24 Sep 2006

Preach the "Old Testament" #2: The Gracious & Compassionate God

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Exodus, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Ministry, Preaching

The following is an actual sermon preached at Southside Church of Christ. I post this as an example of preaching from the Hebrew Bible. Those out there who are master homileticians please be merciful.


A young man once loved his bride. In fact he simply adored her. He practically “worshipped” the ground upon which she walked (as young men are prone to do). He married her. She, however, did not return his love with with faithfulness. They were scarcely back from the honeymoon when he discovered he exploits with other men. Everyone told him she was trouble and to put her away. She cried for him to forgive her. He loved her dearly and he forgave her. Not long after he discovered she was with yet another man — this time she was pregnant. What was he to do? She had had her chance so everyone told him to divorce her! But he loved her dearly so he forgave her. By this time, as you can imagine, people began to think this husband was crazy but he loved her. Within a year she had simply ran off with yet another man leaving him with children not his own.

I do not know the people personally in the that story but I can feel the pain, I am sure you can too. The amazing thing is this woman has surfaced again. What do YOU think this husband should do? Should he take her back? What would you do? Think on that deeply.

Another true story — as sad as the first. There was a man, rich andpowerful. He was a politician. We would probably call him “wicked!” He was guilty of adultery not once but dozens of times. He had people killed. He got involved in witchcraft and lead almost his whole nation into this evil. He was so deranged that during one of his demonic services he murdered his own son in a ritual. Sick! Depraved!Degraded! We cannot multiply the adjectives enough. I do not want this man as a senator, congressman, or president. In fact this man has been thrown into a prison for his crimes. Yet he has had the audacity to ask for forgiveness. What shall we do?


Before you answer that question let’s look at our text for this morning in light of these painfully true stories. Our text comes comes fromExodus 34. 5-9. Read with me:

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And when 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, 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 fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Yahweh, the Lord God, claims to be a compassionate and gracious God. He claims to be a God of Steadfast Love (RSV). He claims to be slow in anger and rich in forgiveness. Now I am free to identify the people in our opening stories because I feel they are perfect examples of what this text claims. The man in the first painful story is Hosea and his wife is Gomer. You may want to know that he did forgive her and he did take her back. In fact it may surprise you that God commanded him to take that unloving and unfaithful wife — who has already blown a number of chances — he told Hosea to take her back. This was to symbolize his own compassionate and gracious forgiveness of us. We are the unfaithful Gomer, yet he accepts us back — over and over again!

The sick — disgustingly evil — man in the second story is Manasseh, king of Judah. Not only did God quickly forgive this man when he asked, the Lord to but he restored him to power and kingship. Talk about grace. Talk about undeserved compassion. I know — beyond doubt that had Manasseh been president of the United States and had done the things he had done his chances for a public life would be less than zero. But God is not man — his compassion, his graciousness, his love proves that beyond doubt. The Bible uses these stories to show uswith concrete and specific examples what Exodus 34 claims. The God of the Bible is a Gracious God. The God of the Bible is slow to anger and a God who is rich in forgiveness.

We learn that God loves us, he pursues us like a man does his bride, he enters into a covenant of love with us. Yet we daily go after other gods. Things and people in this world take away our love that should be directed solely to Yahweh. But God, like Hosea, takes us back. God offers to us, like he did Manasseh, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Exodus says he does that simply because that is what kind of God Yahweh is.

It is “easy” to be forgiving when nothing really bad is going on. But a lot of “bad” things are going on in the context of Exodus 34. Starting with ch. 32 (only a month after Israel’s “wedding” vows[sticking with our analogy of Hosea] and only two months after the miracle at the Red Sea — and Israel is unfaithful. She is building other gods/idols. Moses had gone up the mountain and the people wandered off after false gods. The people wanted “gods they could see — humbler gods, gods who would comfort them with a gentler, VISIBLE presence” as Walter Wangerin insightfully notes (The Book of God, p. 140). So Aaron gave them what they wanted – a visible god. He made a golden calf and dared to call it the God of the Exodus. The people went cheerfully into their adultery against Yahweh — less than a month after their honeymoon! Like any husband, Yahweh is angry, as any husband would be, but he forgives his people (32.9-15). God did not destroy her or desert her. He took her back.

