Did reading Chapter 5 of The Story make you feel uncomfortable at times?
I hope it did. I hope as you read it, you had questions and at times felt angry or confused, wondering if all these pictures of God were quite right.
The gods of the ancient world were fickle, selfish and easily-angered. Some of what we see in this chapter makes our God look just like those other gods. A God who might “break out” against his people, should they come too close to them. A God whose anger burns against his people, seeking to destroy them. A God who commands the Levites to strap a sword to their sides, run back and forth through the camp, and kill their “brother and friend and neighbor”. A God who strikes his people with a plague for their rebellion against him.
All of these pictures of God are in this chapter. They are not pretty. They should make us uncomfortable.
But we also get a different picture, later on in the chapter, when the Lord causes his goodness to pass in front of Moses.
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
This is a very different picture of God than we saw earlier in the chapter. This is a very different God than the ancient gods of Israel’s neighbors.
So what do we do with the other pictures? How do we make sense of these texts? I don’t have many answers, but I do think we need to wrestle with them. I think God encourages us to wrestle with them. Those who didn’t wrestle with pictures such as these did not recognize God when he stood before them in the flesh. The pictures they had adopted from the scriptures were not pictures of Jesus.
And we shouldn’t discount the fact that, in a world in which the gods were fickle and easily angered, our God passed over Moses and proclaimed that he was just the opposite. He is a good God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
So maybe we shouldn’t be so perplexed that our Bible lets us peer into a world with false pictures of God. Maybe we should be more amazed that, in a time when all the gods were unjust and angry, our God was slowly revealing his goodness and mercy to a people who assumed he would be just like all the rest.
It’s worth meditating upon today.
For further reading on this subject, I recommend this post by Brian Zahnd.
Rebecca Rich is married to the Discipleship Pastor, Tom Rich. She adores her two cocker spaniels and can often be found reading a book or asking questions. She blogs about life and faith at Buried Hopes.