Topic: Doctrine and Theology
The Thirteen Middot Ha Rachamim.The Thirteen Attributes of a Merciful God
It is futile for man to attempt to define God. Because of man?s limited knowledge and understanding of the Unlimited God, we must turn to the Scriptures and seek how God has defined Himself through out. One common passage in Scripture that God uses to define Himself, is the Sh?ma (pronounced ?Sheh-mah,? meaning hear, listen, and/or heed to). In Deuteronomy 6:5, God declares and defines Himself as ?Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is One.? This is the same passage that Messiah quoted, when asked ?What is the greatest commandment?? His response was, ?The great and foremost commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is One Lord (Mark 12:29). Thus, we see God defining Himself as One, and the Messiah Yeshua affirming this Oneness.
In Shemot (Exodus) 34:6-7 God again defines Himself. This passage in Judaism is referred to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. They are as follows:
Attribute 1 and 2) The LORD! (YHWH!), the LORD! (YHWH!). The personal Name of God (YHWH, rendered LORD in all capital letters in many English translations) is used here. For me, this denotes a particular attribute of God. In Exodus 3:15, God reveals His Memorial Name to Moshe. God said that this particular Name was unknown to the patriarchs (Exodus 6:3). Why? One Jewish commentator explained that the Name ?YHWH? denoted God?s covenant-keeping attribute. God made a promise to Abraham (Genesis 22:15-19), to Isaac (Genesis 25:23), and to Jacob (Genesis 35:9-13), these promises revolved around making their descendants numerous and powerful. However, none of the patriarchs were able to witness this in their own life time. This is why they did not know God by the Name ?YHWH,?, His covenant-keeping Name. Thus, the first and second attributes (because of the double emphasis) shown here denotes God?s covenant-keeping attribute and His remembrance of His covenants (Genesis 8:1, 19:29, 30:22; Exodus 2:4; Psalm 98:3, etc.)
Attribute 3) Compassionate. God defines Himself as compassionate. One only needs to read the Torah and the Prophets to see how compassionate God has been to the nation of Israel. Likewise, God showed Israel and the world compassion by sending His Son, Yeshua our Messiah to take away our punishment for breaking His Torah.
Attribute 4) Gracious. God is gracious, who could argue against such a point? Although some in the body of Messiah believe that only the New Testament shows God?s grace, God Himself teaches us from the Torah that He is gracious in all time (Genesis 6:8 in some translations, Genesis 33:11, 1st Samuel 2:21, Ezra 7:9 Isaiah 26:10, John 1:14, etc) . Again, one need to only read how gracious God was towards Israel for her transgressions and idolatry, by not destroying her. This shows how Gracious God truly is. We are ?saved by grace through faith? (Ephesians 2:8).
Attribute 5) Slow to anger. God is slow to anger. God always desires our repentance! Those who transgress the Torah are cursed. However, God is slow to anger, allowing us to confess our sins and repent of them. Nehemiah 9:17 shows us how God is slow to anger. The Psalms speak of Him being slow to anger (Psalm 86:15, 103:8, and 145:8). The Prophets speak of Him being slow to anger (Nahum 1:3) and the Writings also speak of him being slow to anger (Joel 2:3). Yakov (James), the beloved brother of the Master commands us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for human anger does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).? Paul commissions us in Colossians 3:8 to ? put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.? Shlomo (Solomon), the wisest man save Messiah, taught this: ?He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty.? (Proverbs 16:32). We can see by these Scriptures and by the basic outlines of the entire Scripture, that God is slow to anger.