After that unfaithfulness, God calls Moses back up the mountain and there in the grievous context of sin claims to be a compassionate, gracious and loving God. “Yahweh, Yahweh,” is pronounced. Then God proceeds to “exegete” his name — he tells us what “Yahweh” means. His name defines who he is. His name means “compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, full of great and abounding love, full of faithfulness and forgiveness.” That is what God says his name means, that is what kind of God we serve. That is the kind of God that deserves our wholehearted devotion, our worship, our obedience. These six aspects of God are practically indistinguishable. Ones scholar noted there isn’t any real difference in the words. “The whole list [compassion, gracious, steadfast love, slow to anger, etc] boils down to: mercy, mercy, mercy. Does God have just one attribute — this text seems to suggest that.” (Ronald M. Hals, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament, p. 16). Each word contributes to a picture that compliments and extends the rest. For example “merciful/compassionate” (Hebrew, rhm) literally comes from a root that means “womb.” The word conjures up the image of the tenderness of a mother’s care with the newborn infant she has carried in her womb. What a moving picture of God and his dealing with you and me. The word translated “abounding love” or better “steadfast love” (RSV, Hebrew, hsd) is closely related to the word “grace.” The term simply means that God will not, indeed refuses to give up on us. He is a God who loves FOREVER (Ps. 136) despite our rebellion and sin. So, indeed, God is compassion, compassion, compassion! Mercy, mercy, mercy! Love, love, love! Did not the apostle John say “God IS love.”

The text says that when Moses heard God pronounce his awesome and holy name he fell to the ground and worshiped. You know that is the only acceptable response we can give to such a great God as ours. We pay homage to our great and compassionate God.

At this point have the congregation sing, “Glorify Thy Name” to worship him for his love for us


I can already hear someone objecting to the text and saying, “Bobby you are leaving out the part about punishing sin! See there is more to God than this love stuff!” My response to that is — No I am not leaving anything off about sin. God does not overlook, minimize or excuse sin. But in the Hebrew text — and in the English — the judgment on sin is NOT part of the explanation of God’s holy and awesome name!! Wrath is “not a continuous aspect of the nature of God but a PARTICULAR response to a historical situation” (T. Fretheim, Exodus: Interpretation, p. 302).

God does punish because it is an affront to his holiness but that is NOT the point of this text. God in pronouncing his name deliberately contrasts the fact that he shows love to THOUSANDS — forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin — with punishing a FEW. The contrast is unmistakable and glaring. The context of Exodus 34 highlights this very thing. God says to Moses that if we are to know the one true God and not some idol of our own making (of the kind Aaron made) then we must know him as a compassionate and gracious God who is rich in forgiveness. God says you cannot say his name without saying compassion, graciousness and love — to do so is to evoke a false deity. Due to his name, God acts in forgiving ways. He forgives unbelievable sin. Look at the life of Manasseh. Look at Gomer. Look at Christ on the cross and hear him say “Father forgive them!” The cross proves beyond a doubt that God does not excuse our sin — he suffers for it and forgives it and there is a huge difference. At the cross Christ took the punishment that would fall on all of us. In that event, in the bloody murder ofthe Innocent One we see Exodus 34 in full action. God forgave”wickedness, rebellion and sin.” He forgave the ones who not only were committing adultery but the ones torturing his own Son. The voice of God thunders through the universe — “Father Forgive them!” Brothers and sisters that voice was heard in Exodus: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God . . . ” God forgives over and over and over. It cost him dearly to forgive.


If you and I are to know God we must become people who are like him. We must become compassionate, merciful, and loving. We must become slow to anger, full of love and forgiving — even in the face of painful and grievous sin. Just like Gomer’s. Just like Manasseh’s. Just like mine! In the NT these same traits are calledthe Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.22-23: “love, joy, peace,patience, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When we know Godwe start to look and act in a manner that looks like him.

[remainder deleted]

To God’s glory and grace,
Bobby Valentine

21 Responses to “Preach the "Old Testament" #2: The Gracious & Compassionate God”

  1. Stoogelover Says:

    Good stuff, Bobby! I don’t know that I would agree with Fretheim in that I believe a good case could be made for God’s wrath being consistent against unholiness. I see his wrath against sin to be as much a part of God’s character and holy nature as is his love. Am I wrong?

  2. DJG Says:

    I see why you are passionate about preching from the Old Testament. Great job. Started my Sundy morning out right!

  3. Orange Grover Says:

    Good stuff Bobby! I’ll be using your insights in the near future!

  4. Falantedios Says:

    God’s wrath against sin is an important part of his character. However, it cannot be as much a part of it as his love. Why? Beause sin hasn’t always existed, but the community of love that is Father-Son-Spirit God has always existed, an has always existed in perfect love. That’s also why God’s wrath cannot be arbitrary: God loves Himself as perfectly as He perfectly does everything else.

    We finite and fallen beings often take offense out of fear or frustration or imagined slights. God’s perfect self-love prevents such failures, leaving Him perfectly capable of exercising wrath without any need to justify Himself.

    God’s perfection is so hard for us to deal with. We expect Him to justify Himself when we either disagree or don’t understand. He defies such expectations and expects us to trust Him as the Son trusts the Father.

    His wrath began when sin began, and it will end when sin ends.

    Jim McGuiggan’s ‘Celebrating the Wrath of God’ helped me to clarify some of these ideas.

    in HIS love,

  5. preacherman Says:

    Excellent thoughts as always.
    I think that alot of Christians fail to read the Old Testament like they should. Many have a scewed view of God. They see him as a God of Wrath and Judgement. Many Christians fail to understand that the Old Testament is relivant to Christian living and the story of grace.
    Last year I read the entire Old Testament without considering the new testament at all and the God that as clear in the Old Testament was the Graceous and Compassionate God that you mentioned.

