I’m currently reading through the book of Numbers, and this morning I read through the spies checking out the land God promised to them, their lies, and their complaints, yada yada yada. I read about God’s anger against the wicked, grumbling Israelites and the punishment that follows. Then in Chapter 15, there is this small portion-5 verses-that tells about the time someone was publically breaking the Sabbath by gathering sticks, and the Lord said “stone him to death”. Geez. That seems a bit overdramatic. And frankly, I was frustrated and literally, out loud, said:
“See, LORD. This is why people don’t like you!”
He just commanded someone to be STONED to DEATH for PICKING UP STICKS on the Sabbath! In fact, there are many times we read about similar stories in the OT. And it’s easy while reading through the Old Testament to see God as short-tempered and ungracious. Though I KNOW there are also countless examples of him being gracious and as Moses declares, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression”, the times where he is not, definitely stand out in my mind. This is why people love New Testament Jesus and avoid like the plague Old Testament Yahweh.
And then, (because I am a quote junkie) I remembered this quote by Pastor R.C. Sproul:
“When there’s something in the Word of God that I don’t like, the problem is not with the Word of God, it’s with me.”
Dang, R.C.! Okay, so there is something wrong with me (that I already knew!) but what is it?
According to Scripture, God is immutable-never changing. He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Ps. 102:24-27). So why does it sometimes seem to me that God was a cranky dictator, but now he’s more lenient and gracious, and less sensitive and severe? Why do I like the responses of God less in the OT although I KNOW that He hasn’t changed in the NT?
The Holy Spirit graciously showed me the answer. The answer is (as it often is) the Cross.
Here’s the thing, God’s CHARACTER, RIGHTEOUSNESS, and PERFECTION have NOT changed. But, whereas his wrath once was rightfully poured out on individuals, through Jesus Christ, his wrath CHANGED to be poured out ONCE for ALL WHO BELIEVE on Jesus Christ. So God is still as deeply offended by blatant sin as he was in the time of Moses. But FORTUNATLEY for us, instead of sentencing us to death-he sentenced Christ to death.God still is INCREDIBLY serious about sin-but FORTUNATELY for us, Jesus Christ took all our deserved punishments so we don’t have to fear God’s punitive reactions to our crimes. In the Old Testament, God had the ground swallow people (Numbers 16:32), and if I view my sin correctly, I realize there are PLENTLY of times I rightfully deserved that to happen to me! But ON THE CROSS, CHRIST mercifully absorbed all of God’s reactions to our sins.
So when you and I read Old Testament stories of God’s wrath, instead of thinking “Ugh. I hate that God was so dramatic against sin!” focus on these 2 things–
- God STILL FEELS THAT way about sin! Don’t minimize your offenses against God-they are severe, He HATES them, and they do deserve punishment!
- PRAISE God ALL THE MORE for His kindness is sending Christ so that His children no longer need to be punished for their sins!
God is infinitely more holy and righteous than we ever realize. That truth plus the incredible grace displayed in sending God the Son to die for us, should motivate us towards joyful obedience and humble adoration!