Exodus 33:19

Sermon preached on August 17, 2008 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Sometimes I'm bad. Sometimes I've very bad. For example, there's a song that used to be popular in the 60's or 70's. I think it was called, "Nothing's Quite as Pretty as Mary in the Morning". When I first met Marg, everyone called her "Margie", so for me, it isn't a big stretch to sing that song some days early in the morning now, only I change the name "Mary" to "Margie".

I'm not being complimentary when I sing it. Marg always complains about how bad she looks in the mornings so I add fuel to the fire.

When I sing that it shows how bad I am. You might look at me and think that I was bad, for when I do it I have a certain look on my face—but when you hear me say things like, "Nothings quite as pretty as Margie in the morning", you know for sure that I'm bad.

We have something like that in our text only in the opposite way. Moses asked God to show him His glory and God responded by not only showing Himself to Moses, but by revealing His name and to Moses. He said something to Moses that also revealed something of His goodness and glory. God said to Moses, (Exodus 33:19-20)

"I will cause all my goodness
to pass in front of you,
and I will proclaim my name,
the LORD, in your presence.
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I will have compassion.
But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face,
for no one may see me and live.'"

The main thing that we see from our text is that

God is absolutely sovereign in terms of mercy.

The idea here is that mercy and grace are God's prerogative. They are totally in His control. It is His right to show mercy and grace or to withhold mercy and grace. He is sovereign. It is totally His prerogative.

The first thing we should understand about this is that

this quality of God being absolutely sovereign in mercy and compassion is part of His inmost nature.

This is one of God's names. This is clear from Exodus 34:5-7 where we read,

"Then the LORD came down in the cloud
and stood there with him
and proclaimed his name, the LORD.
And he passed in front of Moses,
proclaiming, The LORD, the LORD,
the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands,
and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;
he punishes the children and their children
for the sin of the fathers
to the third and fourth generation."

The words after "The Lord, The Lord," translated compassion and gracious—are the same Hebrews words of our text. They proclaim God's name.

C. E. B. Cranfield says of Paul's quotation of these words in Romans 9:15, (Romans, II, p. 483)

"It is highly likely that Paul’s thought of them as parallel to, and as an explicatory paraphrase of, the 'ehyeh 'aser 'ehyeh of Exodus 3:14, and therefore as affording a specially significant revelation of the innermost nature of God."

You'll remember when God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush and Moses wanted to know what to tell the Israelites if they asked him what God's name was. God said, (Exodus 3:14)


Here it's "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy. I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." This too is one of God's names. Brevard S. Childs writes, (Exodus, p. 596)

"The name of God, which like his glory and his face are vehicles of his essential nature, is defined in terms of his compassionate acts of mercy. The circular idem per idem formula of the name — I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious’ and testifies by its tautology to the freedom of God in making known his self-contained being."

So this idea that God is absolutely sovereign and free in showing mercy is no mere incidental doctrine. This is one of God's characteristics that you are not to take lightly or gloss over. This is a description of His innermost nature and is part of His glory.

Thus our text is very real and relevant.

"I will have mercy
on whom I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion."
on whom I will have compassion."

God is absolutely sovereign in terms of mercy. It is a freedom that He has. Mercy is His prerogative. He has a right to exercise it and a right not to exercise it. He can do so according to His good pleasure.

Now what this means is that you should believe this and all the implications that it has.

What is our God like? He is One who is absolutely sovereign in regards to mercy. He is free to show mercy or to withhold mercy. It is in His hands.

Not everyone believes this. Some Christians today, (the majority of them) believe that mercy is not now ultimately or decisively in God's hands. They believe that God chose to be merciful to all—and by that they really mean that He abdicated or renounced that authority—and that now it's ultimately in man's hands.

But God has not renounced it. He has not given this authority over to someone else. No. In Ephesians 1:3-8 the apostle Paul said,

"Praise be to the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in the heavenly realms
with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
In love he predestined us
to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,
in accordance with his pleasure and will—
to the praise of his glorious grace,
which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of sins,
in accordance with the riches of God's grace
that he lavished on us
with all wisdom and understanding."

In Ephesians 2 Paul illustrates this mercy by telling us that God didn't give dead men a choice to accept or reject—but that He made those who were dead in trespasses and sins alive. He give them life. He chose them and had mercy on them.

We see the same principle taught in John 17:1-10. In His great high priestly prayer Jesus said,

"Father, the time has come.
Glorify your Son,
that your Son may glorify you.
For you granted him authority
over all people that he might give eternal life
to all those you have given himÖ
I have revealed you to those
whom you gave me out of the world.
They were yours; you gave them to me
and they have obeyed your word.
Now they know that everything
you have given me comes from you.
For I gave them the words you gave me
and they accepted them.
They knew with certainty that I came from you,
and they believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I am not praying for the world,
but for those you have given me,
for they are yours."

God is sovereign and free in His mercy. He has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy. What was the difference between Jacob and Esau? It wasn't their works for before they were born or had done anything good or bad, their mother was told that the older shall serve the younger, (Romans 9:11f)

"Jacob have I loved,
but Esau I hated."

The second thing we should understand about God's freedom in showing mercy is that

God's being absolutely sovereign in mercy and compassion is connected to the greatness and glory of God.

The context here is about Moses asking to see God's glory. Moses said to God, (Exodus 33:18)

"Now show me your glory."

In response God said that He would cause His goodness to pass in front of Moses, that He would proclaim His name, the Lord, that He will have mercy on whom He has mercy and compassion on whom He has compassion.

Now it's important to note here that
what we're talking about is not just God's mercy and compassion. If that were the case there would be no problem. Everyone would see that it's related to God's goodness, greatness and glory. But that's not what's in view. What's in view is God being absolutely sovereign in mercy—being right and just in showing mercy and being right and just in not showing mercy.

That's what's in view and for many people that's the problem. They will say, "That's not fair. That's not just."

I remember when I was in college I had to read a book that I think was called, "
Justice as Fairness". One of the basic ideas was that if you treated everyone the same—then you were treating them justly. However, if you treated people differently, then you were not just.

This idea is around today but according to Jesus, it doesn't hold water. You'll remember how in
Matthew 20 He told the story of the workers in the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard hired some people early in the morning to work in his vineyard and he agreed to pay them a denarius for the day. He hired more at the third hour and told them that he would pay them what was right. He did the same thing at the sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour.

"The workers who were hired
about the eleventh hour came
and each received a denarius.
So when those came who were hired first,
they expected to receive more.
But each one of them also received a denarius.
When they received it,
they began to grumble against the landowner.
'These men who were hired last
worked only one hour,' they said,
'and you have made them equal to us
who have borne the burden of the work
and the heat of the day.'
But he answered one of them,
'Friend, I am not being unfair to you.
Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?
Take your pay and go.
I want to give the man who was hired last
the same as I gave you.
Don't I have the right to do
what I want with my own money?
Or are you envious because I am generous?'"

We're right there with the workers who were hired first. We think that's unfair. But according to Jesus—there was no unfairness there. There was no injustice.

You who are Christians need to be careful that you don't fall into the trap of thinking that God owes you something. Be careful of falling into the work-for-wages spirit with respect to matters spiritual. (Hendriksen) Remember the last shall be first and the first last. Don't envy others if they are blessed more than you. Recognize God's sovereignty, (Hendriksen on Matthew 20)

"his right to distribute favors as He pleases."

We see the same thing in Romans 9. There the apostle Paul quoted these words to refute the notion that there is unrighteousness with God. Paul talked about how God chose Isaac and not Ishmael, how He loved Jacob and hated Esau. Paul wrote, (Romans 9:14-18)

"What then shall we say?
Is God unjust?
Not at all!
For he says to Moses,
'I will have mercy
on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion.'
It does not, therefore,
depend on man's desire or effort,
but on God's mercy.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh:
'I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you
and that my name
might be proclaimed in all the earth.'
Therefore God has mercy
on whom he wants to have mercy,
and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

God chose Isaac and not Ishmael. God chose Jacob and not Esau. Those choices were made before they were born. That choice was not made with respect to anything in them. Works, desire made no difference. Is God unjust, Paul asks? Not at all, he answers.