    Thanks again for these wonderful post and keep up the great blogging!

  6. Chris Field Says:

    I dig it, bro. Thanks for the words and the heart I can tell is behind them. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments on my blog. I look forward to meeting someday.


  7. Velcro Says:

    Is this the Southside in FtW?

  8. cwinwc Says:

    It is comforting to know that God pursues us with His Grace.

  9. Royce Ogle Says:

    God’s love has a hand to it’s ear listening for the sinners cry for help. God’s forgiveness is on alert looking down the road for the return of the wayward.And the grace of God is busy preparing a place of honor in the Father’s house for the weary to rest and for the hungry to be fed.

    Oh how much God loves sinners and wants them to come to the light of His love and be whole. Mercy for today and renewed mercy for tomorrow.

    God isn’t just loving. God doesn’t just love. God IS love!

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  10. Chito Says:

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    Whether someone is an adult or a child, one quickly begins to feel as if they were there experiencing what Noah and his family went through. The artwork is so spectacular, one can almost sense the atmosphere, the anguish, the excitement and anxiety. Once inside the Ark, a feeling of awe creeps over the reader as the enormity and reality of this structure appears to grip one’s senses. This is not just a fantastic reading book for the whole family, but a coffee table witnessing book and a wonderful gift idea for non-Christians to challenge them concerning the truth of the Bible and gospel.

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  11. Tony Arnold Says:

    Insightful post. Tough to practice and hard to imagine how we could forgive someone in today’s climate. These accounts make Bill Clinton look like a Saint.

    It would have been interesting if us Christian Republicans had considered this sermon during those times.

    It sure makes me realize how hard forgiveness really is for humans.


  12. Chris Field Says:


    I have a small hang-up with teaching the genocide of mankind to children in Bible class. Pictures of people drowning and screaming for help as the ark went past them would be the legitimate and factual images for kids to see and I don’t think that would be good for them.

  13. Velcro Says:

    Wow! Awesome Post, Bobby. You really know your stuff!

  14. Bill Says:


    I’ve really appreciated these posts. You’ve inspired me to post a little piece I wrote some time back on reading the Old Testament.

    Thanks, brother!


  15. MommyHAM Says:

    I’m gonna have to study a bit more….I can’t seem to get past the punishing the children part…but otherwise,I agree with you.

    As an aside, truthfully, is the “remainder deleted,” just because you’re afraid of looking like a long-winded preacher? I mean, just how much is deleted 😉

  16. denimgirl Says:

    Bobby, i just wonder why you call yourself Stoned-Campbell Disciple.
    I know where the names come from and who they are and the part they played in the restoration…but why are you calling yourself after them? W

    What about 1 Corinthians 1:12-13:

    Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
    Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

    Why not call yourself a disciple of Jesus or Christ?

    Just wondering.

  17. Heather Says:

    Bobby, that was such a great post!

    I have been learning to not look at the physical, but look past physical actions to see what the Father sees. I have been learning about forgivness and to give it as often as it requires. I have been learning to look through the eyes of love. It is so hard at times, but when I get it glued in my mind and forged into my heart that my fight isn’t against flesh and blood. My job is to pray for those who persecute me and love them, no matter what the cost because that is exactly what Jesus did on the cross and still does. Taking on the mind of Christ. I have a million miles to go, but I find that it is easier everyday when I look to Father. He is love, so shall I walk in it.

    God Bless you Bobby!

  18. denimgirl Says:

    Well Bobby I guess you aren’t going to answer the question. I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to answer it either. But think about it…will you?

    Best wishes in all things. Edna

  19. denimgirl Says:

    Sorry I typed the Scripture wrong on the first one…so started again.

    Bobby & Edna said…
    Thanks Bobby for taking the time to answer. I really appreciate it because I was sincere in wanting to know.

    You gave four reasons why you call yourself a ‘stoned-campbell disciple.

    The two about a sense of humor doesn’t fly! I think Jesus and God had a sense of humor at times…but they still had 1 Corinthians 1: 12-13 written and preserved in the Holy Scriptures.

    The third one doesn’t make any sense at all. And…

    The fourth one is just simply calling yourself after a man instead of Christ….and that just brings us back to 1 Corinthians again, doesn’t it???

    In trying to get back to the Bible, I am not sure that Alexander Campbell would smile on approval either. Even Martin Luther didn’t when they wanted to call themselves Lutherans.

    With kind regards,
    Bobby concurs but he doesn’t do internet. Wish he did.

    3:38 PM

  20. John Says:

    Awesome sermon, sir. I appreciate the truth in it. I will be back.

  21. Richard Oster Says:

    Of course all those who suffered from the ravages of cannibalism, castration, starvation, homelessness, abuse of the elderly, punishment without mercy, etc because of Manasseh might have thought that Exodus 34:7b was pretty closely related to Exodus 34:7a.

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