From the moment God claimed a nation as God’s own, the nature of the relationship included the need for forgiveness. Before God had even fully established the nation as an independent, self-governing nation, the people turned to false idols and Moses, in his anger, broke the tablets. Humbly and regretfully, Moses returned to the mountain to receive the laws on tablets. Again.
This reading reminds us that God loves the faithful to the thousandth generation of those who love God, and punishes the iniquity to the third and fourth generation. Although this may sound like a harsh punishment, look at it from a bigger picture. When a person sins, that sin does, indeed, live on in the children. The effects of an abuser on a child takes several generations to heal. The effects of addiction or neglect take generations to heal. Even genetic diseases are carried throughout generations. God promises forgiveness and healing in just a few generations, and at the same time God promises blessings on the faithful for a thousand generations. What a gracious and merciful God! People can be blessed to be a blessing, as Abraham, and the blessing carries on for a thousand generations! It is good for us that God is forgiving and faithful, even when we are not.
The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.” So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone.
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “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, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. He said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”