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. [...]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 towards the earth, and worshipped. He said, “If now I have found favour 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.” The Lord said to Moses: “I hereby make a covenant with you.” (Exodus 34, 1.4-10)
God called Moses to bring the people out of slavery. The people have now been released and Moses is leading them through the wilderness to the promised land. But life is not easy, in addition to the barrenness of the desert there is the complexity of social relations. God then gives Moses guidance to help the people to live in peace, in harmony with God and creation. If they follow the path indicated by God, the people will find happiness. These indications are not intended to constrain or restrict people’s freedom, but to give them cues to help them live their recovered freedom responsibly.
God writes these commandments with his finger on tablets of stone, which he hands to Moses on Mount Sinai. When Moses comes down from the mountain, he finds that the people have come so far away from God that he gets angry and breaks the tablets of the law. But God’s indications will not be lost forever. God is "abounding in love and faithfulness" and will re-make the tablets with Moses. This time Moses does not receive the tablets ready-made; he is invited to carve them himself. He must become more involved; God asks him to collaborate to re-make the broken tablets.
The Bible does not present an idyllic world or a perfect people. It talks about the reality of life with its difficulties, human misunderstandings, the errors of the people. Out of love, God "puts up with faults," but they are not inconsequential. God cannot "hold the guilty innocent." God intervenes, he "visits those who have sinned" and their descendants. God visits us so that we assume the consequences of our sins, our own as well as the sins of those who went before us and have destroyed something of the harmony that had been given to us. God wants to help us to restore the broken harmony as far as possible.
Even if we are uncomfortable with the idea, the harm we do may have consequences for future generations. To recognize that, we only have to look at the deep wounds that have marked some peoples or the environmental disasters we continue to cause.
This passage wants especially to emphasize the enormous disproportion: the consequences of the evil that we do are limited to a few generations, while the goodness of God is "manifested for thousands of generations," it is infinitely greater. So we can approach God with confidence, he is "compassionate and caring." The text does not tell us to ignore evil or pretend it does not exist; that would be naive and irresponsible. It invites us to pray like Moses, "Lord, come and accompany us. Forgive our sins and faults."
Always ready to forgive, God welcomes the prayer of Moses. He will not take the road of punishment but offers a covenant. God commits himself in this covenant and he does so without conditions. As with Moses, God offers us his covenant today, to each of us. Are we ready to welcome it?
What does it mean for me to entrust myself to a God of mercy? How can I live that out concretely?
Do I know of situations in which I might be able to contribute to restoring a broken harmony? How?