In contemporary secular culture, the biblical God is often portrayed as a kind of cosmic bully. The “new atheists” seem to think that the God of the Bible is something like a mafiosi godfather who imposes a bunch of unreasonable and arbitrary demands on rather stupid and obsequious religious people who do what they’re told mainly out of fear of punishment. This God is always angry, and his favorite hobby is taking out his anger on those who step out of line. There’s even a popular expression that shows the prevalence of this view. If you get angry with someone else and take your anger out on that someone in a manner that is way out of proportion with their offense, it is said that you are “going Old Testament” on him or her. Many of our contemporaries want nothing to do with such a God who is always “going Old Testament” on people who are just minding their own business. And really, who could blame them?
But such an understanding says more about the prevalence of biblical illiteracy in our culture than it says about the God of the Bible. The story that we read in Exodus 3 tells us something about who this God is. This is the God who delivers an oppressed people from slavery. This is the God whose name means “I will be with you,” and who tells Moses, “when you have brought the people out of Egypt you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:7-12). This is the God who promises to lead this people into a land “flowing with milk and honey” (v. 17).
Hesed describes not only God’s love toward his people, but also their expected response to that love. When God delivers Israel from slavery, and makes a covenant with them, he not only creates a people. He gives them a law, and that law is itself a gift of his loving kindness, a sign of God’s grace. In giving the Ten Commandments, God commits himself to his people based on his gift of freedom in rescuing them from slavery….