© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 20 November 2017
5A6. God’s nature expressed as love:
In grace, God gloriously declared and demonstrated to Moses and the Israelites that He is compassionate, patient, faithful and forgiving
5A6(title) God’s nature expressed as love
5A6(title)(a) khesed: a key Hebrew word for God’s “unfailing love”
The word “love” was never used in Genesis to describe this attribute of God. So throughout Eras 1 to 4 God’s nature of love was expressed by His declarations of blessing and by His generous acts and words of mercy and grace towards people [1A6(title), 2A4].
In Era 5 God is described several times as “loving”. After crossing the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites sang God’s praises and referred to His “unfailing love” Ex 15:13a. This phrase translates the single Hebrew word khesed.1
This word is used nine more times in Era 5, always referring to God’s love Ex 20:6b, 34:6b,7a, Num 14:18a,19a, Deut 5:10a, Ps 90:14a. The supreme example of God’s khesed was as the core of His Covenant with the Israelites Deut 7:9,12. Khesed emphasised love as steadfast (“strength” Ex 15:13b) expressed as devoted and loyal commitment within a relationship, involving both obligation and generosity.2
These are all qualities that are entirely intended to benefit others.
5A6(title)(b) ahab: a second Hebrew word for “love”
Another Hebrew word ahab is also translated as “love”. It is used 33 times in Era 5 although only 6 times referring to God’s love Deut 4:37a, 7:8a,13a, 10:15a,18b, 23:5b. It emphasised strong emotional attachment and desire to be with the person or thing loved.3
The difference between these two words was seen in the second Commandment. God declared that He would be “showing love (khesed) to a thousand generations of those who love (ahab) me and keep my commandments” Ex 20:6, Deut 5:10.
Clearly this was intended to contrast the meanings of the two Hebrew words. The emphasis of khesed was on the permanence of God’s love. But ahab implied the less constant, feelings-based love expressed by people in their commitment to God. So the positive experiencing by the Israelites of God’s steadfast love was conditional upon their love for Him being expressed as faithful Covenantal obedience, not just their emotions.
There is another similar contrasting of the meanings of the two Hebrew words. Moses twice referred to God “keeping his covenant of love” (khesed) Deut 7:9a,12b towards those who loved (ahab) Him Deut 7:9b. Yet the reason Moses gave for God choosing the Israelites and delivering them from Egypt “was because the LORD loved (ahab) you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers” Deut 7:8. He also went on to say that God “will love (ahab) you and bless you and increase your numbers” Deut 7:13b.
It seems that these alternating usages of the two words was to emphasise that the depth and permanence of God’s love for the Israelites also included His strong feelings of affection for them. He was seeking both of these qualities in the Israelites’ love for Him!
5A6(sub-title) In grace, God gloriously declared and demonstrated to Moses and the Israelites that He is compassionate, patient, faithful and forgiving
When giving Moses the second Covenantal Tables of the Law Ex 34:1 God spoke of His own nature of love Ex 34:6-7a. As seen already [5A1(c)(vi)] this was God’s greatest declaration so far of His own attributes. It highlighted the generosity of God’s khesed love, as compassionate, gracious, patient, faithful and forgiving. Again the stark contrast with the people’s lack of desire (ahab) for God was indicated by His repetition from the Second Commandment Ex 34:7b.
God made this great declaration when partially showing Moses His glory Ex 34:5 as He had said He would Ex 33:18,19,20-22,23. So the declaration was accompanied by the glory of God, emphasising its great significance!
5A6(a) God’s love as the motivation underlying His Covenantal Laws for Israel
Many of God’s Covenantal Laws for Israel concerned the wellbeing of the Israelite community and of individuals within it [see 5A10]. These requirements all embodied values that were expressions of God’s love. For example, there were numerous laws concerning relationships between people.4
5A6(b) In grace, God demonstrated His steadfast love to Moses and the Israelites
5A6(b)(i) God’s prior Covenantal commitments to the Israelites
God had already demonstrated His unfailing, kind love for people in many ways by His acts of grace. He had been merciful and remained committed to them after the FALL [1B33, 2A4]. Then He saved Noah and his family and Covenantly blessed them UNCONDITIONALLY after the FLOOD [3A6]. Later He chose Abraham and Covenantly declared to him, “be a blessing!” [4A5] which was fulfilled by God throughout Abraham’s life Gen 24:1,27a.
God’s Covenantal commitment to bless Abraham also applied to his chosen descendants. Era 4 ended with God appearing to Abraham’s grandson Jacob (Israel) Gen 46:1-2. God assured him of His ongoing presence with him in Egypt and of future fulfilments of His Covenantal declarations and promises Gen 46:3-4.
