In my book Talking with God: The Radioactive Ark Of The Testimony, I explore several key biblical terms associated with the ark that have either been mistranslated or not clearly understood over time. One phrase found in several verses of the Old Testament is "the anger of the Lord." There has never really been a satisfactory explanation as to how the Lord's "anger" worked as it is described in the Bible.
In the Old Testament there certainly are instances when anger (Hebrew verb, kawtsaf, noun, ketsef) means just that -- anger. But often, when the word is used in relation to the Lord, it is followed by a strange reaction relating to the verb "to glow," or more specifically, "glowed." When the anger of the Lord glowed, the result was that the person(s) at whom this phenomenon was aimed contracted a "plague."
Old Testament Examples
Numbers 1:53: When the tabernacle was constructed in the Wilderness the Bible says the Lord appointed the tribe of Levi, the Levites, to "camp around the tabernacle of testimony so there will be no anger [ketsef] on the Israelites." Later (Num. 8:19), the Lord told Moses to have the Levites serve there so that "there will not be a plague among the Israelites for coming near [the tabernacle]."
Something happened to automatically trigger plague when the people came too close to the tabernacle. When Moses ordered the Levites to "camp around" the ark, it was to protect the people from a natural reaction, the plague.
Num. 16:46, Hebrew Bible 17:11: At one time in the Wilderness a small group of men rebelled against Moses and Aaron. They were killed, and this caused all the Israelites to turn on the two leaders. The Bible says the Lord told Moses and Aaron to "get away from the midst of the congregation and I shall consume them in a moment."
Then, instead of pleading with the Lord on behalf of the people, "Moses said to Aaron, 'Take the censer, and put fire on it ... and lay incense on it and go, hurry to the congregation, and make atonement for them for the anger has gone forth from the Lord, and the plague has begun" (emphasis added). Aaron did as he was told "and stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed." In other words, a chemical procedure, caused by the burning of incense, had taken place. The chemicals in the burning incense eventually stopped the plague. (By the way, "atonement" is a mistranslation, and I will discuss this piece to the puzzle in another article.)
Num. 11:33: While in the Wilderness the people complained that they had no meat to eat. The Lord brought them quails, but when he saw them "lusting" after the meat, His anger "glowed among the people while the meat was still between their teeth ... and the Lord struck among the people a very great plague." It took two days for the people to gather the quails, so one might assume that the "glow" may have hastened their rotting, causing deadly illness.
Num. 12: 9-10: When Miriam and Aaron, Moses' sister and brother, "spoke against Moses, because he had married a Cushite woman, the anger of the Lord glowed against them and Miriam's skin turned white as snow." (To understand the chemical reason why Aaron's skin wasn't affected, read pp. 86-88 in my new book, Talking With God.)
Num. 14:11-12: In the Wilderness the Israelites complained bitterly when the spies, who had been sent out to survey the land the people were about to enter, brought back an "evil report." Although the story does not specifically say that the Lord's anger glowed, it does warn that He would strike the people with "pestilence." However, He recanted but said He would fill the whole earth with His glory. (Glory, too, is a word that has two totally separate meanings, one being part of the process that involved the plague. I intend to write about it in my next discussion.) As for those 20 years and older, their "dead bodies shall fall in the Wilderness." That plague played a part in this episode is made clear by the fact that it killed the spies who had brought the evil report (Num. 14:37).
The "anger" that glowed and led to plague indicates a cause-effect relationship. Why was this? Was the glowing anger something more than just the Lord losing His temper? If so, exactly what was it? And what really was the reaction translated as "plague?"
I believe there are clear answers to these questions, and I have put together the pieces to this puzzle in Talking with God: The Radioactive Ark Of The Testimony.
Join our ongoing investigation of the Old Testament's puzzling questions at TalkingWithGod.net.