WHEN AT THE END OF THE previous chapter, Moses asks to see the Lord’s glory, he is promised (as we have seen) a display of his goodness (33:19). But no one, not even Moses, can gaze at God’ s face and live (33:20). So the Lord arranges for Moses to glimpse, as it were, the trailing edge of the afterglow of the glory of God — and this remarkable experience is reported in Exodus 34.
As the Lord passes by the cleft in the rock where Moses is safely hidden, the Lord intones, “YAHWEH, YAHWEH, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (34:6). The Hebrew words rendered “love” and “faithfulness” are a common pair in the Old Testament. The former is regularly connected with God’s covenantal mercy, his covenantal grace; the latter is grounded in his reliability, his covenantal commitment to keep his word, to do what he promises, to be faithful, to be true.
When John introduces Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1-18), he tells his readers that when the Word of God became flesh (1:14), he “tabernacled” among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One who came from the Father, full of “grace” and “truth.” There are good reasons to think that John has chosen these two words to render the paired expression of the Old Testament. He was clearly thinking of these chapters: Exodus 32 — 34. Echoing Exodus 33, he reminds us that “no one has ever seen God” (1:18). But now that Jesus Christ has come, this Word-made-flesh has made the Father known, displaying “grace and truth” par excellence. The Law was given by Moses — that was wonderful enough, certainly a grace-gift from God. But “grace and truth” in all their unshielded splendor came with Jesus Christ (1:17).
Even the lesser revelation graciously displayed for Moses’ benefit brings wonderful results. It precipitates covenant renewal. The Lord responds to Moses’ prayer: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you” (34:10). From God’s side, this ensures their entry into the Promised Land, for the Lord himself will drive out the opposition (34:11); from the side of the covenant community, what is required is obedience, including careful separation from the surrounding pagans and paganism. “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (34:14).
How could it be otherwise? This God is gracious, but he is also true.