by Christopher Harbin

Redeeming Reputation
Christopher B. Harbin
Exodus 32:7-14; Luke 15:1-10; 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Reputation is like interpersonal credit. What we hear or believe about people colors how we think of them, how we expect them to act, and the level of trust we grant them. Reputations are not limited to people, but also to corporations, institutions, offices, professions, and even God. Unfortunately, God's reputation is greatly dependent upon the words and actions of those who claim to be God's people. The Bible speaks of God's reputation as a Redeemer. How are we advancing that reputation and declaration of God's identity and character?
One of the purposes behind Yahweh's dealings with the Hebrews in the wilderness was to reveal his identity and character to the world. It was not a case of God reigning in lesser aspects of his nature, rather, through his dealings with the chosen people, God revealed his true character. This revelation through the Hebrews came over the course of journeying with Yahweh into greater understanding. The Bible we read is not a systematic discourse on the finer points of theology akin to what we might find in a textbook describing the anatomy, physiology, reproduction, health issues, and habits of the longhorn sheep. Rather it recounts the journey of faith undertaken by a people coming to terms with issues of the reputation and identity of Yahweh, the God who sought them out as a people chosen to bear his name.
So today's text in Exodus recalls this process in Yahweh's revelation. Due to the character of God's promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Yahweh determines to respond in mercy and grace toward the people who have rebelled just after redemption from Egypt. The text places in God's mouth words that would seem appropriate to an idolatrous people, as though God were playing "devil's advocate" with Moses. After all, they believed the gods to be fickle, harsh, and vengeful in character. In the dialog, however, Yahweh's chara ...

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