Sometimes I’m a bit surprised by what people say about God. I know of no humans who don’t get irked or who don’t get angry in a good sense, though I’ve seen some who get too angry too easily while others don’t get irked easily enough. But for some reason God’s getting angry, or expressing wrath, is bad behavior. I do wonder if our anger doesn’t correspond in some ways with something inherent to God and that means anger can’t simply be assigned to a fallen world.
In a chp called “Angry or Loving?,” David Lamb, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, asks this very question about the Old Testament. He can’t map all the OT texts but he gives a good map to the whole by sampling passages.
How do you explain the “anger” of God?
David examines Uzzah’s being struck dead by God for touching/steadying the altar when it was being moved. Seems a tad overdone, no? David says “Not if you look at the text in its context.” (I’ve got the text after the jump.)
He explains: first, YHWH’s anger results from how the Israelites were to carry the ark. Read Numbers 4:15 if you can. Clear disobedience. Second, they treated the ark of the covenant as cargo by pulling it on a cart when they were told to carry with sticks through the rings on the shoulders of priests. The ark represented God, and God is royalty, and they asked God to ride — as it were — in the trunk or the bed of the truck. Third, they had been so negligent of their relationship with YHWH they had lost the ark to the Philistines. Finally, they learned their lesson; never did this again; God never “broke out” like this again with them over the ark.
In the OT God is described as “slow to anger” — and this theme highlights the significance of the previous incident with Uzzah; it’s rare and only after patience. God has a “long nose” — the term used for slow to anger. And David asks us to think about what gets God angry: God wants the elimination of oppression, violence and injustice and is angry when those are present in our world. Who can question the wrath of God against these things? Only a radical progressive who can’t stomach any kind of justifiable anger or an apathetic arrogant human who doesn’t seem to care because of assurance of being on God’s side. In fact, these injustices require the justice of God, including the anger and wrath of God.
Thus, God’s anger is justified against Egypt: the most powerful nation in the world with a Robert Mugabe-like figure atop it’s “pyramid” of power, and oppressing Israelites relentlessly. So God is angered — but only after 400 years! Thus, he asks “WWJW?” Who would Jesus whip? The money-changing, unjust arbitrators of power and religion.
And, yet, as David Lamb ably shows: in the OT the theme is the behavior-shaped, abundant and relentless hesed/love of God.
If we don’t get angry at relational breakdown and injustices, as YHWH did, we are not true followers of YHWH.
2 Samuel 6:1-8
1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.