Attribute 6) Abounding in kindness. God abounds in kindness! He provides rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-45). God is not a respecter of persons (Romans 2:11). His kindness, slow to anger, grace, compassion, promises, and His other attributes that we will soon get to, are for everyone if they only turn to Him. God?s kindness is not for a select few, but for many. However, if we refuse His kindness (His Torah, Grace, Messiah, Instructions, etc.) then, as Asaf proclaims in Psalm 50:16 ?But to the wicked God says: ?What right do you have to proclaim my laws or take my covenant on your lips, when you so hate to receive instruction and fling my words behind you? When you see a thief, you join up with him, you throw in your lot with adulterers, you give your mouth free rein for evil and harness your tongue to deceit; you sit and speak against your kinsman, you slander your own mother?s son. When you do such things, should I stay silent? You may have thought I was just like you; but I will rebuke and indict you to your face. Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to save you.? God is kind, but in order to be a recipient of His kindness, we must be faithful, obedient, repentant and observant to Him. Else, the condemnation of Messiah?s words will ring in their ears ??Not everyone who says to me, ?Lord, Lord? will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my Father in Heaven wants. On that Day, many will say to me, ?Lord, Lord! Didn?t we prophesy in your name? Didn?t we expel demons in your name? Didn?t we perform many miracles in your name?? Then I will tell them to their faces, ?I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness! (Matthew 7:21-23).
Attribute 7) Abounding in faithfulness. God is faithful! Deuteronomy 7:9, Hosea 11:12, Zechariah 8:8, 1st Corinthians 1:9, and 1st John 1:9 all attest to how faithful God is. If God where not faithful, then our belief and hope in Him and in Messiah would become meaningless. If God where not faithful, then there would be no hope for anyone at all. Going back to the Name of God, His covenant-keeping Name, it proclaims His faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Through the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, God is faithful to bless those that observe it. And to those that have put their trust and faith in the Messiah, who confess their sins to God and repent and are obedient to Him, then God will be faithful to us and grant and secure us a place in the world-to-come, according to His promises. It should be noted however, that God is also faithful in holding to His curses.
Attribute 8) Extending kindness to the thousandth generation (or ?for thousands?). God extends His kindness to thousands of people, in all generations. It has been said that what we do in terms of our own personal spiritual walk, is not so much about us, personally, but about preparing and presenting the next generation (our children) as blameless and righteous before God. When God created the world, He formed man from the dust of the earth. He gave Adam the breath of life. God gave His wonderful Torah to the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai, to be a guideline of righteous living for all His children. 2,000 years ago, God sent His Son, our beloved King Messiah, to show us how to live righteously (Matthew 5:48), to call us to repentance and obedience (Matthew 4:7, 5:17-19). Messiah was the Torah of God wrapped in human flesh (John 1:1). God is constantly showing us His kindness through out the history of the entire world. Even on a more personal note, I?m sure many of us can see God?s kindness in our own lives, repeatedly.
Attribute 9) Forgiving iniquity. In Hebrew, the word for iniquity is ?avon? and refers to an emotional sin (such as lust) physically acted upon. Although this sin is committed, knowing it is wrong; it is not necessarily done to rebel against God. At times, we are weak and sin overtakes us. This is why Solomon tells us to ?guard your heart? (Proverbs 4:23). Like Cain, who allowed his emotional anger towards his brother to manifest itself physically, we are taught by the Master that sin begins in the heart, and is just as wrong as the physical act (Matthew 5:21-22).
Attribute 10) Forgiving transgressions. In Hebrew, the word for transgression is ?pesha? and means a willful act of disobedience, a sin committed with a rebellious heart. Can you see how forgiving and kind God is, if He is willing to even forgive those who go against Him willfully? If we would only confess our sin to Him and repent, He will forgive us as He Himself proclaims in this very passage!
Attribute 11) Forgiving sin. The Hebrew word for sin, is ?chet? and means an unintentional violation of the commandments. Basically, doing something wrong that you didn?t know was wrong, or doing something wrong while being oblivious that it was wrong. This is considered "missing the mark." We all have sinned through ignorance. Again, we are told that if we confess our sins, that God is just and faithful to forgive us of our sins (1st John 1:9). Confession and repentance is key here. We see that God is willing to forgive us of our sins, our ignorance. In 1st John 2:4, we read that sin is transgression of the Law/Torah. If this is so, then how can we limit our ignorance to what sin is? It is simple. We study the Torah, we find out what sin is, what we have been doing wrong, we confess it to God, and we repent of it. In Hebrew, repenting is denoted by ?turning away? and ?turning towards.? One ?turns away? from their sinful acts, and thus ?turns towards? God. The more we study the Torah and the rest of the Word of God, the more we?ll be able to guard our hearts and not sin, because we will know better.
