The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Shemot / Exodus 34:5-7; ESV)
The Torah reading this Shabbat is special as it is one of the intermediate days of Pesach (English: Passover). The words I just read are God's answer to Moses' prayer, when he said "Show me your glory" (Shemot / Exodus 33:18; ESV). From the context it seems that what Moses was asking for, was to see God. This would be why God's response is as follows:
I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name "The LORD" And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But...you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live...Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,...and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen. (Shemot / Exodus 33:19-23; ESV)It is instructive that when God comes to reveal himself, his revelation is primary communicated through words. There is no fire or earthquake, no miraculous surprises. He revealed himself to Moses through words, words which we still can hear today.
To see God is to rightly perceive his character. While we may think that it would be preferable to have some sort of physical encounter with God, which might be what Moses was asking for, having a right understanding of who he is, is what we really need. So I would like to take a brief look at what God said to Moses that day. For through these words we too might see God.
"The LORD, the LORD". This use of God's name denotes that he is the self-existing, self-defining one. He is not to be understood by our perceptions of him. Rather, his identity and character are absolutely dependant on himself.
"A God merciful and gracious". God does not treat us as we deserve, in fact he is the one who gives us the power to live.
"Slow to anger". God doesn't instantly react to our misdeeds. He is patient with us.
"And abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness". God is continually dependable. We can always count on him to do what is right and good.
"Keeping steadfast love for thousands". God's love is not for a select few, but for everyone.
"Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin". God forgives sin. We need not remain in a state of alienation from him. No matter what we have done, we can be restored to him.
"But who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation." Those who do not avail themselves of God's mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness will bring the consequences of their actions on generations. Unresolved wrongs begin a cycle that is difficult to break. But thankfully, that cycle can be broken if and when we get right with him.