When Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites after their sin with the golden calf, he begged God to show him His glory. God promised that he would pass before Moses, shielding him with His hand until He had passed by. Then God would remove His hand and Moses could see God’s back (Ex. 33:17-23). God kept this promise when He called Moses back up to the mountain top to give him the second set of stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. As God passed by Moses on that occasion He declared who He was in words that are comforting and encouraging, but which also sound a warning to mankind.
In Ex. 34:6, 7 the scripture says, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord 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 generation.'” Many people think of God in the Old Testament only in terms of His great wrath that He from time to time poured out on the nations. This does Him a great injustice, especially in light of His own testimony about Himself in the verses above.
When Moses asked God to reveal Himself, God began with the fact of His compassion and mercy. The God of the Old Testament is the God who “forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” He is the God who shows His lovingkindness (or steadfast love) to thousands. How interesting it is that the so-called God of wrath revealed Himself first as the God who forgives. While He is the God who will not allow the guilty to go unpunished, He is first of all a forgiving God.
There is an important reason why our God is the God who forgives. It is because He wants all of us to live with Him in heaven for eternity. In 1 Tim. 2:4 Paul tells us that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” At the heart of salvation and the knowledge of the truth is the fact that God provided the means for all mankind to be forgiven of their sins through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. In Eph. 1:7 Paul said, “In Him (that is, Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” This forgiveness is what Paul calls the “eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” in Eph. 3:11.
We receive this blessing when we are baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, as Peter commanded the Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2:38), and as the Lord Himself required in Mk. 16:16, when He said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” This forgiveness continues after baptism if we walk in the light and confess our sins (1 Jn. 1:7-10). The God who forgives will always forgive, so long as we seek His forgiveness according to His revealed word.
This is why we are commanded to be forgiving to one another. The Lord made this point very strongly. In Lk. 17:3, 4 He said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” He also warned that if we do not forgive others, our sins will not be forgiven (Mt. 6:14, 15). Therefore, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).