The just anger of God
…But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. Exodus 4.13-14
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 thousands, 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.” Exodus 34.6-7
In our midweek study this week someone asked about God’s anger. ‘What does it consist of? It isn’t just that he blows his cool, right? He must have chosen to get angry for a specific reason.’
This is quite an interesting thought. What is the essence of God’s anger? As we consider this question, we should make sure we check our beliefs. First, we ought to say that God’s anger is a just anger. It is the proper response to whatever situations that cause it. For instance, it is right that God’s anger is kindled against Moses for testing God. It is right that God’s anger was kindled against the Israelites when they built the golden calf. In all this, there is another amazing truth about God: he is slow to anger. He holds back his anger from where it should be. In considering this, we realize that God’s anger and wrath ought to have come against humanity from the beginning, but God was merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
But we still have not defined anger and God’s anger in particular. Anger is a moral emotion which ought to be a response to offending our holy God. When evil is praised and good punished, anger can be a proper emotion. However, we realize as humans that we are limited in our anger because of our sin and because we are not God. The difference between God’s anger and our anger is perhaps that God’s anger is able to be tightly connected with perfect judgement of any offense. ‘Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ Romans 12.19-21 Isn’t it interesting how God’s wrath is connected with bringing proper judgment on humanity? It is the proper moral emotion connected with judgment. On the flip side, we see that we are called to overcome evil and offense against God by doing good. Because we are not in the position of accomplishing judgment, our work is to show mercy and grace hoping that perhaps God will show mercy to the sinner.
So in applying this picture to the instance with Moses in chapter 4 of Exodus, we see how God’s anger is kindled, but he did not fully respond to Moses’ opposition. In reading the passage, we realize that Moses is willing to go against the desire and will of God. In his immaturity, he says no to God’s calling on his life even after God has given him a full picture of how he will use Moses to deliver Israel. God’s wrath reveals Moses’ unholy response to the holy God at the burning bush. While Moses stood on holy ground, he opposed God, and God’s anger and wrath could have broken out against him because he did not have any covering for his sin.
This ultimately is where these ideas are important. What puts God’s wrath at ease? How does it end? It ends when offenses are made right but in God’s economy, there is an opportunity for a satisfying of God’s anger through sacrifice. What ultimately saved Moses from God’s full wrath at the burning bush? What saved the people of Israel at Sinai? It is that God in his divine patience and forbearance, he had passed over former sins. He was anticipating the work of Christ whose death would serve as a propitiation (satisfy wrath) for his people. Jesus saved us from God’s righteous anger and vengeance. So we ought to respond with offering our whole lives as sweet smelling sacrifices to God.