In Exodus 34, God granted Moses’ request to see His glory. Verses 6-8 describe what happened: “Then Yahweh passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’ Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.”
It is notable that when the glory of God passed by before Moses, and God proclaimed the essence of His character – a description which, by the way, is repeatedly referenced throughout the rest of scripture – that the very first word He used to describe Himself, was “compassionate.” Surely the choice of that word was not random, and is not insignificant. His first word of self-description was not “sovereign”, though He is that; it was not “righteous”, though He is that indeed; it was not “judging”, though He will definitely do that. The first word God used to describe Himself in His glory was “compassionate”, and that should tell us something.
In fact, of the seven qualities in this list (depending on how one numbers them), the first SIX are all qualities of love and mercy: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, keeping lovingkindness, and forgiving. It is not until the last quality, the seventh, that He indicates that despite His essential nature of love and grace, He WILL indeed repay iniquity; He is after all a holy God who cannot just pass over sin. But that is mentioned as the last of the seven, after no less than six prior expressions of His love and grace.
This should direct us as we describe and define God. This is the kind of God He is at His essence. It is His mercies which are over all His works (Psalm 145:9). And we should be most thankful for it. In fact, our response should be like the response of Moses, who “made haste to bow low towards the earth and worship”!