And He said, “ I Myself will cause all My goodness to pass before you, and will proclaim the name of YHWH before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” Exodus 33:19
To Whom – Who does YHWH love? That is the critical question. Actually, the question is a bit more specific. Does YHWH love me? Before you answer, “Of course. God loves everyone,” consider the startling revelation YHWH delivers to Moses. YHWH says, “I will show mercy and have compassion on whomever I choose.” There are two ways to read this verse. Which way you choose makes all the difference. Does YHWH say that He is selective with His favor (He chooses only those He wishes to choose) or does He say that His favor extends to everyone regardless of our segregations and delineations? In other words, is He teaching Moses a lesson about the universal nature of His compassion, or is He instructing Moses about the exclusive nature of His compassion?
Typically, we read this verse as if it expresses YHWH’s universal compassion. But Moses has every reason to believe otherwise. The tribes of Jacob have just been freed from the Egyptians. God severely punished the oppressors. Now Israel is on the march to Canaan where God will exterminate the people occupying His land. Does God’s mercy extend to everyone? Isn’t YHWH the exclusive God of Israel? That’s what Moses must have thought when he talked with God on the mountain. But YHWH needs Moses to learn an important lesson – and it is not a lesson about His love. It is a lesson about His sovereignty. YHWH tells Moses that He alone is sovereign. No man, no tribe, no people dictate to Him what choices He will make. He does what He wishes to do. The fact that what He wishes to do is always motivated by His unfailing compassion, even when it involves wrath, is not an impediment on sovereignty. Nor is it a source of human manipulation. We might not be able to explain why YHWH shows compassion and grace toward someone, especially if that other person is detestable in our eyes, but we are not in charge here. The lesson Moses needs to learn is the same one we need to learn. YHWH decides and no man can tell Him otherwise.
Peter had to learn this lesson on the rooftop. If YHWH chooses Cornelius, who is Peter to object? Paul reminds us about this lesson in his discussion of his Jewish brothers. What God does is not up to us. Job learned the lesson in shame. Abraham learned it in disobedience. Yeshua learned it in suffering and submission. The Hebrew words et-asher (to whom, on whom) are linguistic representatives of YHWH’s unlimited sovereignty. They are not about human beings.
Who does God love? Whomever He wishes to love. Does that include you and me? Yes, it does, but only because He wishes to love you and me. It is His choice and it is a choice He gladly makes. My choice is to respond to His choice, but His choice comes first.
Topical Index: whom, et-asher, choice, sovereignty, Exodus 33:19