by Erin Bird
I have only one sibling, a brother named Derek. I am so thankful for the relationship I have with Derek. Anytime we are together ends up being fun. He’s a great cook, skilled in areas I am not, and very easy to get along with. Most everyone I know likes Derek.
But it wasn’t that way when we were kids. You see, Derek was a stereotypical redhead with a super short fuse. (If you’re a redhead, I do not say that to insult you!) I remember moments where we would be happily playing together when suddenly he would be yelling in rage the next. It was not uncommon to find me (the older brother who didn’t like fighting) locked safely in the bathroom while my brother’s temper cooled down. (I will confess, many of my big-brother antics probably led to more than a few of my brother’s outbursts. 😬 )
If you have ever had a relationship with someone with a short temper, you can relate with how hard it is to know how to interact with such a person. You never know what is going to spark their anger, and so you find yourself emotionally tiptoeing around them and certain issues, keeping an emotional and relational distance from them. (If you are the one with the quick temper, you may have sensed more than once the emotional distance others give you.)
God the Temper Sloth
In case you have forgotten or didn’t realize, we are in a series here in the weekly email on God’s Bio as given in Exodus 34:6-7. Last week, we saw how God described Himself as “merciful and gracious.” Which means this week we are ready for the next phrase: “slow to anger.”
Many people in antiquity saw the gods as being short tempered like a stereotypical redhead. They feared that if they didn’t say the right prayers, or make the right sacrifices, or do all the right things, their god might curse them with bad crops, drought, warfare, disease, or death. This resulted in a “distant” relationship with their god.
If you are familiar with the Bible, you won’t be surprised to hear that these ideas bled into ancient Judaism. And with good reason! There are moments recorded in the historical books of the Old Testament where God revealed anger with the people, warned them of destruction, and even followed through with His plans of correction.
Take the Babylonian Exile of the Jewish people as recorded in 2 Kings 25 as an example. God clearly delivered a harsh blow to the people. Yet, as you study the whole of Scripture, you discover God first warned the people through prophets like Isaiah more than 100 years prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s attack. When they didn’t listen to the prophets and change their ways, then God affected the food. And when they didn’t respond to that, then He affected the weather. And when they still didn’t repent, then He allowed disease to come (see Amos 4:6-12 to read this progression). And on and on it went. Yet with each correction, the people still refused to repent.
I want you to notice two things from the example of the Babylonian Exile (and what we see in Exodus 34:6-7):
#1: God still gets upset – which is a good thing!
Notice in Exodus 34 God doesn’t say, “I’m a God who never gets angry.” His sending of the Babylonian army reveals He can get angry. But as we’ll see next, He is just slow getting to that point of anger.
But what I want you to realize is that God’s anger is actually a good thing! Think about it. Do you really want a God who isn’t bothered about injustice, or rape, or cruelty, or unfaithfulness, or murder? Trust me: you would not like or even love a God who didn’t get angry over such things. But a simple look at the cross reveals God’s anger with sin. (Thankfully, His anger didn’t lead Him to make us pay for our own sin, rather He took the penalty for us.)
#2: While God gets angry, He is very slow to lose His temper.
Notice that God did not send Babylon at the very first sign of Israel’s rebellion. He didn’t starve the people within the week after they didn’t observe the Sabbath. He didn’t send locusts within the hour when the people lied, cheated, and hurt one another. Rather, He was patient. He had already given them the Mosaic Law to remind them of what He had called them to do. He then sent prophets to call them to repentance for their rebellion against Him. He then made food scarce, hoping their hunger would drive them back. And on and on it went. But not because God was quick to anger. Rather, God showed incredible patience with His people.
This truth should be reassuring to you. Because God is slow to anger with your sin and shortcomings, you can approach His throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). You do not have to worry that He will fly off the handle at you for the lie you told last week or the impure thoughts you had last night. While He does not take your sin lightly (after all, He paid for your sin with His death on the cross!), He does not lose His temper with you. He is patiently working within you through His Holy Spirit, because as His bio says, He is slow to anger.