Mercy is God's prerogative. It's His decision. God can choose to have mercy on some. He can choose not to have mercy on others. He is righteous and just in doing so.

Paul used the example of Pharaoh. Think about it. God raised him up to proclaim His great name. Through Pharaoh's disobedience and hardness God's name became known.

Again, Paul deals with an objection. Why then does God blame Pharaoh? Paul then goes even further. He puts not showing mercy and compassion in very stark terms—saying that the potter has the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use.

This gets right to the heart of the matter. You see, we're all sinners. Thus, (David N. Steele & Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 30)

“God could have chosen to save all men (for He had the power and authority to do so) or He could have chosen to save none (for He was under no obligation to show mercy to any)—but He did neither. Instead He chose to save some and to exclude others.”

That's what our text is about and what is connected to God's greatness and glory. We naturally think that it would have been better if God had saved everyone—if everyone was going to go to heaven. But I suggest to you that that's not the case. We need to change our thinking on that. If it had been better for God to save everyone He would have done it. God is all wise. He is powerful. He knows what He's doing. He chose to do it this way so it must be the best way.

Thus God extols as part of His goodness and glory His sovereignty in salvation. I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and have compassion on whom I have compassion. In Romans 9 Paul takes it further and adds that, (verse 18)

"he hardens whom
he wants to harden."

That's the glory of God. The context of Exodus 33 is about the people's sin with the golden calf. It's very instructive in understanding our text. It's about God's sovereignty in showing mercy.

All the people deserved to die. That's clear. While Moses was up on the mountain talking with God, the people abandoned the Lord and make a golden calf. After they made it they said to the people, (Exodus 32: 4)

"These are your gods, O Israel,
who brought you up out of Egypt.

Later, when Moses asked them,

"Whoever is for the Lord,
come to me."

— only the Levites responded in a positive way. Yet, I'm not convinced that even they didn't deserve to die. Aaron, their leader, certainly did. Aaron seemed to be involved in the people's sin to some extent. He was certainly guilty of not restraining the people. His excuse is pitiful.

They all deserved to die—as is evident in God telling Moses to leave Him alone—that He was going to destroy the people and make Moses into a great nation. But Moses interceded on behalf of the people and asked God to consider what the Egyptians would think when they heard of it and urged the Lord to remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God relented and did not destroy the nation. But He did destroy some of them. He sent the Levites throughout the camp and on his orders killed 3000 people. Moses interceded for the people again and asked God to forgive them, and if He wouldn't—to blot his name out of the book that God had written. God responded by saying that He would blot out of his book whoever had sinned against Him, but at the same time told Moses to go and lead the people to the place He had spoke of, and that when the time came to punish, He would punish them for their sin. After that God sent a plague among the people. Again God told Moses and the people to lead the place and go to the promised land, and that He would send an angel to go ahead of them, but He Himself would not go with them because they were such a stiff-necked people and He might destroy them on the way. Again, Moses interceded and asked that the Lord go with them. Again the Lord relented and said that He would go with them. Then we have Moses asking to see God's glory and we have our text.

So what's going on in all that? There are many great themes there. It teaches us that God's showing mercy comes
through a mediator. Some of the context presents God in human terms in that He appears to change His mind as a result of Moses' intercession. But other places in Scripture tell us that God doesn't change His mind like men. As we read in 1 Samuel 15:29,

“He who is the Glory of Israel
does not lie or change his mind;
for he is not a man,
that he should change his mind.”

So rather than teaching us that God changes His mind, it directs our attention to the fact that God was using Moses as a Mediator for the people and that Moses was in a very real sense illustrating the work of Christ and how there would be no salvation for the people without a mediator. As we read in 1 Timothy 2:5-6

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men”

God shows mercy, yes. But at what a cost. But that's a different theme.

