God’s Revelation to Moses – the thirteen attributes of God

“Judaism relates to God as a code hidden in the verses of the Torah – Christianity as a character revealed in Christ” (Michael Korn)

And the LORD said to Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables which thou didst break. And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me on the top of the mount … and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up to mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone. And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generation. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head towards the earth, and worshiped. (Exodus 34: 1-10)

ויאמר יהוה אל־משׁה פסל־לך שׁני־לחת אבנים כראשׁנים וכתבתי על־הלחת את־הדברים אשׁר היו על־הלחת הראשׁנים אשׁר שׁברת׃ והיה נכון לבקר ועלית בבקר אל־הר סיני ונצבת לי שׁם על־ראשׁ ההר׃ … ויפסל שׁני־לחת אבנים כראשׁנים וישׁכם משׁה בבקר ויעל אל־הר סיני כאשׁר צוה יהוה אתו ויקח בידו שׁני לחת אבנים׃ וירד יהוה בענן ויתיצב עמו שׁם ויקרא בשׁם יהוה׃ ויעבר יהוה על־פניו ויקרא יהוה יהוה אל רחום וחנון ארך אפים ורב־חסד ואמת׃ נצר חסד לאלפים נשׂא עון ופשׁע וחטאה ונקה לא ינקה פקד עון אבות על־בנים ועל־בני בנים על־שׁלשׁים ועל־רבעים׃ וימהר משׁה ויקד ארצה וישׁתחו׃

At Moses’ first ascent of Mount Sinai, God descended as fire and handed down the terms of a covenant that would distinguish the people of Israel from other nations and render it as a peculiar treasure unto Him. At this ascent, the mountain was covered with smoke and shaken by thunder and lightning, earthquakes, the terrific sound of the shofar and a Voice from heaven that made everyone tremble (Exodus 19 & 20). This event is referred to by the rabbis as the divine revelation and generally regarded in the Talmudic religion as “the greatest event in Jewish history”. 1

Shortly after this, the Torah was ratified by the sprinkling of blood (Exodus 24:8) and Moses returned to the Mount to receive a record of the covenant in tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18). Yet, according to the biblical narrative, these events were quickly superseded by Israel’s worship of the golden calf, thereby breaking the covenant (symbolised in the shattering of the stone tablets at the foot of the Mount).

At this time Moses was again called up the mountain and at this ascent received a revelation of God fundamentally different from the first.


We know from Exodus 33:18 that Moses was not satisfied with the manifestations of God at the first giving of the Law, for after experiencing the thunder and lightning and earthquakes he turned to God and prayed, “show me Your glory” (ויאמר הראני נא את־כבדך).

The Hebrew word for “glory” is more literally translated as weight or heaviness, but may also be rendered substance. Moses yearned for the consolation of God’s nature, His essence, His character. Moses understood that the glory of God was not contained in His form or in the demonstrations of His power. For God could appear as readily in a burning bush (Exodus 3:4) as He could in a pillar of smoke (Exodus 13:21) or in a man (Genesis 18). As for His power, Pharaoh’s magicians were allowed to emulate many of the wonders of God (Exodus 7).

Similarly Moses was not content that the Torah constituted the ultimate basis for relationship between God and man, for after receiving it and becoming its oracle and teacher, he prayed (Exodus 33:13): “show me now Thy way, that I might know You” (הודעני נא את־דרכך ואדעך).

The Law which the Israelites was so eager to accept was quickly transgressed as the experience that filled them with such awe became a mere memory. Moses in his prayers for the preservation of Israel could not require God to deliver the benefits of protection promised in terms of the covenant that the people had so flagrantly contravened. Moses had rather to understand God’s ways, His manner of dealing with His children, in order that he might be able to appeal to Him on the basis of His nature. In answer to Moses’ prayers, the LORD called upon Moses to make the further ascent – at which God reveals Himself according to the record of Exodus 34:5-7.


And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth.

The principal difference between the revelation of Exodus 34 and the earlier revelation of Exodus 19 and 20 is that God “made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the children of Israel” (Psalm 103.7).

There is nothing here of the sensation of the earlier appearance (so that the Talmud treats this later event as incidental to the earlier revelation).

It is also evident that much of what is seen in this revelation of God had been revealed before:

  • the divine name before the Passover (Exodus 6:3);
  • the divine qualities in God’s earlier dealings with Israel; and
  • the transmutability of love and retribution to future generations at the first giving of the law (Exodus 20:5).

This is to be expected, for God is consistent in His nature, the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). In Him there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Divine revelation for the spiritual man is not in the newness or in the spectacle of the thing revealed, but in the confirmation of God as He is.


The glory of God and the way of God as revealed in response to Moses’ prayers appear from a careful consideration of the verses of this text.

