“When will the other shoe drop?”
She wasn’t angry; she was more matter-of-fact. She wasn’t asking God if the other shoe would drop, she was asking when, and she had good reason to ask. Her life had been one loss after another, and she was confident that each loss meant that God was whacking her for getting out of line. God, she was persuaded, was picky.
She hadn’t done anything terribly wrong. A little complaining about her job, a little frustration with a friend, who, it turns out, was a bit picky herself. Nothing that deserved a major whack. But look at what happened to Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:6-8). He seemed like a decent, well-intentioned guy when he tried to keep the ark of God from falling on the ground. He was reacting on instinct. When something falls you try to catch it. Not only was Uzzah doing what came naturally, he was whacked on a day of great celebration in Israel. That sounds picky.
Picky people are never satisfied. Clean up your room—they point out the dust bunny in the corner. If you say you’ll be there at 6:00 pm—they get on your case when you arrive a few minutes after. When it comes to God himself, he has even more reason to be picky. He does everything perfectly, so his bar, it would seem, would be fairly high, and he knows all the Old Testament rules, which we can never keep straight.
Hmm. This is getting close to home. I know what happened at the cross, more or less. I know I find forgiveness and cleansing in what Jesus has done, and I am both grateful and humbled everyday because of it. But that part about picky people never being satisfied – that makes sense to me. I might not live with the ever-present fear of being whacked, but I can certainly live with a sense that God is not satisfied with me (or is anyone else satisfied with me, for that matter). I know that my life is joined to Jesus Christ, but…
Here is a passage that helps:
And 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.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
We can find whatever we want in Scripture, from blanket condemnation to legal loopholes, and we can find whatever we want in any one passage. How many times have I suggested that a person read a tender passage of Scripture, and they found judgment? If we are committed to seeing God as picky, we will find it in this passage. For example, we could fixate on the punishment to the third and fourth generation. But, to get picky in a good sense, when we listen to the Lord we want to understand what he says, not what we say. Even with other people, when we close our minds to what they are saying and impose own predetermined interpretation – we will likely get it wrong. I remember a story circulating about someone playing a round of golf with Billy Graham. The golfer reported that the day went okay, except he was getting tired of Graham’s constant harping about the man’s foul language. The reality, as testified by the rest of the foursome, was that Graham said nothing more than polite greetings and gracious encouragement.
So, if we really listen, what is God saying about himself in Exodus 34? You probably remember the context. The people of Israel, fresh from Egyptian deliverance, had just run headlong into idolatry, in blatant disregard of God’s saving actions and promises that he would be their God. In response, God revealed himself to Moses and the people.
If humor is all about expecting one comment and getting something very different, then these words should have us rolling in the aisles. We expect to get royally whacked and he says, instead, that he is the “Lord,” which is the name attached to all his rescue missions. Let the hilarity begin. Then the Lord simply goes back to what he said earlier – he is the God who shows grace and mercy to people not because they are so good at keeping his commands but because he shows grace and mercy (Exodus 33:11). Nothing has changed. He is still faithful to his promises when we are faithless. That is his character. “I love you because that is what I do, that is who I am. I don’t love you because you cleaned your room perfectly.”
“Slow to anger”? Try to find a human analogy for that? Imagine rebelling against God and he responds with patience and a listening ear. It is easy to imagine rebelling, but not the responses.
“Maintaining love to thousands”? That doesn’t sound too good when you figure that many millions have preceded you. Better to translate it as “maintaining love to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). And the comments about “the third and fourth generation” were later clarified to mean that each person is responsible for his or her own sin. A son will not die because of the sins of the father (Ezekiel 18:18). The basic idea is that the Lord’s compassion, love, mercy, forgiveness and faithfulness are unlimited. They are unrestricted, liberal, abounding, endless. But the Lord keeps his punishment within very clear boundaries. See the contrast? If we focus on the “third and fourth generation” more than the “thousands” we are not listening.
Uzzah is still out there, waiting to be explained, but let’s go with what God emphasizes: boundless love and forgiveness. He is decidedly not picky. Let’s go with what he says about himself until we at least have a chuckle. That can be the evidence that we are really hearing. Then, after a good chuckle, we can follow Moses’ lead. Something this unexpected makes you both laugh and worship.
Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. (Exodus 34:8)