But the context also illustrates God showing mercy and compassion on some and not on others. 3000 were killed on the Lord's orders by the Levites. (Exodus 32: 27-28)

"This is what the LORD,
the God of Israel, says:
'Each man strap a sword to his side.
Go back and forth through the camp
from one end to the other,
each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'
The Levites did as Moses commanded,
and that day
about three thousand of the people died."

Then God sent a plague on the people. Presumably more were killed.

Some died. Some lived? Why? It was God's choice. In the same way, we were not chosen for anything in us, but according to His pleasure and will. (Ephesians 1) Consider what Paul says about Pharaoh and others in Romans 9. They were, (verse 22)

"objects of his wrath
—prepared for destruction."

Yet, we, His people, are, as we read in Ephesians 1:12, to the,

"praise of his glory."

Ephesians 2:6-8

"And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him
in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
in order that in the coming ages
he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,
expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God"

Out of the same lump God made both.

Now, the point of all this is that we are not just to praise God for His goodness and mercy. The Arminians do that and that's not half of what the Bible tells us to do. The Bible tells us to praise God for His being sovereign in mercy—in having mercy and whom He wants to have mercy and compassion on whom He wants to have compassion. That's what Ephesians 1 is all about. It's about praising God for His electing grace.

"Praise be to the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in the heavenly realms
with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
In love he predestined us
to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,
in accordance with his pleasure and will—
to the praise of his glorious grace,
which he has freely given us in the One he loves."

Now what are we to praise God for in this? Are we to praise Him for His discernment in electing us? No. That would be to miss the whole point. There's nothing in us that we are different than others who were not chosen. We're all of the same lump. We are not just to praise God for His love and mercy. That's amazing. That He should send Jesus to die for our sins. There's nothing like it. But there's more. We are to praise God for His absolute sovereignty in mercy and grace. Consider what we read in Romans 9:22-26

"What if God,
choosing to show his wrath
and make his power known,
bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
What if he did this to make
the riches of his glory known
to the objects of his mercy,
whom he prepared in advance for glory—
even us, whom he also called,
not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
As he says in Hosea:
'I will call them 'my people'
who are not my people;
and I will call her 'my loved one'
who is not my loved one,' and,
'It will happen that in the very place
where it was said to them,
'You are not my people,'
they will be called 'sons of the living God."

How did Paul conclude that section? He wrote, (Romans 11:33)

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!"

Applications from all this:

Besides praising God for His greatness in being absolutely sovereign in mercy,

you Christians should have great humility.

That God should have mercy on you. Amazing. What amazement you should have. What do you owe your salvation? To what can you attribute it?

God's free mercy. He chose you. There was nothing in you to compel God to have mercy on you. He chose you and He didn't chose someone better than you. Amazing.

Secondly, everyone should understand that

mercy cannot be earned or deserved.

Cranfield, (Romans II p. 484)

"God's mercy is not something to which men can establish a claim whether on the ground of parentage or works”

Human beings have no claim on God's mercy. All they can do is ask. Remember the tax collector in the temple? He came with nothing and asked for mercy. That's the only way it can be.


no one has right to criticize God for showing mercy or not showing mercy.

No one has a right to tell Him what to do. No one can blame Him for withholding mercy—yet people do that all the time.

People also criticize the doctrine of election as if it's something that is opposed to evangelism. But that's not so. God told us to evangelize. He uses evangelism. But Calvinist evangelism is the only true way to do evangelism. We don't say to people—we have a weak God who is not sovereign in mercy. He has made salvation possible. He has left it up to you. No. No.

We say to people, "You're lost and your only hope is to ask Jesus to save you. If you go to Him as a humble sinner asking for mercy—He will accept you, for Jesus says that whoever comes to Him He will never drive away." (John 6:37)

But we recognize that the very fact that they go to Jesus is because of God's grace and enlightening power.

Who is like our God? Beyond our understanding. Greater than we can conceive. Sovereign in mercy and compassion. Praise Him.