Self-disclosure is one of God’s favorite things in the Old Testament.
Moses is shown “the Glory of the Lord” on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 33.12ff.) He is watching the power of God, the goodness of God, the glow of God. He walked away radiated, with a glowing face. (Exodus 34.29) What is most striking, is how God narrates the event. God describes Himself like this:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…(Exodus 34.6)
This proclamation of identity would stick with God throughout the Old Testament. I had an identity once. At a birthday party in 4th grade (I don’t even remember who it was for), I was reaching for something in the pool at a hotel. The party was at ice cream and cake phase so I had already changed out of my swimming suit. I fell into the pool with all my clothes on. I never lived it down. It came up in 2 different graduation speechs, favorite memories from school portions of yearbooks and school news papers, and one reunion. I will always be the guy who fell in the pool with his clothes on. God will carry this identity through all his dealings with man.
It’s fascinating, however, how this phrase is used.
It’s worshipful. Psalm 145 uses this phrase like a link in a chain. Each link is a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verse 1 begins with aleph. Verse 2, with a bet and so on until verse 8 when chet is the letter that is the letter of focus. The verse begins with the word “gracious” (chanoon). It’s just another link in the chain of attributes describing God in this Psalm. Count the “God is…” statements:
- “Great is the Lord…” (3)
- “The Lord is good to all…”(9)
- “The Lord is trustworthy…” (13)
- “The Lord is righteous…and faithful…”(17)
- “The Lord is near…” (18)
David will extol and praise the Lord for all that He is. (145.2) But it’s a bigger chain than that. Psalm 145 is also a part of a chain that ends the book of Psalms. The last 5 Psalms all begin with the word “Praise” (hb. hallel). In the Hebrew text, the Psalm titles are considered the first verse of the Psalm. So Psalm 145 begins like this: hallelujah. which translates to: “Praise the Lord”.
David loves this word. Back in Psalm 103, he writes:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103.8)
Here he attributes it to Moses, but until he makes his own purposes for the verse known. Six times in Psalm 103 he begins a sentence with hallelujah. I guess if you get stuck on repeat, that’s a great word to get stuck on. Both are Psalms of Praise.
There is another type of Psalm that David wrote. It’s called a Psalm of Lament. These are Psalms that are written from deep despair and anguish. They deal with the dirty issues of life. He writes in Psalm 86:
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86.15)
It’s honest. David is piecing together a prayer of quotations from other places: Exodus 34, Psalms 25, 26, 27, and others. He is lamenting his current predicament. Which predicament that is exactly is undetermined. Is it the pursuit of Saul? Is it the isolation? Is it the Philistines? Time and location aside, David prays and worships. This is the prayer of a desperate man. The Psalm begins:
Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long. (Psalm 86.1-3)
and ends with this:
Turn to me and have mercy on me;
show your strength in behalf of your servant;
save me, because I serve
you just as my mother did.
Give me a sign of your goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86.16-17)
David is struggling to put together a few concepts and ideas. The beginning and end of the Psalm is works-oriented: “save me because I served” (17), “guard me for I trust in you” (1). In the middle, the Lord is a “gracious” and “compassionate” God. It’s a question of justice. Why are bad things happening to a good person? He’s served and trusted, why are things going badly. It is the exact opposite question posed in Jonah’s prayer.
Jonah 4 begins with Jonah in a bad place. Verse 5 let’s the reader know that he went east of the city. That’s code for “bad times”. Anyone going east in the Bible is not having a good day. So he is east. And when he is east, he prays.
Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4.2-3)
God did not destroy Nineveh for their sins and Jonah is upset. It’s not that he has been tremendously faithful to God either; but it’s always easier to see the sin in others than in yourself. Jonah laments about God’s justice. Why do good things happen to bad people? Jonah wants the Lord to know that he knew all along that this was going to happen. So, in what I imagine would be a mocking tone, Jonah quotes Exodus 34.6 and part of verse 7. Why is it mocking you may wonder? Notice what Jonah leaves out at the junction of 6 and 7? The “faithfulness” (’emet) of God. In Jonah’s thinking: if God is for the Ninevites, He can be for Jonah/Israel. Jonah is putting God perjury alert. He is questioning God’s honesty…to be continued…