In Exodus 32 the Hebrews made a crucial mistake. In their impatience for God to act they made an idol to represent the “gods who brought them out of Egypt” and they worshiped it. Needless to say God was none too happy. Instantly He knew exactly what had happened and threatened to destroy them (32:10). In verse 11 it says that Moses sought the Lord’s “Favor” (another word for grace) and God relented from destroying them all (32:14). But that doesn’t mean there weren’t consequences. First, Moses ordered the death of 3000 who remained in rebellion after he called for them to choose sides (vs. 28). Second, God said that His discipline would come later (vs.34-35).
In 33:1-3, God told Moses to go ahead and take the people to the promised land but that he would not go with them. So Moses calls a meeting with God where he asks for God’s mercy/favor and for God to go with them into the Promised Land. In a bold request for confirmation of all God had said Moses said something that took guts, “Now, show me your glory.” I can’t think of any other verse in scripture where a man commanded something of God. God, in a marvelous act of mercy, did as Moses requested (33:18-22). Hang with me here…almost there.
Following that event, we see in Exodus 33 that God gave Moses further confirmation that He would go with them. Here is what God had to say,
“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 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, 7 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 parents to the third and fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:5-7
We are finally getting to it. When God reveals information about who He is and what He is up to in the world, two things stand out to me. Remember, all of this is in light of the events of the Hebrews worshiping the golden calf, God’s anger, and now His mercy. God holds two things in tension about himself. God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love…and yet God is also a God who does not withhold discipline.
From our perspective, discipline and love don’t always feel like they go together but they do. From the perspective of a parent we know that we discipline our children because we love them and because we want to see them learn and grow and do better. From the perspective of the parent, discipline is an act of love but it is hard for children to see or understand that. The same is true with our relationship with God, as His children. He disciplines us in love and that is a hard thing to understand. He disciplines us for our best interest, not because he is vindictive or likes to see us squirm. He wants better things for us than to live lives that are less than He designed and intended for us to live.
So discipline and grace really are two sides of the same coin. It just doesn’t always feel that way from our perspective as God’s children. It is important that we trust God in that and grow closer to Him through those times. It is also important to remember that not every bad thing that happens to us is God’s discipline. Some things we bring on ourselves by our own poor choices. Other things are just circumstances that are just part of life. We know God can use those to shape and form us as well if we open ourselves to God through trusting Him to do with our lives whatever He sees fit and know that ultimate it is for our benefit even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.