What About the "Angry God"?
Haftarat Noach, Isaiah 54:1–55:5
Michael Hillel, Netanya, Israel
Is the God of the Old Testament an angry God, as is sometimes claimed?
Isaiah 54:9, which connects this week’s haftarah to the parasha, links Hashem’s oath concerning the waters of Noah to his affirmation that he would not be angry with the children of Israel:
This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you.
There is a paradox in this statement because there were times, more often than not, when Hashem was angry with Israel and did in fact rebuke them. In his introduction to the haftarah for Noach, Dr. Meir Tamari makes this observation concerning the idea of the angry God:
There is a common misconception of the Jewish God as a zealous and angry deity of justice. There are many references, primarily in non-Jewish and in Jewish secular writings, to the “angry God” of the Old Testament. This is one of the many myths that are perpetuated, either to enable other religions to drape themselves in the rhetorical mantle of a “loving and caring God,” or to substitute for the Biblical moral system a humanist value structure, free from either Divine instruction or punishment. Any examination, even a casual one, of the Biblical texts or of Rabbinic literature, will show that these are nothing more than myths, and that while there is a Divine judge and ruler, there is also a Divine provider and father.
After Moshe persuaded Hashem to forgive Israel for worshiping the molten calf, he asked God to show him his glory. Hashem responded to this request by proclaiming,
Adonai, Adonai, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6–7)
This proclamation is included in many of the prayers said during Selichot (the service of repentance) and the High Holidays, especially on Yom Kippur. From this proclamation we understand that forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of Hashem’s character. It is not just what he does, but who he is. Hashem disciplines and judges sin to the third or fourth generation, but is forgiving, gracious, and merciful for a thousand generations. The ratio between three to four generations and one thousand generations shows us that Hashem’s forgiveness, graciousness, and mercy are far greater than his judgment or discipline.
This week’s haftarah is replete with examples of the love and care of Hashem for his chosen people Israel, even as he responded in anger.
“For a brief moment I deserted you, but I will regather you with great compassion. In a surge of anger, I hid My face from you a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says Adonai your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:7–8)
Similarly, King David affirms, “For His anger lasts for only a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:6). Herein, however, lies a problem for both Israel and all humankind—time. Hashem stated that he only deserted Israel for a brief moment, and David affirms that Hashem’s anger lasts only a moment. Was seventy years of the first exile and almost two millennia of the second “a brief moment”? Dr. J. H. Hertz notes “Although the years of Exile seemed interminably long, they will prove but a brief space in the vast sweep of Israel’s history.” Also commenting on “a brief moment,” the medieval rabbi and biblical commentator David Kimhi (Radak) contrasts the time of exile with Hashem’s abundant mercy. “Even though the millennia of exile are much more than ‘but a brief moment’ they are insignificant compared to the abundant mercy (compassion) with which He will gather you in, with all its attendant good.”
Israel throughout the centuries marked time much differently than Hashem, and so do we today. As finite creatures we live in time and tend to want, even demand, answers and divine intervention immediately. We do not want to wait for deliverance from our problems. We want action and we want it now. Peter, leaning on the words of the Psalmist, reminded his community that Hashem lives outside of time in eternity and “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4). We would do well to apply the words of the author to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (11:1). We need to have faith in the very character of Adonai who shows mercy to a thousand generations and who has compassion on us with everlasting kindness.
Just because we do not see these realities, God’s promises are not negated. It simply means that we have to wait and trust in his character and his Word. Even though we do not see the provision of Adonai it doesn’t mean that he does not love and care for us. We trust in his love and provision, not because of what we have but because of who he is. The examples of Hashem’s love and care for Israel in this week’s haftarah confirm that he is loving and caring, and faithful to fulfill his promises.
May we all heed and be encouraged by the words of the psalmist, “Wait for Adonai. Be strong, let your heart take courage, and wait for Adonai” (Psalm 27:14).
All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life Version.
 Meir Tamari, Truths Desired by God, An Excursion into the Weekly Haftarah (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2011), 9.
 J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, second ed. (London: Soncino Press, 1988), 42.
 Nosson Scherman, The Later Prophets: Isaiah (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2013), 411.