Note from the Christian Basics Bible
“Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, ‘Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.'” Exodus 34:5-6, NLT.
While people often say that the God of the Old Testament seems so different from the God of the New Testament, nothing could be further from the truth. We probably already associate Jesus with compassion, but here in Exodus 32–34 is a story that clearly declares how God revealed himself as the God of compassion in Old Testament times too.
While Moses was up on Mount Sinai, Aaron had made a gold calf, which Israel worshiped in a wild party (Exodus 32:1-8). God was rightly angry with them (though his anger is not like our anger; it is the right and just response of a holy God to wickedness). They had broken a fundamental aspect of the covenant—to have no gods other than him—and so deserved his judgment.
Yet even here we see God’s compassion, mercy, and patience. In swift response to Moses’ prayer, God forgave them (32:14), and when he called Moses up Sinai once again, he showed him what he was really like: “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin” (34:6-7)—a revelation that utterly transformed Moses (34:29-35).
This absolute conviction that God was compassionate and merciful, always patient with his people, became an underlying theme of the Old Testament (e.g., 2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8-18; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).