Summary: David describes our God as covenant keeping and compassion giving.
I want to take you back to the time of Moses - when Moses led the people, the nation of Israel, out of Egypt. You remember the story. They were under slavery, under Pharaoh, and the Egyptians and Moses was called by God to lead these people, God’s people, out of slavery. So he goes and Pharaoh hardens his heart and ten plagues later, Pharaoh relents and he says, “Fine, Moses, take these people and get out of here.” So Moses takes the people and he goes out, but then Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues him. And they come to the Red Sea and God parts the waters and they cross over on dry ground. Pharaoh and his army are wiped out by the waters.
Then some 3 months later, Moses is with the people and he’s up on the mountain with God. God gives him the law – the Ten Commandments – and he gives him the Law and said how they were to live and how they were to operate with God as their leader. And he was up there for a while and while he was up there the people got together already after seeing the power of God displayed they put together a false idol, a golden calf. So Moses comes down and he sees that the people have already turned and they were worshipping this golden calf and his anger burns inside of him. But greater than that, God’s anger burns against the people. So much so that’s He’s going to wipe out the people and he says, “I’m going to start again with you Moses,” but Moses pleads with God, “No.”
But then something really interesting happens. God renews his covenant with Israel and with Moses in Exodus, chapter 33. We’re going to look there before we get to our Psalm. Exodus 33 – Moses says something to God that’s very strange. He makes a very strange request. He’s talking with the Lord all the time and he’s meeting with him and he says to God in verse 18 of chapter 33, “Moses said, ‘please show me Your glory.” He says this to God Almighty. “Please show me your glory.” Strange request. And here is what God says, “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. And the Lord said, ‘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 the cleft of the rock and I will cover you with my hand until I pass by. Then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
Now does God have a face? Does God have a back? No. God is spirit. We know that from His Word. But these terms are used to describe Him. They are human terms used to describe God and He says to Moses, “I’ll show you my glory, but you can’t see my face.” “My face” being his divine presence – His glory. “Only angels can stand before the throne of God. No human can stand before my glory. You cannot see my face. But I’ll come and I’ll hide you in the cleft of the rock and you can go so many places with that.” He hides in the cleft of the rock as righteous God passes in front of him. Who is the Rock of our salvation? Jesus Christ. Who are we found in so that we can stand before the very throne of God? Jesus. But He says, “I’ll pass before you. And then I’ll take my hand away and you can look at my back.”
The word back – it’s interesting – it’s translated other places in the Hebrew Old Testament as being “afterwards” or “the time following” or “hereafter…soon after”. So it’s as if God is saying, “I’m going to pass by and you get to see the place where I’ve just been.” And he does that. In Exodus 34, verse 5, the Lord descends in a cloud. He stands there with Moses. The Lord passed before him. Now this is just how God described it. The Lord passed before him and he says,
“The Lord, the Lord. The God gracious and merciful, 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 on the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.”