Is there a trait you have that everyone notices? I don’t mean your hair or the car you drive. Is there something in your personality or in who you are as a person that cannot be ignored? Do people always mention, “You are just so happy” or “You are always smiling”? Most likely, there are characteristics you have that anyone who knows you in the least have picked up on and they identify you by those traits.
Can you list 10 characteristics or traits of God?
The Traits of God Seen Over and Over:
Within the Old Testament, we see a certain list of characteristics of God repeated over and over together. They are central to who He is and, honestly, they make up aspects of Him that we love and are thankful for most. Many of these are probably even traits that you listed about Him from the Think Break.
To introduce this list, let’s start in a (likely) familiar story: the book of Jonah. Jonah is one of the shortest of the minor prophet writings. The entire book is 47 verses split into 4 short chapters. We see this intimate look into the heart of God in the last chapter.
Jonah 4:2 says, “And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster’” (italics added for emphasis).
Here we see a really ugly view of Jonah’s heart as he prays to God. He is upset that God intends on not destroying the city of Nineveh; it even becomes evident that this is the cause of him fleeing God’s command to go there in the first place.
We notice four distinct aspects of who God is. He is 1.) gracious and merciful, 2.) slow to anger, 3.) abounding in steadfast love, and 4.) relenting from disaster.
God is Gracious and Merciful
The first is especially deep and beautiful as we think about what it means for sinners! God is gracious and merciful! Gracious denotes an attitude He has toward those who are undeserving, leading Him to act with great benefit towards those who have not earned His gifts. God being merciful goes alongside this and can also mean “loving” or “compassionate.” We think of grace and mercy as going hand-in-hand; God’s grace is shown to us because of His love or compassion.
God is Slow to Anger
The second is that He is “slow to anger”. We see this clearly demonstrated in the story of Jonah. He goes into the center of Nineveh and proclaims, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Did Nineveh deserve God’s judgment when Jonah first made his plea for their repentance? Yes, they did! Would God have been right to destroy them immediately as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah? Yes, He would. However, God gives them a time allotment for reflection, change, and repentance. This was not because justice demanded it of God, but because He is a God of patience especially to the spiritually lost (2 Peter 3:9).
God Abounds in Steadfast Love
Third, God “abounds in steadfast love”. While this sounds really straightforward in English, the Hebrew word used is far more complex. It is not only “unfailing love”, but also should be understood as including kindness and loyalty. It is a love shown to people who are in a relationship with God–who have entered a covenant with Him for their benefit. (Think about the covenant between God and Abraham, the relationship between God and Israel, or even Christians under the “new covenant”.)
God is Relenting from Disaster
Last, God is described as “relenting from disaster”. Again, we see this feature in the story of Jonah as God in fact does not destroy them in 40 days as Jonah warns. Had they shrugged off that warning, continued in sin, and lived in disregard of impending doom from God, who knows what would have happened. Thankfully, they changed and, thus, God spared them. Unfortunately, Jonah highlights this action of God with bitter dismay instead of joyful acceptance.
Read Exodus 34:1–9.
This character formula for God is found repeatedly through the Old Testament, appearing over 10 times and alluded to many more times. As we think about the first time it is ever used, it is given by the Lord Himself as He interacts with Moses on Mount Sinai as the Ten Commandments are given. Notice that as soon as God states these things about Himself, Moses automatically begins to worship Him and asks Him to come among the people and forgive them (Exodus 34:8–9)! Thinking about this as believers is so important because it reminds us who we serve.
Wrapping it up
Our God is loving, forgiving, loyal, kind, gracious in mercy, and slow to anger. He is the caretaker of the weak, the forgiver of the fallen and lost, and the lover of the unlovable. As God shows us who He is, we grow to admire our perfect Lord all the more! Truly, our God is different than the gods of ancient fables, Greek or Roman mythology, or pagan gods worshipped today. The Lord has told us and shown us that He is good—and for that may we be thankful!
Further Thought and Study
1. Read other passages that give us this description of God. (Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 111:4, 112:4, 116:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Nahum 1:3)
2. What is so powerful about these descriptions that they should be repeated throughout the Old Testament?
3. Some believe that God’s grace is only shown in New Testament through Jesus. How do these passages challenge or contradict that belief?
4. Are there other stories in the Old Testament where characters are said to have been shown God’s favor (another way of talking about grace)?