The God of Glory, Goodness, and Grace

God had intended His people Israel to be a light unto the world as well. Yet, in this too they largely failed. Most of the world continued to sit in darkness. Yet, the rebellion of man was not about to thwart God’s plan of salvation nor His desire to preserve a remnant of faithful elect within Israel.

The God of Glory, Goodness, and Grace

By Jane Titrud

The Book of Exodus says that the glory of the LORD was displayed in a pillar of cloud that appeared after Israel complained of hunger in the wilderness of Sin on their way to Mount Sinai (Exodus 16:1, 10).  It also implies that the entire nation saw a cloud resting on the top of Mount Sinai as well as the glory of God, which had the appearance of a consuming fire (Exodus 24:16-17).  

Surely, Moses saw these displays like everyone else.  His intimate relationship with God also afforded him a viewpoint like no other.  When God called him up to the top of Mount Sinai, for example, the Bible says that he entered the midst of the cloud that covered it (Exodus 24:15–18).  Thus, he must have had an extraordinarily personal experience with the glory of God.  Nevertheless, sometime later after Israel rebelled against the clear instructions of God not to engage in idolatry (Exodus 20:1–6), Moses specifically asked God to show him His glory.  This would seem like a curious request.

The circumstances surrounding Moses’ request are as follows:  When Moses first tarried on the mountain with God, the people of Israel fashioned a golden calf, built an altar to it, and worshipped it as a god.  This action on their part broke the covenant they had made with God and threatened their very existence as a nation.  Moses, therefore, went up on the mountain again to intercede for the rebellious nation lest God should destroy them completely.  His request was graciously granted, but the people had also forfeited the favor and benefit of God’s presence by their rebellion.  God said in disgust that He would not go up with them to the Promised Land lest He destroy them for this as well.  But Moses interceded again, and God once more granted His request (Exodus 33:12–17). 

At this time, Moses asked another thing of God:  “Then Moses said, ‘I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!’  And He [God] said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’  But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’” (Exodus 33:18–20 NASB, bold emphasis added).  Most of us know the rest of the story.  God tells Moses to stand on a nearby rock, and when God’s glory passes by, He will hide him in the cleft of the rock and cover him with His hand until He has passed by.  When He removes His hand, Moses will be able to see His back but not His face (Exodus 33:21–23). 

The Bible does not tell us why Moses asked to further see God’s glory.  Perhaps he wanted a fresh revelation of God since he would be leading this rebellious people into the Promised Land.

The point in relation to this article is that Moses’ request would seem a bit unusual for someone who had already seen His glory on several occasions and up close and personal at that.  Moreover, God’s answer is somewhat unexpected in that He speaks of His goodness and sovereign right to show mercy (or to be gracious) instead of focusing on His majesty and power.  This tells us that God’s sovereign right to show mercy to whomever He wishes is a very important aspect of His glory in the form of goodness, and the goal of the rest of this article is to show why this is so.

We do not know how much of the following Moses and the rest of the Israelites comprehended.  We know that God exercised His sovereign right to be gracious to some and hold back mercy for others, for many were slain for their rebellious actions at the time and yet others, like Aaron, were spared despite great guilt.  From God’s perspective, the nation of Israel and the priesthood of Aaron were thus able to carry on for the sake of His purposes.  Yet, exactly how this demonstrated the awesome glory of God is not immediately apparent.  At least any real appreciation for the mercy God had shown the people of Israel seems to have been lost for the most part on the nation, for they began to develop a consistent pattern of testing God’s mercy in one way or another instead of showing Him reverence. 

The vast majority of Israel failed to listen to Moses’ instructions about the importance of obedience towards God.  Instead, the nation continued to rebel repeatedly in the coming years and suffered dire consequences.  They refused to believe that God would successfully bring them into the Promised Land, so they were forced to wander in the desert for forty years.  Once they were finally in the land, they made forbidden alliances with evil nations, failed to drive out all the peoples whom God had devoted to destruction, intermarried with foreign wives, and eventually came to worship pagan gods.  God repeatedly sent the people prophets to warn them and lead them to repentance, but these too were rejected.  Instead, evil kings led the people into more and more evil.  Eventually, judgment came to the northern kingdom of Israel by means of the conquering Assyrians.  These tribes were then dispersed among the Gentile nations.  Moreover, the southern kingdom of Judah fared little better.  After years of rebellion, despite the warnings of prophets, the glory of the LORD departed from the temple in Jerusalem, the temple was destroyed, and the people of Judah were carried away into captivity by the conquering Babylonians.  The prophets foretold their return and return they did.  Still, they continued to be ruled by foreign powers and looked to the coming Messiah to deliver them as a conquering king.  Again, not a clear picture of God’s glory with respect to His mercy and grace.

God had intended His people Israel to be a light unto the world as well.  Yet, in this too they largely failed.  Most of the world continued to sit in darkness.  Yet, the rebellion of man was not about to thwart God’s plan of salvation nor His desire to preserve a remnant of faithful elect within Israel. 

Enter the time period of the Gospel.  John the Baptist did what he could to prepare the nation of Israel to see their need for inner spiritual salvation.  He tried to help them recognize their coming Savior by preaching against sin, promoting repentance, and baptizing in water to symbolize cleansing.  And, indeed, several Jews were baptized by John.  Nevertheless, the majority were looking for a political Savior instead of spiritual deliverance from the enemy within their hearts.  They had largely come to see themselves as righteous compared to the Gentiles because they had the Law, and they considered themselves the chosen people of God by natural descent.  Hence, they not only failed to recognize their Messiah when He came in the flesh, but they participated in having Him killed, which was the epitome of rebellion and unbelief.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Gospel was delivered first to the Jews according to the will of God.  In other words, God still had regard for His people.  And, even after the Apostles were sent out to bring the Gospel to other nations, they still addressed the Jews first wherever they went.  Yet, the Jews for the most part continued to resist the will of God and failed to accept the truth.  By far, the vast majority of those who were becoming Believers and getting saved were Gentiles—not Jews.  Moreover, this situation was creating a dilemma among Jewish Christians, as they could not understand how or why God would choose to be more merciful to the Gentiles than to His own chosen people Israel. 