1. the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD God

The divine name יהוה (rendered “the LORD” in capital letters in most English translations) is related to the present continuous form of the Hebrew verb “to be”. It reveals the infinite duration of the God who is, who was and who is to come. The eternal and invincible God. “I am,” without beginning and without ceasing. The Talmud suggests the dual appearance of the divine name in this verse because: “I am the merciful God before a man sins, and I am the same merciful and forgiving God after a man has sinned”. 2

Christian commentators point out that the divine name actually appears three times in verse 6 – this testifying to the plurality of the Godhead as the LORD who passes before Moses on the Mount, calls upon the LORD in heaven, through the LORD the Holy Spirit. This is further supported by the third occurrence of the divine name in conjunction with the Hebrew word el – the singular of the more commonly used plural form elohim – which suggests that each occurrence of the divine name in this revelation to Moses represents a singular facet of the God who is usually referred to as a composite unity.

It is also significant that in Hebrew there are no degrees of comparison (such as holy, holier and holiest), but simply an accentuation by repetition. In Hebrew holy, holy, holy (i.e. a threefold repetition) signifies the highest degree of holiness – so that the threefold repetition of the divine name at the commencement of this revelation signifies the highest degree of divine revelation permitted to man.

He is revealed as follows:

2. the compassionate God

The English word compassion is rendered by Webster’s Dictionary as “suffering with another; painful sympathy; a sensation of sorrow excited by the distress or misfortunes of another; pity; commiseration”. It reveals the God who is not indifferent, but is intently involved in the circumstances of his children. Isaiah said of Him:

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bore them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9).

But compassion fails in some respects to convey what is meant by the Hebrew word rachuum as used in the original text. While a person may also be described ascompassionate, the Hebrew word is never used of anyone but God. It is related to the word rechem (womb), being the place within a mother in which the child that was conceived is protected and nurtured in anticipation of birth.

In this sense rachuum comes closer to the English word cherish as defined by Webster, namely “to treat in a manner to encourage growth, by protection, aid, attendance, or supplying nourishment”. God is revealing in this attribute His close attendance upon his children from the very inception of our faith -not leaving anything to chance, but holding us as it were within Himself (בקרבו), or as elsewhere described, as “the apple of His eye”.

The notion of “blind faith” is thus altogether misplaced in relation to the God of the Bible. Just as every crisis in the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was a lesson in God’s faithfulness, so too the faith of every believer today is the product of a God who has proven Himself through many acts of mercy and deliverance. Faith in Him is always a nurtured faith, a faith that He has been at pains to develop, in the manner that Paul tried to emulate when he said, “I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).

Rachuum is further understood in the parent’s attitude towards his wayward child. It is a bond that sustains the hope of restoration, no matter how strained the relationship may be. It is used in this way in 2 Chronicles 30:9 and in Joel 2:13 (see also Luke 15:11-32).

3. the gracious God

The Hebrew word is derived from a root which means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favour, bestow” (Strong’s Dictionary). This is similar to the English word condescend  in its original meaning, namely, “To descend from the privileges of superior rank or dignity, to do some act to an inferior, which strict justice or the ordinary rules of civility do not require. Hence, to submit or yield, as to an inferior, implying an occasional relinquishment of distinction” (Webster’s Dictionary).

Whereas most religions propagate man’s ascent to God, the Bible reveals God as the One who descends to man:

“ … the LORD descended ( ירד) in the cloud, and stood with him there” (Exodus 34:5).

God’s lack of indifference, His intimate involvement with His children as expressed in rachuum is thus complimented by chanuun – His reaching down, coming into His creation to meet with us at the level of man.

4. slow in anger

Hirsch in his commentary on the Pentateuch renders the Hebrew erech aphayim as “having long-enduring patience for obtaining satisfaction for a justified demand”3 . In this facet of the revelation, God expresses His patient endurance – not expecting instant results, but bearing with human frailty and fallibility.

Human nature is prone to be fickle and dismissive – quick to judge and reject. Those who say or do things we don’t like are easily slighted, and we expect the same from God. We give our lives to Him, we commit to His ways, we promise to be faithful to Him. Then we slip up and expect God to discard us and find Himself a more faithful child. This is not in accordance with God’s nature. For He is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), making all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). And “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” and so be saved (2 Peter 3:9).

5. abounding in love

The love which God proclaimed in the words rav chesed is “that rich abundance of love, which is not parsimonious [frugal] with love, which always keeps a reserve of love, which gives and gives again and is prepared to give it again at the thousandth time after it has been spurned nine hundred and ninety-nine times.” 4

6. abounding in truth or faithfulness

Truth is that quality by which God is unwilling to deviate from who He is, “eternally true to Himself, pursuing His inscrutable plans for the salvation of mankind and rewarding those who are obedient to His will”. 5

“ … if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself” (2 Tim 2:15).

7. maintaining love to thousands, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children

To preserve us in a loving relationship with Himself, requires that our offences against Him be removed. At the same time God will not depart from His justice and must exact punishment for sin. “His goodness cannot destroy His justice.” 6

The Hebrew verb nasa translated in most English versions of the Bible as forgive is more literally translated as uplift, take on, or bear.

