This morning I want to ask two questions. Normally, I just want to do one question per sermon. But this year we are moving so fast through the Story that I have to do two. Here are the questions...
Question One: What makes God angry? That seems to be an important question. If God gets angry with us, it seems that it would be important to understand this.
Question Two: What makes God un-angry? What helps God get over being angry? What attitude do we need, to help us when we have violated Question One? This also seems important.
We are going to explore these two questions from chapter 6 of The Story Bible. Chapter 6 is the part of the story when the Israelites are in the wilderness for 40 years. God gets angry with the Israelites, so much so that He makes them stay in the wilderness wandering around for 40 years. We want to avoid wandering around for 40 years, so this chapter can help us answer our two questions.
Before we get to chapter 6, I need to make three disclaimers about how we understand God. One of the main goals of our year in the Story is to learn about YHWH. Learning about an omnipotently-mysterious God is a bit tricky. So, we need a couple of disclaimers...
Disclaimer One: God is growing up humanity. It may appear that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament. I think it is us, humans, who are changing. I believe God is bringing humanity along like a parent would raising a baby to an adult. Through the course of time, God has been teaching us, humans, to grow up. I believe I can track this through the Bible. Chapter six of the Story seems God’s people are in there terrible twos. When Jesus came to earth, he showed us how to live... now two millennia on this side of the cross we should be more grown up. Chapter six of the story happens 1,500 years on the front side of the cross. Here is the disclaimer... God interacting with the Israelites in the wilderness may be different than he should with humans today. But, I still think the same kind of thing makes YHWH angry.
Disclaimer Two: Anthropomorphism: which is attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object. Often times in Scripture, God is described in human terms. God is not us. We are not God. There is a larger than Grand Canyon size gap in the difference between us and God. So, sometimes, God is spoken of has having human characteristics. Some of that may be going on in chapter 6. Whatever the differences, it is pretty clear God is angry in the wilderness; whatever that may mean.
Disclaimer Three: God is personal. I find myself, sometimes, sliding into thinking of God as The Force; like in Star Wars. I slip into... God is this powerful force for good. We think of God as this emotionless super-computer in the sky that processes our requests while running the universe. This Super-Computer-Force knows the future and we are just protons running through his programs. I think we will see, in chapter 6, that God is very much a being with personality. God has feelings. God has hopes. God has desires. God gets his heart broken. God gets angry and then gets over it. God who cares. God is personal with personality.
Keep those disclaimers in the back of your head as we answer our two questions... Which are...What angers God? What helps God get un-angry?
Let’s go to the book of Numbers.
Hopefully, you have read chapter 6, so I can quickly gather up several statements from our chapter without spending much time with the context of each story.
Numbers 11:1 Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.
--Complaining angered God.
Numbers 11:4,33 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat!... But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague.
Numbers 12:1-10 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite... The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam-- leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy.
--Talking against Moses angered the LORD.
I think we are picking up a pattern...
Numbers 21:4-6 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
--Impatience with God... leads to snakes.
There is a summary statement of all this in Numbers 32, when the Israelites refused to go into the Promised Land, the first time around.
Numbers 32:9-13 ...they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the LORD had given them. The LORD's anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: “Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of the men twenty years old or more who came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-- not one except Caleb and Joshua, for they followed the LORD wholeheartedly.” The LORD's anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.
Wow, that sounds like a miserable 40 years. But the answer is pretty clear. Gripping, complaining, refusing to believe, never being satisfied... being whiny two-year-old’s angers God. (no offence to our two-year-old’s)
I think I know why. Remember God’s dream for the Israelites? God has this wonderful plan for his people...
Exodus 19:4-6 “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
God’s purpose for his people was to be a treasured of priests. The dream for the Israelites was to go out amongst all the nations and be the light of the world; to tell of the glory of YHWH; to be the message of YHWH’s love. But you can’t do that if you are a whiny two-year-old... (no offence to two-year-old’s)
God is angry when his people are unappreciative of his blessings and complain about everything instead of being themselves a blessing to others. That self-focused, all-about-me, lack of trust in His blessings makes God angry.
Question One: pretty clear answer...a Lack of Trust which leads to complaining
Question Two: How does God get un-angry?
Let’s read just one example... the snakes.
Numbers 21:7-9 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So, Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
This is amazing. It only takes repentance to un-anger God. When the people repented God relented. Through the stories of Scripture, whenever people have sinned, or angered God, a change of heart... a recognition of their wrong... a voice speaking apology... a contrite prayer ends God’s anger. Wow... a bit of repentance goes a long way with God.
This is stunning concept in the context of 1500 BC. Repentance is not too surprising of an answer to Question Two for us. But for these ex-Egyptian slaves who lived in a polytheistic world full of angry gods, it was revolutionary. All the ancient pagan gods demanded a price. When an Egyptian god was offended, that god demanded penance; that god demanded restitution, that god demanded appeasement. The entire pagan god system was based upon the manipulation of the gods through sacrifice. The virgin is thrown into the volcano to appease the fire god, and so on.
But not YHWH! YHWH was not interested in them paying for their sins, God only wanted their hearts to turn back to Him. Just look at the bronze snake in repentance and I will heal you.
This speaks to how different YHWH is. The more we work our way through The Story the more we are going to see how different YHWH is to all the pagan gods. God wants repentance not appeasement. I don’t think God has ever wanted to be appeased. God wants hearts.
Repentance is still the way into God’s heart.
--When we acknowledge our lack of faith and open up in trust, God embraces us.
--When we recognize our own whining, “Wow, I’m a whiner. I need to quit.” God warms up to us.
--When we understand how our complaining sounds to God – I am standing on the edge of the Promised Land and I’m complaining about what I have to eat - God welcomes our faith.
--When we repent God relents.
The same thing applies to us as it did to God’s dream for the Israelites.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Whiny two-year-old’s have a hard proclaiming his excellencies. (no offence to two-year-old’s)
Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life...
We are called to be his priests as we hold out the word of life, proclaiming his excellencies! That is who I want to be! You? Then repent and stop whining!
We have answered our two questions. Let me end this with the message Moses gave at the end of his life...
Deuteronomy 30:11-20 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor, is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth (no complaining) and in your heart (repentance) so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Choose life. Choose to live in the life of YHWH. Choose to rejoice in His blessings. Don’t wallow in the whining of death. Be the blessing of life as priests of YHWH!
February 18, 2017
Los Alamos Church of Christ