Old Testament Expert Questions an Angry God


David Lamb, an expert in the Old Testament and author of the book “God Behaving Badly,” gave a lecture based on the topic of his book on the afternoon of Thursday, April 5. The lecture was sponsored by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), a group that Lamb himself was once a member of in his college days. Before the lecture, IVCF President Esrael Seyum invoked the civility aspect of the St. Mary’s Way to ensure respect for Lamb’s Christian perspective.

Lamb began his lecture by describing the “angry, wrathful, smiting God of the Old Testament,” who at times also appears sexist and racist. “I think this topic is serious,” said Lamb. “There are highly problematic passages in the Old Testement where God does seem to behave badly.”

In order to combat the perspective of the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Lamb used textual support from the Bible to illuminate the reasons why the Old Testament God seems needlessly angry.

“Christians are too quick to justify God’s behavior,” Lamb continued. “What they should be saying in response to questions of God’s morality is, ‘That’s a great question.’ After all, the Bible is full of people asking tough questions—even Jesus.”

To give an example of an instance in which God seems angry, Lamb analyzed the story of Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s bond with the Hebrews as the chosen people.  To celebrate the end of the war between Israel and Judah, the Ark is paraded into Jerusalem on an ox-driven cart. When the Ark seems to be in danger of falling from the cart, a man named Uzzah steps forward and stabilizes it. Immediately, God strikes him dead.

Lamb’s answer to why God would smite an innocent man merely trying to help save his own Ark is that the Israelites were “transporting the Ark the wrong way; it was put on an ox cart, when God specifically says that it should be transported on poles carried by people.”

In addition, God made it clear that anyone who touched the Ark would die. “Handling the Ark is like handling nuclear materials [today],” said Lamb. “If you don’t do it correctly, you die.” Lamb also said that there is a need for punishment, especially in severe cases. “It shows that God really means it,” Lamb said. “If he says you’ll die, you will die.”

“It makes sense why God was angry,” Lamb said. “They were insulting God with the ox cart, something used for baggage or cargo. The method of having humans carry the Ark is called a litter, and people who were transported on litters were royalty. The Ark represented the presence of God, and was supposed to show respect for the God who had delivered them from hundreds of years of oppression.”

“God says to take care of foreigners, widows, orphans—if not, his anger will burn hot for his own people,” said Lamb. “God gets angry when marginalized people are not being cared for, when his law is disobeyed, or when his relationship with his people is jeopardized. The motivation behind all of his anger is love. God always has a reason to get angry, and when he does, he is usually slow to anger.”

Jeff Carey, a sophomore, said he thought Lamb’s lecture could have been more comprehensive. “I really wish that he would have addressed why people think God is sexist, and racist also,” he said. “I understand that he could have if he had more time to address it, but those two allegations are the ones that troubled me more.”