KJV).
God, knowing of people’s desperate needs, is moved with compassion for them. It’s part of his character; it simply can’t not happen. I’m tempted to say that he can’t help himself, but that language, taken literally, would imply some limitation on divine self-control—which of course is omnipotent and perfect. So let me say that just as the Bible says that God cannot lie (Ti 1.2)—because, as self-consistent, he cannot and will not violate his own nature—even so he cannot be uncompassionate.
And this characteristic of his takes us to unexpected places. The examples of Jesus’ compassion that I’ve listed above all involve people in great sorrow and need, and we can easily understand that. We like to think that in similar circumstances we too would do what we could to help. I write this post just after buying a tank of gas for a stranger with a sad story so he could get home.
[Sidebar: Sure, maybe he was lying. In these situations I don’t give cash; I offer to go with them to the gas station, or the restaurant, or the grocery store, or whatever, and buy them what they say they need. The shysters typically refuse and say they need the cash (for drugs, usually). This guy went with me and let me gas up his truck. So it looked legit to me.]
But keep in mind that Jesus knew what was in people’s hearts (Jn 2.25). He knew that the widow of Nain was a sinner. He knew that a lot of those 5000 and 4000 people were just following him to see him do tricks—and after he fed them, for the food (Jn 6.26). As he wept over Jerusalem, he knew that its inhabitants “killed the prophets, and stoned them who are sent to you!” (Mt 23.37; Lk 13.34).
And so it shouldn’t be surprising to us when we find God going to considerable trouble to compel a recalcitrant prophet to go on a journey of 500 miles to tell people he hated that God was going to judge them—not because he was going to judge them (though he eventually would, as Nahum records)—but because he knew that the prophet’s angry message would scare the dickens out of them and would result in their genuine repentance.
This compassionate God comes to Jonah, sulking on the hillside after the Ninevites’ repentance and consequent deliverance, and rebukes him from his own heart: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand [i.e. babies], as well as many animals?” (Jon 4.11).
This is how you treat people you hate.
Indeed, this is how you feel about them.
As we’ve noted, even Jonah the bigot knew that God had revealed himself as a God of compassion, who extends mercy even to the most wicked, upon their repentance—and who seeks that repentance from them.
When and where did God reveal this?
It begins with Moses.
He had spent more than a month atop Mt. Sinai, in the very presence of Israel’s God (Ex 24.12-18), receiving the stone tablets containing the commandments God had spoken earlier to the people (Ex 20-23; 31.18). At the end of that remarkable experience, God tells him that the people have corrupted themselves by worshiping a golden bull that they believe represents God himself (Ex 32.7-8), and that God intends to wipe them out and start the nation over with Moses (Ex 32.9-10). Moses argues successfully against that policy by countering that God has promised to build the nation on Abraham (Ex 32.11-14). But when he returns to the foot of the mountain (Ex 32.15) and finds the nation in debauchery, he breaks the stone tablets (Ex 32.19), destroys the bull (Ex 32.20), and brings judgment into the camp (Ex 32.25-28).
As the nation prepares to leave Sinai and travel toward the Promised Land (Ex 33), God prepares Moses to receive a second set of tablets to replace the ones Moses has destroyed (Ex 34.1-4). And there, atop the mountain again, Yahweh reveals himself to Moses with characteristics, attributes, that he has not significantly revealed before. He describes himself as
Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations (Ex 34.6-7).
This is quite a list. As I said, it’s new revelation; there’s almost nothing said about these things before this point in Scripture. (I’ll specify the “almost” in later posts.) And it becomes a refrain throughout the rest of God’s revelation of himself; it’s clear that he takes it seriously and views the list as a centrally significant part of his relationship with his people. Further, it’s clear that his people recognize that significance, for they bring it up again and again:
So this is a big deal. God takes it seriously, and so do his people, even when, as in the case of Jonah, they wish it weren’t so.
We might say that this is the core biblical view of the person of God. This is the most direct statement of who he is. It is his essence, his character, his personality.
Well, then. If our whole purpose is to know God—which is a necessary prerequisite to the Greatest Commandment, to love him (Mt 22.35-40)—then we’d better understand it.
That’s worth a few posts, don’t you think?