To the house of the king of Judah say: Hear the word of Yhwh God, O house of David! Thus says Yhwh:
Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
anyone who has been robbed,
or else my wrath will go forth like fire,
and burn, with no one to quench it,
because of your evil doings. (Jeremiah 21:11-12)
The conclusion comes up in just about every Bible study: “The God of the Old Testament is angry and punishing; the God of the New Testament is loving.” It’s easily disproved: the tender care of God is amply described in the Torah, the prophets, and the writings. The fury of God shows up, blisteringly, in the Gospels and the letters.
But Jeremiah’s screed against King Zedekiah brings up the old assertions. Sure enough, God is fed up with the people: “I am going to turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands … I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and mighty arm, in anger, in fury, and in great wrath.”
With the benefit of hindsight, and the blessing of the whole Bible at our fingertips, we can take solace in the certainty that God’s burning anger will last only a little while; that forgiveness comes again. But isn’t there a blessing, too, in quaking with dread when we review our unholy compromises and misdeeds?
A young woman is shot by a stray bullet and killed. A man is harassed for looking and sounding foreign. A person with no power or influence is charged usurious rates, because the lender can get away with it. We live with “the law’s delay / the insolence of office.” Might not we do well to learn, from God’s example, to burn with indignant fury until we have delivered our sister or brother from the hand of the oppressor?
God of all passion, may your word set me right today, and embolden me to set to rights the indignities and deprivations of my neighbors. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.