To Jewish Christians, the fact that God was disproportionately saving so many Gentiles instead of the Jews seemed to negate the Word of God and bring it to no effect.  Paul deals with this subject and the question regarding the Jews in Romans, chapters 9-11.  This is also where one can begin to gain a better understanding of the glory of God in connection with His distribution of mercy and grace.

Paul was in great anguish over the situation with respect to his fellow Jews, their rejection of him as well as Christ, and the fact that they were disproportionately opposed to the hope of the Gospel when compared to the Gentiles.  He knew that some Jews were being saved because he and the other Apostles were all Jews.  Yet, the number of Christian Jews was unquestionably in the minority.  He addresses this situation in Romans 9 and carries it through to Romans 11.  Moreover, it is best to take this whole section into account when interpreting the meaning of Paul’s teaching here.

The general answer Paul gives with respect to the situation of the Jews is that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Romans 9:6).  In other words, being a natural descendant of Israel was no guarantee of salvation.  He proves this by briefly reviewing the history of God’s dealings with the Jews from their beginnings.  In the case of Abraham, for instance, he had already shown in Romans 4 that Abraham was saved by faith and God’s grace rather than the Law or works.  But, how was this blessing and the promise to be heir of the world (Romans 4:13) to be passed on to His descendants?  If the promises made to Abraham had been based merely upon natural descent, then Ishmael should have been the natural heir.  But God made promises based upon His own sovereign choice of Isaac (Romans 9:8–9).  In addition, He chose to bless Jacob instead of Esau, even though Esau was Jacob’s twin – Esau was born first and neither of them had done anything either good or bad at the time of God’s choosing (Romans 9:10–13).  The choice was made before either of them was born and made against the order of natural descent as well.  There was no injustice in this.  It all goes back to what God said to Moses in Exodus: “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION”  (Romans 9:15).  God’s choice to have mercy did not depend upon anything man willed or did but upon God’s sovereign right to choose mercy for whomever He pleased (Romans 9:16).  And, by the same token, God could also choose to harden whomever He pleased for His own purposes:  “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP.  TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THOUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.’  So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:17-18).  Hardening is the flip side of sovereignty with respect to mercy.  He can choose either way.  Yet, we will see that His choices were not unfounded with respect to Israel.  They merely depended upon broader purposes that were not yet revealed and understood at the time. 

The notion that this section of Romans is talking about God choosing to save an elect remnant of both Jews and Gentiles based upon the principles of predestination and God’s sovereignty alone is premature in this context.  It fails to take into consideration the rest of Paul’s argument for the case of the Jews, which runs through chapter 11.  Furthermore, such an interpretation does not fit the present context.  It fails to provide any real answer to the dilemma with respect to the Jews because it does not tell us why a disproportionate number of Gentiles were being saved despite God’s promises to the Jews.  The idea that God merely chooses to save whomever He pleases is simply too shallow an answer.

Besides, the Book of Romans provides a much richer answer.  It tells us that God endured with great patience the rebellious, ungrateful, and unbelieving Jews for the sake of showing glory to others:  “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?  And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Romans 9:22–24).  In other words, God put up with the rebellion of the Jews for centuries and only saved a remnant for the much greater purpose of bringing future blessing to multitudes.

Now we are getting closer to understanding how the situation with respect to the Jews would eventually come to magnify the glory of God.  God’s dealings with His people, Israel, were anything but capricious.  If He had not shown them mercy, they would have ended up like Sodom and Gomorrah (Romans 9:27–29).  And, the fact that He mercifully preserved a remnant not only maintained the promises He made to the fathers, it provided the justification for extending mercy to the Gentiles as well.

The glory and goodness of God here are reflected in the fact that He loves to show mercy.  We can see this in the economy of the Gospel in that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED’” (Romans 10:12-13).  In other words, salvation was never meant for just an elite few.

Moreover, the mystery revealed to the Church through Paul is that a partial hardening has presently come upon the Jews for the sake of the Gentiles (Romans 11:25).  Like branches in an olive tree, the Jews have largely been cut off from the rest of the tree as a judgment for their unbelief.  The Gentiles, in turn, have been grafted in (Romans 11:19–22).  Nevertheless, this is not the end of the story.  There will come a time when the fullness of the Gentiles will come to faith and then the situation will change.  God will then turn His attention to the Jews once more and all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-26).  “For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.  For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all” (Romans 11:30–32).

After revealing this mystery, Paul breaks into a doxology commemorating the wisdom and knowledge of God in all of this, for He has used the failings of mere men to benefit the world with respect to salvation!  And who but God could do such a thing?  Thus, Paul exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33)  He was never at the mercy of fallen man and obliged to save a wicked and rebellious people, but He was willing to use this situation to bless as many as possible. 

The obvious point, of course, is that man is wholly dependent upon the grace of God for salvation.  But, the pattern of rebellion exercised by the Jews over the years may also be regarded as an object lesson to the Church.  It shows that the Law of God, even though revealed by God and written in stone, is not capable of changing the human heart.  The Church, therefore, must never fall back into unbelief by trying to modify God’s plan of salvation.  No one can earn salvation by coming under the requirements of the Law or by trying to fix oneself up for the Lord via self-help schemes.  Victorious Christian living only comes through salvation and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

By the grace of God, He has provided the one true Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, we should all cry, “Blessed be the Lord of glory, goodness, and grace!”

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