KEY THOT: Our Westernized and liberal generation is generally uncomfortable with the idea of the wrath of God. In a politically correct era, speaking of a wrathful God is deemed a form of religious bigotry. It is seen as being intolerant to threaten others with God’s wrath and judgment just because we cannot accept their alternative worldview or lifestyle. But that’s not how the Bible explains God’s wrath. God’s wrath is not some temperamental peevishness of God that is intolerant of certain kinds of behaviour He doesn't quite like. Rather, it is a consistent manifestation of his inward holy character which is relentless in its opposition to evil and sin. Just as light dispels darkness, so God’s holiness dispels evil—by removing and destroying it. So God's holy reaction towards spiritual and moral corruption is his wrath that leads to divine judgment. When it comes to sin and evil, God shows no favouritism and will react in a way that is consistent to his holy character--unless there is an intermediary to turn that wrath away.
In today's story of Moses and Israel in Exodus 32, God’s wrath is not directed at Israel’s enemies but against his own people. They had fallen into the sin of idolatry by setting up a golden calf as a substitute for the God of Israel. Idolatry is not some kind of harmless lifestyle, but a corruption of God’s holy character and a denial of his moral universe. Idolatry not only degrades God's universe, but it also degrades ourselves. It is our first step in the download slide of our moral character. In the case of the Israelites, it resulted in mindless debauchery and sexual orgies: “So they were up early the next morning and began offering burnt offerings and peace offerings to the calf-idol; afterwards they sat down to feast and drink at a wild party, followed by sexual immorality” (Exodus 32:6, The Living Bible).
The golden calf is a metaphor of what happens when humans attempt to redefine God in their own imagination to suit their own worldviews. Aaron who was responsible for this apostasy had not received the revelation that Moses did while waiting at the foot of Mt Sinai. So his best understanding of God was based on the Egyptian worldview of gods and goddesses in the guise of birds and animals. So he projected this understanding unto the God of Israel and came up with the golden calf. For Aaron, the calf signified power and strength as he had witnessed in the ten plagues against Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. The golden calf was conceived because he only knew of God’s power but not his holiness--until now.
As the Lord himself had told Moses: “I am Yahweh—'the Lord.' I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—'God Almighty'—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them” (Exodus 6:2, NLT). Israel only knew God as El-Shaddai (God Almighty). But on that day, in an awesome and tragic way, they would soon know the God of Israel as Yahweh (LORD), the great “I AM”. Yahweh is different from the gods of the Egyptians—He is holy and his reaction against sin and evil is like the consuming fire burning up entire forests as tinder.
Moses’ intervention and intercession appealed to another side of God’s holy character—his mercy and grace: “But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?’” (Exodus 32:11). He reminded God of his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac and Israel to multiply their descendants. And on that basis, the Lord relented from consuming the Israelites. Israel was spared that day on account of God’s gracious promise to Abraham, not because they were God’s special. But nevertheless, 3,000 men who remained defiant were put to death to remove evil and sin from the midst of Israel.
God’s holy reaction to sin and evil remains an unchanging and unchangeable character of his holiness.
The danger of liberal theology and Westernised politically correct theology of God is that it is embarrassed by such a depiction of God as a wrathful God. But it’s no more embarrassing to speak of God’s wrath against sin and evil as it is of light dispelling darkness when it is brought into a darkened room or of a fire consuming thousands of hectares of a forest in a week—it just is. We cannot redefine God to please our modern ears, any more can Aaron redefine God to suit his generation of former slaves in Egypt. The only reason we are not consumed today is because of God’s grace and mercy revealed to us in Christ’s dying for sins. Jesus’ intervention (“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”) is the only thing that is holding back God’s wrath against sin and evil. But it won’t spare those who remain defiant in our increasing evil and immoral world, just as it didn't spare the 3,000 men in Moses' day.
God’s mercy is demonstrated to allow those who are repentant to turn away from their evil and call upon Jesus’ as Lord and Saviour so that they can be spared—but God’s wrath remains his consistent attitude towards the increasing defiance of those who are against God's holy character revealed in his holy laws.
Father, grant us wisdom to know You as You truly are—a holy God that is against sin and evil. Thank You for Your mercy manifested in Christ. May it be extended to all who do not know of Your mercy today. Amen.