For sinful man, “God with us” and “God for us” is grace from beginning to end. Moses’ prayer for pardon in Exodus 34 has reference not only to the ancient Israelites, but to all those who would be God’s inheritance, up to the present day. That is the thrust of Calvin’s comments on Exodus 34:8 in his Harmony of the Law. In reconciling us to himself, God is both utterly free and utterly merciful:
8. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head This haste shews that Moses was astounded when he first beheld the brightness; for thus does God, when He reveals Himself, immediately ravish the godly into such admiration of Him, that there is no time for delay. 384 This prayer follows, that God would journey with His people, and bear with their frowardness; for, since God had said that He could not possibly dwell with so stiff-necked and intractable a people, Moses proposes the remedy, viz., after he has confessed that the people are of a hardened and stubborn spirit, he still expresses a hope of their safety, if God will be pitiful in sparing them. What follows is worthy of observation, “that thou mayest possess us;” 385 for the copula has the force of the causal particle, as if he had said, That God could not enjoy the inheritance He had chosen, unless by pardoning their sins. And surely so it is; for such is man’s frailty, that they would straightway fall from grace were they not reconciled to God. Nor was this spoken only of this ancient people, but refers also to us; for, in order that God should possess us too, it is needful that our sins should be constantly pardoned, as this embassy, according to Paul, daily resounds in the Church. (2 Corinthians 5:20.) Consequently, not only does the origin of our salvation flow from gratuitous adoption, but its continual progress even to the end can only be accomplished by God’s freely reconciling us to Himself.