It would be an understatement to say that the graciousness of God is one of the primary themes of God’s Word. It’s better to say that God’s grace is THE theme of the Bible.
Moses had an incredible encounter with God on the mountain called Sinai. He ascended to the top of the mountain to receive the commands of God on new tablets to replace the ones he broke when he witnessed Israel’s sin. (You can read about that in Exodus 32.) There on the mountain, God passed before Moses and proclaimed His holy name.
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”Exodus 34:5-6
This is actually one of the landmark verses in the Old Testament. God is proclaiming more than His name here; He announces His character. He says, “This is who I am. I am merciful and gracious. I am slow to anger and my love is steadfast. And I keep faith with my people, because I always honor my promises. This is who I am.”
And all of this becomes something of a calling card for God throughout the Bible. You find these same words almost verbatim throughout the Old Testament. Look at the sheer volume of this statement throughout the Bible:
But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…Nehemiah 9:17
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.Psalm 86:15
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.Psalm 103:8
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.Psalm 145:8
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…Joel 2:13
For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…Jonah 4:2
These are like flashback scenes in a movie. This is a cross-section of different voices at various points throughout Israel’s history. But whether these words come from the lips of priests (Nehemiah 9:17) or kings (Psalm 86; 103; 145) or prophets (Joel; Jonah), the refrain is always the same, always reminding us of God’s character: The Lord our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. This is the message God repeatedly declares to His people.
When I think about the graciousness of God, I can’t help but think about something I’ve heard Gary Bradley say many times over the years. Gary has been preaching God’s Word for decades and I had the opportunity to work closely with him in the preaching ministry at Mayfair. I’ve heard Gary lead countless prayers over the years, both in public and in private. I’ve heard him pray in worship services, in hospital rooms, at weddings and at graveside memorial services. And without fail, he always begins his prayers by addressing God as “Gracious God.”
I believe you can learn a lot about a person by listening to the way they pray. I’ve never asked Gary about it, but I suspect this way of addressing God as “Gracious God” comes from a couple of things. For one, I think it comes from a lifetime of studying God’s Word and preaching through text after text like the ones listed above. But it’s more than that. In addition to reading and preaching the texts, I believe Gary has come to know the God proclaimed in the text, come to know this God personally. I believe this comes from one who has walked close enough to the Lord to recognize His supreme graciousness extended toward us. Gary has come to know God in the same way Moses and David and Joel and Jonah knew him: as a gracious God.