Attribute 12) He does not leave the guilty unpunished. This is an interesting point to make in this list. In the previous 11 attributes, God proclaims His mercy, love, kindness, faithfulness, and willingness to forgive, however, this 12th attribute coincides with His judgments as well. If a person confesses their sins and repents of them, then God will forgive them and not consider them guilty. However, if one refuses to confess, refuses to repent, then he must pay for his sins himself. Although God is merciful and loving, He is also just and righteous. Some people might have a hard time connecting these seemingly different components of God, however it truly isn?t hard to understand. God is willing to forgive us if we desire to be reconciled with Him. However, if we refuse to confess, and refuse to repent, then we are basically telling God that we don?t want anything from Him, we don?t care about Him. For those such as these, God will not allow them to go unpunished. God punishes those who refuse to repent, and gives mercy and forgiveness to those who do.
Attribute 13) God punishes the children and the children?s children for sins of the father, to the third and fourth generation. This again shows God?s justice. Although this may be hard for some to understand, I believe it reflects our communal attachment to God, and the failure thereof. If we ourselves confess, repent and remain obedient to God, then our children will be trained up accordingly. If we neglect God and His Word, then our children will not grow and understand the things of God, and they too will commit the same mistakes and sins that we have, thus they will suffer the same punishment. Children learn by imitation! On the other hand, this should be a warning to responsibility for all believers. If we mess up, fall into sin, are led astray, etc. Then not only will we ourselves suffer the consequences (earthly punishment), but it could be transmitted to our children as well. Some have said alcoholism and drug addiction is genetic, or that some are genetically predisposed, because of their parent(s). Think about temperament and attitudes of people, where did they get it from? Think about medical illnesses that are hereditary or a constant theme of poor decision making by grandparents, parents and children. Things along this line could be a ramification of the sin from a grandparent or parent. Thus, we can conclude that we should keep out actions, attitude and spiritual walk in check at all times, especially if we have children so as to not pass on any punishments to them. A hefty responsibility!
These are the 13 Attributes of God, as recorded in Exodus 34:6-7. This is how God defines Himself in this passage. We can see Him holding up to it, through out the entire Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, and especially in our lives today. Moshe was considered the most humble person ever born, and it has bee said that it was because out of all men born of man, he knew God better and closer than anyone else. Moshe understood who God was. When he begged God to see His glory, God came in front of him and proclaimed His attributes, and Moshe humbled himself and bowed before the Holy One. May we be like Moshe, and know and understand the glory and power of the God of Israel, the God whom we serve with a joyful heart and seek to obey with every waking breath.
There is just one more thing I want to leave with you today, regarding these attributes. The Master commands us to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). To know God, is to immolate His good and upright ways. Therefore, the first 11 attributes we can apply and live out, in essence, fulfill in our everyday life. Let us be covenant-keeping, as God is. Let us always remember the covenant God cut with our forefathers and us, and let us never forget it. Let us be compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, kind, faithful, kind to all, and forgiving others when they wrong us, regardless if it was intentional or unintentional.
The 12th attribute, we could learn to apply to our congregations and fellowships. When a brother or sister has fallen into sin, it is our duty to help them come out of it, to repent and to encourage them to return to the Ancient Path. Our silence or our looking away will only bring judgment upon that person, and upon us. We can extrapolate the truth that God will punish those who are unrepentant, therefore let us always encourage each other to always be repentant, less we come under His wrath. Let us correct the sin that is in us by studying, let us help to correct each other in loving-kindness and in humbleness, however, let us keep sin from entering our sanctuaries, our study halls, our homes, and our minds. The punishment is from God, and the punishment to the children and the children?s children to the third and fourth generation, is from God. He is the ultimate judge. Those of us who are in position to judge cases or civil complaints believers might have with one another, must use the Word of God as a basis for rendering our decisions. We are called to be perfect and to be holy, we are called to adhere to the Torah and its principles, we are called to be imitators and disciples of the Living Torah, the Messiah Yeshua, and we are called to immolate the good and upright ways of God. Let us now take these 12 attributes that can be applied by believers, and apply them personally. Let our life and actions always reflect and speak of the God we serve.