God’s Core Values

Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra“The LORD passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod. 34:6-7 ESV)

God’s Core Values

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly are God’s core values?

God’s core values are given in Exodus 34:6 immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments. We know that these values are fundamental for God because they are repeated all most word for word in Psalm 86:15 and 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2. Interestingly, in the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy 4:31, only mercy is mentioned.

Focus on Mercy

The emphasis in most of these passages on mercy and the de-emphasis in some passages on faithfulness (or truth) suggests that God is soft-hearted. Exodus 34:6 mentions mercy (רַחוּם), gracious (חַנּ֑וּן), slow to anger (אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם) or patient, abounding in love (חֶ֥סֶד) and faithfulness (truth) (אֱמֶֽת). Psalm 86:15 repeats all five words in the Hebrew in the same order. Psalm 103 repeats the first four values [1], but drops faithfulness. Joel 2:13 repeats the first five words, but substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness. Jonah 4:2 likewise substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness and swaps grace and mercy.

Interpreting the Ten Commandments

The giving of the core values right after the giving of the law is not an accident. Core values provide guidance on how to interpret law especially when conflicts arise. Law has the benefit of being concrete and establishes specific principles—this is the field of theology (the study of the nature of God). But in application circumstances are often messy and bring these principles into conflict—this is the field of ethics (the study of right and wrong action). As Christians, because we know God through the Bible and His Holy Spirit, we know the mind of God—we know his character.  Exodus 34:6 speaks directly to this question of God’s character.

Story of Jonah

The classic story of the mind of God is found in the Book of Jonah. God called on Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. But Jonah hated the Ninevites and caught the next boat out of town going the opposite direction (Jonah. 1:2-3). Why? Because he knew God’s character. When he finally went to Nineveh and preached as God had called him, the people of Nineveh turned from their sin and begged God to forgive them (Jonah 3:9-10). Jonah responded in anger:

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jonah 4:1-2 ESV)

What did Jonah say? In prayer he cited God’s core values as a reason for running away from his assignment to preach to the Ninevites. Why? Because he hated the Ninevites so much that he did not want God to forgive them.

Jonah’s Bad Example

God’s mercy is first among his core values. When we refuse to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our neighbors, we become like Jonah selfishly trying to keep God’s mercy to ourselves. This refusal puts us in tension both with God and with our neighbors. We are in tension with God because, in effect, we deny God’s mercy and our own identity as ones created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). We are in tension with our neighbors because we have denied them God’s mercy and, potentially, their eternal salvation.  Who are the Ninevites in your life?

Jesus reminds us with a promise: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7 ESV)

Aren’t you glad that God’s core values are actually immutable character traits—part of his identity and not of a New Year’s resolution?

 

[1] Slow to anger is expressed with another expression—long nostriled (אֶ֖רֶךְ אַפַּ֣יִם)—implying the same thing—patient.

Also see:

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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