Open Exodus 4:14.
What do you do with texts like this?
Exodus 4:14 (NIV)
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses …
The wrath of God gets people running one way or the other:
- God’s anger is a core doctrine for some people. They believe God’s anger is the problem that the gospel solves (Romans 1:18).
- God’s anger is something shameful for many Christians. They fear the image of an angry God drives people away from faith.
So what do we do with texts that talk about God’s anger?
If the Bible intended to say that God’s anger is the foundation for the salvation story, the foundational book of the Bible failed. Genesis didn’t use the phrase YHWH’s anger at all. You’re in Exodus before the phrase appears. And when it does, God isn’t angry with the sinful nations. He’s angry with Moses. Perhaps God’s anger isn’t the foundation of the salvation narrative.
But neither can we slip God’s anger under the carpet. The God revealed in Scripture is not a British bureaucrat. He’s not a dispassionate ruler, unaffected by his subjects, emotionally distant, immutable. He is passionately engaged with his people. He is deeply affected by what we feel and how we respond. He’s an emotional God who hears our groans and knows our pain (2:24-25). The Saviour revealed in Scripture is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
God feels anger. He’s angry at injustice. He feels it when his children hurt. He feels it when his children hurt him.
So why doesn’t he step in and stop it if he’s so powerful? Why doesn’t he obliterate evil?
When God feels angry, he doesn’t lose his cool. When we get angry, we throw tantrums. We lose control, and throw irrational energy against our opponents. If someone with infinite power did that, everything would be chaos.
God doesn’t have control issues. He feels deeply. He hurts deeply. But he doesn’t lose control.
There’s an authenticity in God. He doesn’t hide his emotions. The Hebrew word for anger (ʾǎp̄) literally refers to the face, the nostrils. God is not stony-faced. We know God’s emotions because he engages with us, because he shows his face.
God feels so deeply because God loves so deeply.
We frustrate God. Moses peddled excuse after excuse in rejecting his appointment as ambassador to Pharaoh. If Moses had been emotionally honest, he would have said, “I’m afraid. I don’t want to die. I believe Pharaoh will kill me, and I don’t believe you can protect me from him.” Believing Pharaoh’s power over God’s power was an insult to the true sovereign. And that’s why God was angry with Moses: Moses did not believe God could do it.
Observe: God doesn’t lose his cool with Moses. He doesn’t react against Moses. Instead, he provides support for Moses: “What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He’s already on his way …” (4:14).
That’s a God I can trust. He’s honest, even when he’s angry. When his people test his patience, he uses his power creatively, not vindictively.
God’s anger is not the foundation of the salvation narrative, but it is part of the story. The God revealed in the salvation narrative is a compassionate and gracious ruler, slow to anger, overflowing with steadfast love and faithful commitment to his people (Exodus 34:6).
As an Aussie male, I need to learn how to own and manage my feelings like that.