It is thus that “the One who is נשׂא עון (nosai avon) both takes the sin upon Himself … and finds ways for repentance and healing other than complete ruination”. 7

The transfer of the sins of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children – rather than being unjust or vindictive as some have suggested – is one such provision for repentance, found in God’s mercy. Without it God would have punished the sin of every generation upon itself. By this provision, He who “does not let the smallest sin go unavenged … spreads the chance for repentance over generations”.8

By this same provision God would once for all interpose Himself in human destiny as Saviour and Redeemer, Himself becoming a Son of Man, one among the children of Israel, in order to take the sins of prior generations of that nation upon Himself, without compromising His justice and holiness.

‘For he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all … he hath poured out his soul to death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:5-12).


When Messiah came it was not in the sensational display of the original Shavuot, but in the quiet affirmation of Moses’ second ascent. While it is in keeping with the gracious and condescending nature of God to reveal Himself to spiritual fledglings on the level of the senses, Messiah did not come to the unschooled host that had newly departed from Egypt, but to the nation that had been entrusted with His word for generations, that had had the opportunity through two thousand years of His dealings with them to learn His ways. Messiah comes as God’s revelation to a people that should thus be able to recognise Him by His essence and character.

Thus, in the fullness of time, God had ordained a revelation of Himself in unobtrusive human flesh and in the oblivion of low rank and poverty.

‘… behold, thy King cometh to thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly (עני), and riding upon an ass’ (Zechariah 9:9).

Yet, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19). All the attributes of God as revealed to Moses where richly present and gloriously displayed in the person of Messiah.

  • We find the nurturing compassion in him, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (John 17:12).
  • He is the graciously condescending one, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
  • Those who see with spiritual eyes could testify: “We have seen his glory … full of grace and truth (rav chesed ve emet)” (John 1:14).
  • He who is נשׂא עון (nosai avon) “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), uplifting it from God’s alienated children and bearing it on their behalf – becoming in the sacrifice of himself the perfect synthesis of God’s mercy and justice.
  • Yet, he will not leave guilt unpunished, but will visit the iniquity upon the children and the children’s children. Thus says Jesus: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
    “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.” (Matthew 23:29-36)

For the unschooled crowds of simple people, Jesus gladly did his many wonders. But when the Pharisees who claimed to know God asked for a sign, he rebuked them, saying “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign” (Matthew 12:19).

While any person can discern “god” in signs, wonders and supernatural manifestations, only the spiritual man recognize him by His character. “Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains’” (John 9:41).

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24).

It was after his second ascent that Moses had to cover his face with a veil, for the magnitude of the enduring radiance of God’s glory that had been revealed to him. In the same way, the glory displayed in the gospel of Jesus the Messiah remains hidden from the carnal eye. But “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).


Whereas signs and wonders are required for sensual appeal, the spiritual man recognises God by His character. God’s true glory lies in His nature, not in His might.

A similar distinction is found in relation to man’s attitude towards the Law. Those who operate on the base level of the flesh, will be infatuated by rules, because rules are designed to keep the lusts of the flesh at bay. By contrast, the Law has no appeal for those who have put the flesh to death and live by the Spirit: it can no longer form the basis for a relationship with God. Such a man will know God by His ways. Thus, in establishing the covenant by which God would put His Spirit in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-33), Jesus abolished the Law in his flesh (Ephesians 2:15) and Paul reassures the church: “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Law” (Galatians 5:18).

These distinctions demonstrate at once the point of divergence between Judaism and Christianity, and also between the bride of Christ and the harlot church. As the revelation to Moses was not new, so Jesus was largely an affirmation to those who already knew God.

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).

Even today, the true revelation of God is not to be found in any new thing, but in the quiet confirmation of a God who remains true to Himself and in His dealings with His faithful children. This is why the Holy Spirit is also called the Comforter and why Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, that “he will remind you of everything that I have taught you” (John 14:26).

Yet, many who profess adherence to Christianity traverse the globe in their quest for miracles, running after any display of power and calling it a move of the Holy Spirit. In like manner, those who are overcome by sensuality are falling into all kinds of legalism. Do’s and don’ts become a substitute for a relationship with God.


Just as Jesus was the litmus test for Israel, so the anti-Christ will be the litmus test of the false church. In our dualistic world in which forces of light and darkness are both present, supernatural manifestations cannot be automatically attributed to God. For “the coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11).

Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians were doing the same miracles. And “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). How then do we discern between the two? The delusion will come easily for those who are yet carnal and unable to perceive God other than by manifestations of power and supernatural deeds, those who do not discern the motive and purpose behind the act. The delusion will be even more powerful for those who look to Bible prophecy to anticipate future events – without understanding His ways.

“At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 25-30).



1. H L Selig, Links to Eternity, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1957, p. 361.
2. The Soncino Edition of the Torah and Haftorahs, J H Hertz (ed), London, 1956, p.346.
3. S R Hirsch, The Pentateuch, Bloch Publishing Company, London (1960), p. 213.
4. ibid.
5. Soncino Edition, op.cit., p. 365.
6. ibid.
7. Hirsch, op. cit, p.214.
8. Hirsch, op. cit,, p. 213.