When people level the charge that the description of God changes from the Old to the New Testament, they quite often are not so much upset that God seems to change in as much as He was once a mean and angry God. This begs the question, does God ever have the right to be angry? While being overcome with wrath is sinful, we are warned to “be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). This means that anger in and of itself in not immoral. If a Christian can be justified while in anger, then God may express anger and not be blameworthy for it.
A Jealous God
One of the charges against God is that He is a jealous God, as He claims even for Himself (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24). Jealousy is a vice this world condemns, so worldly people castigate God for being a jealous God. But the Bible word for jealous in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament simply means that you want to keep what you possess and are not willing to share.
We teach our children to share their toys, but there are times where this jealousy is not only appropriate, but required, such as in marriage. A man should not want to share his wife with other men. That is adultery. Likewise, God does not want His people to “cheat” on Him with false gods and idols. This is what is meant by God being a jealous God, and there is no inappropriate anger in this.
Paul encourages first century saints to be jealous for, or in other words, greatly desire, to possess spiritual gifts (First Corinthians 12:31; 14:1,39). Also, he says to the same congregation that he is jealous over them with a godly jealousy, in that he does not want them to have anything to do with the lies of the devil (Second Corinthians 11:2). This is nothing like the vice known today as jealousy where a man acts domineering and manipulative towards his wife, or a woman who nags and harangues her husband. This is wrong, but this is not God when He works within His appropriate jealous nature.
The Wrath of God
God’s anger is not like human anger. He never flies off the handle or gets caught up in the heat of the moment. God never gets in the throes of over-expression or the wild swing of emotionalism. His anger is always in response to sin, and therefore, it is always appropriate and rationally retributive.
If one has the notion that the God of the Old Testament was always angry it’s because the Jews were always in rebellion against Him. The Lord is angry every day at sin (Psalm 7:11), and the Jews gave Him every reason to angry with them every day. That does not take away from how God also blessed the Jews in spite of themselves. It also doesn’t change that our God of love as revealed in the New Testament will also condemn sin committed on this side of the cross, as well.
God has the right to be angry. Just like any parent, teacher, employer, or anyone else in authority, when those who should be in submission act instead with rebellion, those in charge can be angry and act upon it without being sinful. The difference is God is never wrong in the wrath He displays, or will display when He judges the world on our final day.