One of the discussion questions in the Sabbath School Quarterly was: In the Bible, God is pictured both as a great Lover of sinners and also as being very angry about sin. Some Christians try to pick one or the other as showing God’s nature (who God is). Why is that unnecessary? In fact, why is God’s love for sinners one of the main reasons why He is angry about sin?
I thought about this question and it occurred to me that this is like a parent who loves a child and is hurt and angry when that child is disobedient and does things that hurts the parent. What hurts is that the child knows better but still does what he knows is wrong. I have seen this recur in the Old Testament with the Israelites.
God’s chosen people knew that idolatry is something God condemns. It was addressed in two of His commandments. In Exodus 20:3-6 we read: “You shall have no other gods before Me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourthgenerations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
God made it clear to the very same people whom He delivered from bondage in Egypt that they were not to worship any other gods or to make images of anything and worship it as a god. They had just come from a nation where idolatry was the norm. The Egyptians worshipped many gods. Israel was supposed to worship one God–the Lord Almighty, I AM who brought them out of the land where they and their ancestors had been subjected to slavery and misery and oppression.
What astounded me was how soon after they left Egypt that the Israelites fell into idolatry (Exodus 32). While Moses was getting the commandments from God, the people, impatient that Moses was taking so long, decided that they needed a god. They turned to Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
More disturbing than the people’s unfaithfulness to God is Aaron’s response. Instead of protesting and encouraging the people to have faith and to be patient, he told them to break off their earrings and take them to him. He took the jewelry and fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. And to add insult to injury, he built an altar before the idol he made with his hands and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” Aaron was encouraging rather than discouraging the idolatry. The people would not have had an idol to worship if he hadn’t made one. He was Moses spokesperson. He was in charge of the people in Moses’ absence. It is Aaron the people went to when Moses was delayed. Perhaps this is why Moses was so angry with him. Upon his return, he said to him, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?”
Aaron’s excuse was that the people were set on evil. This made me think of Noah. The people in his time were set on evil but did Noah go along with them or did he remain faithful to God? He was a righteous man among a wicked generation. Aaron should have refused to make gods for the people. He should have reminded them that they had only one God. He should have told them to be patient and wait for Moses to return. God’s anger burned at the people’s sin. He said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.”
Bull worship was common in many cultures. In Egypt, whence according to the Exodus narrative the Hebrews had recently come, the Apis Bull was a comparable object of worship, which some believe the Hebrews were reviving in the wilderness; alternatively, some believe the God of Israel was associated with or pictured as a calf/bull deity through the process of religious assimilation and syncretism. Among the Egyptians’ and Hebrews’ neighbors in the Ancient Near East and in the Aegean, the Aurochs, the wild bull, was widely worshipped, often as the Lunar Bull and as the creature of El.the calf was intended to be a physical representation of the God of Israel, and therefore was doubly wrong for involving Israel in idolatry and for ascribing physicality to God (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_calf). The people had left Egypt but the nation’s pagan ways had rubbed off on them.
God had every reason to be angry about the sin Israel had committed. He had done the following for them:
- Provided them with bread from heaven for their hunger
- Brought water out of the rock to quench their thirst
- Told them to go in to possess the land when He had sworn to give them
In return for His kindness and goodness, they:
- did not obey His commandments
- they were not mindful of His wonders
- rebelled and appointed a leader to return to slavery
- made a molded calf for themselves
God had shown them mercy but they threw it back in His face. Sin makes God angry as it should. It leads to disobedience–rebellion and death. Like God we too should get angry over sin. It hurts God. It’s the reason why Jesus died on the cross. It’s the reason why there is sorrow, sickness, suffering, violence and death in this world.
Thankfully, we serve a God who is ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness and would not forsake us just as He did not forsake the Israelites even after they made the calf. Likewise, we should not forsake or give up on our kids. It’s God’s great love for us that makes Him angry when we sin. Likewise it’s love for our kids that makes us so upset with them when they are disobedient or rebellious.
Today, let us purpose in our hearts to please God. Let us not forsake the teachings of the Bible and turn aside from the leading of the Holy Spirit. Let us not grieve Him or allow sin to lead us astray. Remember God loves the sinner but hates the sin. And if we love God, we will keep His commandments. We will not want to do anything that would upset Him.