5A6(b)(ii) In grace, God demonstrated His faithfulness to His Covenantal commitments despite the Israelites’ unfaithfulness
Over 400 years later in Egypt God’s faithfulness to His previous Covenantal commitments to Abraham Gen 15:13,14 persisted Ex 2:23-24 and was declared by God Ex 6:5,6,7,8. He then delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians Ex 12:50-51, 14:29-30. Later the Israelites had overwhelming experiences of God’s presence, glory and power at Mount Sinai as He confirmed His Covenant with them Ex 19:16-17,18,19-20, 31:18.
Yet the Israelites continued to forget these events. They distrusted God’s love and disbelieved His ability to look after them when faced with further crises in their desert journeyings. Their ultimate failure was when in fear they refused to invade Canaan as God had commanded them Num 14:1-4. God responded in anger by threatening to annihilate all of them except Moses! Num 14:10-12.
Then in response to Moses’ intercession Num 14:13,14,15-16 appealing to God’s power and love Num 14:17-18 God forgave their sin Num 14:20. Yet there were permanent negative consequences for that generation of men because of their rebellion Num 14:21-22,23. But God maintained His unchanging love and Covenantal commitment to the Israelites by promising that the next generation would invade and possess Canaan Num 14:24,31. This was later fulfilled Josh 21:43,44-45.
5A6(b)(iii) In grace, God made provisions for any Israelite to receive His forgiveness for their failures to obey His Covenantal laws
God required His Covenantal laws to be fully and exactly obeyed by all the Israelites. But in grace, these laws also included extensive provisions for forgiveness of their failures to obey, by means of various offerings Lev 4:1-6:7, 6:24-30, 7:1-6, 8:14-17, 16:3-22. In this way their experience of God’s steadfast love for them and their relationship with Him could be freed from the crippling effects of failure and guilt Lev 4:20b,26,31,35, 5:6,10,13,16,18, 6:6,7, 8:15, 16:10,15,16,17,22.
5A6(b)(iv) In grace, God responded positively to Moses’ request to see His glory
The climax of encounters with God’s glory was when Moses on Mt Sinai had earnestly asked God to make Himself known TO him Ex 33:13 and demonstrate His presence with Israel Ex 33:15,16. God assured him that He would be with Israel and that He would do as Moses requested Ex 33:14,17.
Yet God’s face could not be seen directly by human eyes Ex 33:20,23b. So He would protect Moses from such over-exposure to His glory Ex 33:21-23a. Soon afterwards God did as He had said! Ex 34:5a. This involved God’s profound proclamation of His own name and nature TO Moses Ex 34:5b-6,7. So God was again accomplishing His primary purpose. As God made Himself known, Moses responded appropriately by worshipping Him! Ex 34:8.
It is then implied that God’s glory was actually seen in the “radiant” face of Moses as he descended from the mountain! Ex 34:29. This was overwhelming for others to see! Ex 34:30. It was even necessary for Moses to cover his face with a veil when with people! Ex 34:33,34b-35a. But he removed it in God’s presence Ex 34:34a,35b. God was accomplishing His primary purpose by making Himself known visibly in this extraordinary way THROUGH Moses!
5A6(b)(v) God would accomplish His primary purpose by demonstrations of His love
Psalm 90 carries the title “A prayer of Moses the man of God”. It is preoccupied with the brevity of life Ps 90:3-4,5-6 and the Israelites’ sin and extended suffering of God’s wrath Ps 90:7-8,9-10. So they had an enduring need to respond positively to Him Ps 90:11-12. This all suggests that Moses wrote the Psalm in his old age.
Yet Psalm 90 begins with declarations of God’s unfailing protection of the Israelites Ps 90:1 and of faith in Him Ps 90:2. It also ends with Moses characteristically appealing for God’s “unfailing love” (khesed) to bring them joy and gladness despite their afflictions Ps 90:14-15. But this was not to be just for their own benefit. Moses’ desire was for God to make Himself known TO their descendants also Ps 90:16b as demonstrations of His favour upon them Ps 90:17.
Moses was asking God to accomplish His primary purpose in his own and later generations by demonstrating His unchanging love and Covenantal commitment to them.
Arrows 5A3 -> 5A4,
5A3 -> 5A5 and
5A3 -> 5A6
These arrows indicate that in accord with God’s primary purpose, He was gloriously expressing His own nature TO and THROUGH people as love, power and holiness.
1. Khesed is only used once in Eras 1-4 and was not referring to God. It was when Abraham admitted he had told Sarah how to show the constancy of her love for him by saying he was her brother, so as to protect him from danger Gen 20:13.(Return to reading).
2. W.E.Vine, Merrill F.Unger and William White Jr, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Nelson, 1985), pages 142-143 (OT section).(Return to reading).
3. W.E.Vine, Merrill F.Unger and William White Jr, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Nelson, 1985), pages 141-142 (OT section).(Return to reading).
4. These laws covered such issues as marriage, food sharing, ensuring justice in disputes between people, dealing with accusations of wrongdoing, property and inheritance rights, care for the welfare of the disadvantaged and for animals, etc. A list of references to these laws is included in the NIV Study Bible, at Deuteronomy 22.(Return to reading).