Upon reading the Old Testament, Christians and non-Christians alike may come to the following conclusion:
Yahweh sure can have a temper.
The Flood, Canaan, dealings with Israel, the Egyptians, the judgment of Assyria, the Hittites, and Babylon; all of these point to the idea that God can, in fact, have a temper. Yet, something that I notice is that when one comes to these passages they come to the conclusion that God is a moral monster, instead of asking the question: Why is God angry?
In the first article of this series, I presented the idea that how we view God should affect how we view everything in our lives, and we began to take a look at the moment where Yahweh describes His character.
In Exodus 34:6-9, scripture reads:
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
The first traits that we discussed were God’s mercy and grace. I will point you to the previous article for commentary on that. But I will say that if God is merciful and gracious, then how much more should we as Christ followers be to fellow Christians and non-Christians? The mercy and grace shown by Christ followers should be ever pointing to Jesus who died on a cross to atone for our sins and who rose from the dead on the third day. We understand that we were shown mercy, and thus should show mercy to others.
The Slow-To-Anger Trait
The main trait that we are to discuss today is the ‘slow-to-anger’ trait of Yahweh. When we read the passage, we get the sense that God does, in fact, become angry. I would say that the idea that God is angry is essential to our understanding of God.
If God had no anger or wrath, evil would go unpunished, sin would remain, Israel wouldn’t have reached the Promised Land, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross would lose its purpose, and the Gospel would mean nothing.
God’s wrath, in one sense, is a part of our hope, where He wipes away the tears from our eyes and when sin and death are finally washed away into a Lake of Fire at the end of this age. That’s an essential part of the Good News.
Yet, God is slow to become angry. He is patient. He is long-suffering. Have we seen this long-suffering play out in scripture? I would venture to argue “yes.”
The story of the Old Testament Flood is one of God’s faithfulness to mankind, and to Noah and His family. But it is often pointed to as a horrific story of God throwing a tantrum and wiping out all of mankind because He wanted to.
- Is this characterization a fair one?
- Did God destroy most of the human race for no reason?
Let’s check out the passage leading up to The Flood.
“The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord .“ – Genesis 6:5-8
What Do We See?
Here we see right off the bat that Yahweh saw the wickedness of mankind. Every thought was always evil. While we see the extent of human evil today, imagine what it was like then. We also see that that sin breaks God’s heart. This is a part of Christianity that sets it apart from the rest. God loves us and is pained when we mess up. After-all, as God of the universe, He knows what is truly the best way for us to live.
Just like a parent whose heart breaks when their child gets in trouble with the law, commits murders, or abuses fellow humans, God’s heart breaks at the sight of His children submitting to their evil desires.
Evil angers God. I think the reason why we get mad at this concept is because we identify with the evil people swept away more than the righteous one chosen by Yahweh.
Was there substantial time to get things right for the human race? I would venture to answer “yes.”
Welcome to Math Class!
If you’re not familiar with the story of Cain and Abel, you should know that their’s is a recording of the first murder on Earth. After this, we see the descendants of Adam not only living extremely long lives (perhaps a topic for another article down the line), but also enough time to get things right:
I am not going to type out all of the people that lived and died, because you can simply go to Genesis 5:3-32 and see it for yourself. However, adding up all the ages gives us a sense of God’s patience.
Based on the passage, the amount of years that passed from Adam and Eve’s exit out of the Garden to the Flood is 1656 years. To make the claim that God just woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decided to flood the Earth because He was randomly angry and grieved would be to ignore the significant amount of time that passed while His created image bearers continued to soil the family name.
- There are 1,656 years of mercy and grace.
- There are 1,656 years of patience.
- There are 1,656 years from Yahweh tolerating the iniquity of mankind.
For 1,656 years, God watched post-fall mankind descend into evil, debauchery, lustful passions, and murder. Yahweh waited so long for human beings to come back to Him and waited for the longest possible time before flexing His muscle.
When we come across the story of The Flood, we should not ask: Why did God wipe out the human race? We should instead be asking:
Why didn’t He do it sooner?
Questions about Canaan
We are familiar with the conquest of Canaan. This is another example of God’s faithfulness to His people Israel. He is going before them Himself, to help drive the people from the Land, and is personally guiding Joshua and his people in battle. This account is also cited as another example of Yahweh’s random tantrums at the expense of entire people groups . I’ve heard someone say that God committed genocide against these people and have even heard charges of xenophobia. A couple of important questions may help us navigate this text:
- Was God patient with the Canaanites?
- What exactly were they doing that warranted their removal anyway?
Evil Kingdoms Lose.
To answer the first question we must look again to the book of Genesis.
In Genesis Ch. 15, we see God’s covenant with Abraham. Within this covenant, we see that God wishes to bless all nations through the descendants of Abraham. Following this covenant, God promises Abraham that his descendants will return to the land in four generations. Why?
“After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” Genesis 15:16
The Amorites were among the people living in Canaan at the time. There would be 4 generations that would pass (roughly 400 years) before the descendants of Abraham would return and live in the land.
Simply put, one of the reasons why God brought Abraham’s descendants back when He did was in an act of judgement against the evil atrocities committed by the Amorites and other inhabitants living in the land. God wasn’t being petty. God was being just.
But What Did They Do?
We see that God is not simply acting out of a random lust for power or dominance. He isn’t bored nor does he simply wanting to toy with whole people groups. So why did Yahweh command the removal of the people of Canaan from the land? What did the people do to deserve such punishment?
Here is the simple answer to the question: Moloch.
You are probably wondering “Who is Moloch?”
In the twelfth century, Rabbi Schlomo Yitzchaki wrote this in his commentary on the Talmud:
“…Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.”
In case you did not read that correctly, Moloch was an idol made of brass. The statue had his hands stretched out in order to act as a cradle for babies. In this fertility ritual, the brass god was heated up to the point to where the statue was piping hot. Then a baby was placed in the arms of the molten god and cooked alive. In order to drown out the cries of the dying children, the priests would beat on the drum loudly so the parents could not hear their child.
Oh. That’s why God was angry at them…
I Understand Now
Can you imagine a world where God would not be angry at child sacrifice?
If God wasnt angry at evil, then actions such as child sacrifice and murder would go unpunished and unpaid for. God’s justice demands that evil is taken care of. Why didn’t God punish the Canaanites sooner? Because His patience allowed their evil to continue for a period of time out of His desire for repentance and restoration.
God’s first goal is always repentance and restoration, regardless on if we believe it is warranted or not.
It is easy to take stories such as The Flood and the removal of the Canaanites and make a case for a God who is a bully that acts upon senseless rage. But when we understand that God gives ample time for repentance and reconciliation, the narrative of a “Morally Atrocious God” falls apart.
As Christians, we should have the same patience wherever we are, no matter how hard it is.
At the same time, we know that God’s patience with humanity in this post-cross era will not last forever. There will be a time that will be like the days of Noah, and the wicked will be taken away (Matthew 24: 37).
Remember that we [Christians] too were owed such anger. We were under the wrath of God because of our rebellion towards Him. But God took the consequence of our sins and put them upon the person of Jesus. Now we are saved for eternity by placing our faith in Christ.
And so, to the Christians reading this:
- Ask people about what they think about God.
- Talk to them about Jesus and who He is.
- Pray for the salvation of your family and friends before those days arrive.
We were under such anger too, but have been redeemed by the blood of the cross. Let’s share that redemption with others in action and in deed, being patient and gracious along the way.