God is often depicted as slow to anger. He takes time before becoming upset, showing His patience by providing people multiple chances to change.
However, violence and brutality do exist within the Old Testament and this article will explain why. Additionally, what this means for us today.
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Why is God so mean in the old testament?
Many find the Bible difficult to read; even religious people can struggle with its violence and depictions of an all-powerful deity as often seen as an oppressive dictator. Furthermore, its language and cultural references may make understanding its message challenging for anyone unfamiliar with ancient Israel’s culture or history.
Although the Old Testament often depicts violent actions, there are multiple reasons for its nonviolent interpretation. God’s character becomes clearer when Jesus comes as flesh to earth in the New Testament.
Violence and brutal actions in the Old Testament were often justified through misinterpretations of God’s nature and human sinfulness. When humans sin against Him, they deviate from His plans for them – to glorify and enjoy Him eternally – thus deviating from their Creator’s design of glorifying and enjoying Him forever; when humans repent of this behavior and return to God in worshipful submission and gratitude (Genesis 1-3; Psalm 1-2).
Another key reason that violent actions in the Old Testament were not as mean-spirited as some may believe is because God wasn’t a mean, cruel God. People may believe He was cruel because He wanted to preserve Israel’s uniqueness or produce righteous individuals such as Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist; this reasoning however falls short in terms of reality.
God made the covenant with Abraham with a promise that He would bless and provide land for his descendants to inherit in Canaan; yet He warned Abraham of how Canaanite inhabitants were not good people; further, He predicted that Amorites and other nearby nations would increase in depravity and sinfulness over time.
God gets angry at human violence
From Cain’s murder of his brother Abel to Noah’s flood that washed away almost all living things on Earth, violence is prevalent throughout Scripture. Many Christians struggle to reconcile a loving and kind God who heals blind eyes, raises dead ones back up again, dines with sinners while at times sending catastrophic floods or permitting entire people groups to be eliminated without warning.
Worse yet, some people mistake these biblical passages to suggest that God is cruel and violent – something Jesus himself refuted through nonviolent resistance against evil, injustice, prejudice, and callous disregard of suffering – risking both his reputation and life repeatedly to do so.
Yahweh isn’t a god who takes pleasure in violence and enjoys witnessing others suffering; He takes time before making His judgment known, offering people time and space to repent before taking action against them. One example of His patience can be seen when He put off punishing Nineveh for four hundred years before finally getting angry!
God often reacts violently in response to human actions. For instance, according to scripture Elisha cursed some boys who taunted him by calling him Baldy; Yahweh responded by sending two bears into the forest that mauled 42 of these boys (see 2 Kings 2:23-25).
Another example comes from when Yahweh ordered Israel to parade around their sacred tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant on public display, in front of all Israel. When its pullers began to stumble and Uzzah reached out with his hands to steady it he provoked Yahweh into sending an epidemic that struck Uzzah right there amongst the crowd (see 1 Samuel 6:1). This action by God illustrated His anger as being directly related to human disobedience – His judgment must be shown for what it really was!
God gets angry at powerful leaders
Old Testament passages demonstrate how God reacts angrily when powerful leaders use violence or genocide against other humans, or destroy idols and religious practices for sacrifice purposes, for instance genocide or destruction of idols and sacrifices (Exodus 20:4-6; Isaiah 42:6). God often responds strongly when these leaders violate His holy and righteous character by violating holy traditions (Exodus 20:4-6; Isaiah 42:6).
Pharaoh’s harsh birth-control measures for the Hebrews angered God, since these cruel measures violated their freedom as God was their Creator (Exodus 1:23) and chosen Moses as their leader out of Egypt (Exodus 3:9; 4:13). Additionally, God was outraged by Canaanite nations who practiced child sacrifice and sexual perversion and thus demanded Israel completely destroy them–women, children and livestock alike (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).
Although this might sound harsh, it’s essential that we remember not to judge God by our own standards. While we might take offense at someone taking too long in the bathroom or devouring all the mint-chip ice cream in their possession, these minor offenses pale in comparison to all of the atrocities Yahweh allowed his people to suffer for centuries – especially those which would make anyone concerned for justice angry: oppression, violence and injustice.
God often warns His people before unleashing his fury upon them, such as Israel in the form of plague or animal deaths (Exodus 15:29, 16:22 and Deuteronomy 7:10) to make it clear that their disobedience placed them at risk and it was up to them to repent or face destruction.
Truth be told, Bible’s violent passages can be disquieting for thoughtful Christians and provide ammunition to new atheists who claim religion is at the root of much violence in this world. Yet there may be hope if we acknowledge that the God of the Bible gets angry too – but not in an abstract sense; He draws upon two social models when venting his rage: warrior and parent.
God gets angry at Israel’s constant covenant betrayal
God often finds Himself dismayed at Israel for breaking their covenant, which can be found throughout the Old Testament as one of its primary themes (e.g. the golden calf at Horeb), prophetic (Joel 2:13) and poetic contexts (Psalms 78:58; 103:8).
Israel often rebelled against Yahweh, beginning with their creation of the golden calf at Horeb and continuing after they left Egypt with idolatry and desecration of the Temple – including idol worshipping and temple desecration – before eventually experiencing His judgment on them both enemies as well as His people; ultimately He destroyed their enemies while also saving his people as He provided a way for humanity to find salvation through Him.
Note that God does not sanction child sacrifice or the killing of noncombatants as part of His will in general, nor does He support child sacrifice specifically in the Old Testament. But He did allow killing when necessary for Israel’s protection; one famous instance being Uzzah; when his cart carrying the Ark of Covenant began shaking due to an oxen stumble causing its cart to shake violently, Uzzah reached out to steady it himself, but Yahweh became angry and instantly killed him for this act of disobedience against Him – though Uzzah had intended on doing just this!
It can be unnerving for modern people to accept that God supported violence and murder during ancient times; it can be hard to accept that He allowed innocent children’s deaths so He could further His plan. We should remember, though, that Israel was a theocracy rather than democracy so their laws differ greatly than ours.
Keep in mind that God was always sovereign and in control. He acted according to His plan and in line with His promises made to Israel, so He could bring about justice through ways which may not appear “fair” or just. However, it’s important not to misinterpret His justice as being anything other than fair, just, and righteous.