There are, of course, good reasons for people thinking that the God of the Old Testament was a “God of Wrath.” God does indeed engage in wrathful acts of punitive justice throughout the Hebrew Bible, and he requires his chosen people to execute his wrath as well.
As one would expect, often this wrath is directed against people who break his commandments. But less expected, probably, for many modern readers, is that these commandments do not involve merely what we would call “ethical” rules involving personal and communal behavior per se – e.g. murder, adultery, robbery, etc.. At least as, or even more often they involve situations in which the “Chosen People” have begun to act like “outsiders” who are not among the people of Israel, and against those outsiders who try to “seduce” Israelites into worshiping and behaving like everyone else.
In these cases God’ vengeful wrath is about “purity.” The terms “purity,” “holiness,” and “sanctity” all have the same root idea. They involve an object, activity, or person that is “set apart” from all others, different from all the rest in ways that God commands. To be sure, sometimes this purity involves ethics (“don’t be like those sexually licentious heathen!”); but most of the time it involves issues would normally think of as ritual or religious activities.
In the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, often called the Pentateuch), God “chooses” his people, the descendants of Jacob, son of Abraham, by delivering them from their slavery in Egypt under Moses, and then giving them his “law” (which in Hebrew is “Torah”). The law is given directly to Moses, as described in the second half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, bits of Numbers, and most of Deuteronomy (which is why the entire five-book collection is called the “Law” or “Torah”).
The law affects not only what Israelites are to do in their communal lives together – live in peace and harmony by not stealing from each other, engaging in sexual immorality, murdering, bearing false witness, providing restitution for harms done to other Israelites, and so on. It also affects how
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