Exodus 34:6: And Yahweh passed over before him, and he proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, God, who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding with loyal love and faithfulness.”
Isaiah 54:7-8: For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.
Romans 5:8-9: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
2 Peter 3:9: The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
As you read through the character of God in Exodus 34:6, the first two words and the last two words can give us wonderful feelings because they are beautiful attributes: compassionate, gracious, loyal love, and faithfulness. Here in the center of those words is a characteristic of God that is extremely challenging for many. He is slow to anger. While it is still a beautiful characteristic, it leads to a conclusion – God does get angry. Many people feel from the knowledge they have of the Bible that God is always angry and carries that anger out in intense ways anytime someone steps out of line. Other people deny God’s anger, that he is only loving all the time regardless of what people do. Many people have experienced anger from humans in abusive and destructive ways. Our culture has shown anger carried out by individuals and groups through many terrible means. For all these reasons, we need to know the truth of God’s word regarding his anger and his slowness to it, that we do not define his character by our viewpoints or our experiences, but what His word teaches us.
It might surprise us when God’s anger (or his nose burning hot as the video shows) first gets mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps we would say when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, or when he sent a flood to destroy the world, or when he rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. While we might infer that his anger was involved in those situations, it isn’t explicitly said. The first time we see his anger is with Moses, the man of God! When God called Moses to deliver his people from Pharaoh in Egypt, Moses made excuse after excuse until he finally asked God to send someone else. Exodus 4:14 says, “Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, ‘What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you.’” Notice that God gave Moses several chances to accept his calling. What was that calling? To partner with him to deliver his suffering, enslaved people from oppression and evil! His anger burned against Moses because his anger burned against Egypt’s brutal treatment of his people, and Moses was resistant to be God’s partner in their deliverance. But God didn’t strike Moses dead in his anger. He instead granted his request! He sent his brother Aaron to be the one to speak for him and God. Of course, that didn’t let Moses off the hook. God compelled him to go as well, and eventually he shaped Moses into a humble yet powerful leader. But this first instance of his anger mentioned gives us some incredible insight to how his anger works in the rest of the story. He gives people opportunities to humble themselves and be obedient to his will. He is slow to anger, but his anger does come.
We know from our previous devotions that God made a covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai, and they agreed to be committed to him alone. Yet 40 days later, they abandoned his covenant to worship a golden idol. God responded this way in Exodus 32:9-10: And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” That is intense! At first glance, it might look like God lost control of himself. But God wasn’t erupting in the moment like we would. He had “seen this people”; from their beginning, they had been idol worshippers that rejected him. This had been happening for centuries! He powerfully delivered them to show them his heart, and their best response was to break covenant with him in only a matter of days. What we would call an emotional response is God’s perfect character response – he was right to be angry like this. Yet, he also demonstrated his slowness to anger when Moses interceded in Exodus 32:11-14: But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. Moses was concerned for God’s reputation and glory. He appealed to God’s compassion and grace to forgive his people for the sake of his glory. God agreed and gave them grace they did not deserve.
The rest of the story of the Old Testament shows God and Israel existing in this tension. If they rebelled against him, he promised it would lead to their exile and death. They only deepened their sin against him and became more sinful than the nations around them in the way they treated God and one another. As the video showed, God gave them centuries to turn from their sin, but eventually his anger was released. He gave them over to their enemies. Many were killed, many were taken into exile, and this once glorious people was left as a burning stump with little life left. What are we to make of this? Yahweh is a God compassionate and gracious, but he is also a God of righteousness and justice. He would cease to be a good God if he left evil unchecked, especially in his covenant people. But even in the death and destruction that the prophets proclaimed would happen and did happen, God gave them a promise. In compassion, loyal love, and faithfulness, his anger would end, and he would gather his people to himself again (Isaiah 54:7-8).
Let’s turn to the New Testament and Jesus. One of the mistakes people often make with the Bible is that they think that the God of the Old Testament is always angry, and the God of the New Testament (particularly Jesus) is very loving and kind. But the whole Bible shows the consistency of God’s character. He is slow to anger in the Old and New Testament. But even Jesus got angry. After all, he made a whip and tossed money tables in the temple the week of his death because his people had turned the temple of his Father into a den of thieves. He also declared what the prophets before him declared: if you don’t recognize the King and kingdom of God in your midst, you will face the same judgment. Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Humans are sinners, transgressors, soaked in iniquity against God. God is slow to anger with humans, but his justice must come for him to be good. But God also describes himself as compassionate and gracious. So how do all these things work together where humans can experience God’s compassion and grace, and God remains consistent in his character toward sin?
We find the answer at the cross of Jesus. When he died for the sins of all of us, God poured out his just judgment on his Son. Jesus paved the way for us to find the mercy of God for our sins because he paid for them with his life. We no longer must face God’s anger for sin when we plead for his mercy through the perfect blood of Jesus. Paul writes in Romans 5:8-9: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
God’s anger and God’s mercy meet at the cross of Jesus. Even now, God is showing us that he is slow to anger. His judgment is coming for those who rebel against him, but he is giving all of us time to repent and turn to him with humble hearts. The season of Lent calls us to consider how we deserve his judgment and anger for our sin, but praise be to God who showed us his slowness to anger and his abundant grace in Jesus Christ!
If we have found God to be slow to anger with us and we follow Christ, then we too must become slow to anger. James 1:19-20 says: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I had a terrible temper when I was a child; there is still a hole in a door in my parents’ house from me having thrown a chair. The Lord has certainly been gracious to me, but I can still respond in anger more often that I would admit. How have we been with our anger this past week? Have I lashed out in anger toward my family, my friends, or my coworkers when they fail? Have I been angry with the people around me in this city for the way I have been treated by them? Of course, there are situations where our anger should be aroused, but these are usually the exceptions if we’re honest. Let’s examine our hearts. If we have not been slow to anger as our Father has been with us, let’s confess that to the Lord and to those with whom we have been angry. Let’s become more like him in our responses to others, that we too give people an opportunity to change. Instead of responding in anger in the moment, may our noses be long, and may we address where we have been offended with tenderheartedness like Christ. Praise be to him who empowers us through his Spirit to be slow to anger as Yahweh is!
Additional Resources for Slow to Anger
- God’s Hot Nose
- The First Time God Gets Angry
- A Cup of Wrath?
- God’s Wrath in the Teaching of Jesus
- Two Men Named Jesus
- Saved from God’s Wrath
Music Resources for the season of Lent: