Today’s reading: Numbers 11-13.
“The Old Testament God is an angry God.” True? Numbers gives some serious credence to that claim. If it is true, then it’s important to understand why, and to learn what it teaches us about God’s character.
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. Numbers 11:1
The Israelites angered God with their complaining, and his anger burned hot against them with literal fire.
Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp. But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Numbers 11:31-33
The people complained about eating only manna, and God responded by sending them a surplus of quail. But even as they ate the meat, his anger boiled over and struck them with sickness.
Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this … “When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam–leprous, like snow. Numbers 12:1-2, 6-10
Moses’ brother and sister were envious of his status, and openly criticized him, and in his anger God made Miriam leprous. In a short span of time the people kindled God’s wrath three times with devastating results. I’m not sure which was more predictable: God’s anger or the foolishness of the people who kept on provoking him. In thinking about the situation, I’m impressed by the following:
- God and the Israelites now lived side by side, and interactions were immediate
- The people were greatly accountable for they had been eye-witnesses of God’s repeated miracles, deliverance, and presence in the tabernacle
- They had been promised great reward in the near future, with every reason to trust God’s promise based on his past performance
God’s anger was repeatedly stoked by their complaints. They complained about hardships, the lack of meat in their diet, and, in Miriam’s case, about Moses’ special status. The common theme was dissatisfaction; the people were unhappy and ungrateful with God’s provision. They said, in essence, “God, you are not enough.”
I have to ask myself at this point why God’s patience failed, for longsuffering is another hallmark of God’s character. But here all is feverish anger. To understand why, consider John Piper’s mantra: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” If God is most exalted, pleased, or praised when I most desire and enjoy him, then will the opposite also be true? Is God most dishonored when I am most critical, unhappy, and dissatisfied with him? And what if the ones who are most critical of God are also the ones who are closest to him, both physically and spiritually? Now I begin to understand the depth of God’s anger. “To whom much is given, much is required.” The people who walked most closely with God complained most about him, and learned at great expense that God will be glorified, not dishonored.
Although believers by nature, are far from God, and children of wrath, even as others, yet it is amazing to think how nigh they are brought to him again by the blood of Jesus Christ. George Whitefield
Image by Uncle Jerry on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0