If I were to ask you what you thought was the most quoted verse from the bible, what would come to mind? Well, if you were thinking modern American contexts, you might think John 3:16. If I asked you at a wedding, it might be the “love chapter” from 1 Cor. 13. If the context was a funeral, perhaps the 23rd Psalm would stand out. But if I asked what is the most quoted verse from the Bible in other parts of the Bible, the answer might surprise you. That would be from Exodus 34:6-7.
“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘YHWH, YHWH (The LORD, the LORD), the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining steadfast love to thousands (the thousandth generation), 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 parents to the third and fourth generation.’”
These verses are quoted in part or in full more than 25 times in scripture. Sometimes, as in Psalm 103 and Psalm 145, these verses are in celebration of the great compassion and mercy of God. In Numbers 14, Moses quotes these verses as he intercedes with God on behalf of the people after they have messed up. When the prophet Joel urges the people to repent and return to God, he is confident God will redeem them, and he quotes these verses as proof (2:13). The prophet Jonah too quotes these verses in recognition of the amazing mercy of God, though he does so begrudgingly because they apply to his enemies.
Over the coming weeks, we will explore the character traits of God revealed in these verses that has prophets and biblical writers continually circling back to reexamine and recite these verses. As we work through this study, I invite you to repeat daily the simple prayer Moses offers before this revelation. “Lord, show me your glory.” But if you are hoping for a vision, don’t get hung up waiting for a miracle and miss the miracle of mercy and compassion. The real spectacle is not some shimmering scene, but steadfast love. And may the Glory of God we see become the Glory of God we share.