Throughout the Scriptures, and particularly in the Old Testament, we see the wrath of God breaking out against men and women for transgressing His commandments. These episodes are so striking that some have questioned whether the Lord revealed in the Old Testament shows any love or mercy. Many people have gone as far as to judge the God of the Bible as capricious or irrational and to claim that if we are going to worship Him at all, we have to accept that the Old Testament gets lots of things wrong about the Lord. Anything deemed incompatible with the supposedly more gracious God of the New Testament must be rejected. In other words, we must not see episodes of divine wrath as revealing the one true God.
Our first response to this must be that the individuals making such allegations have not been paying close attention when they have been reading the New Testament. If anything, the wrath of the Lord is intensified in the New Testament. We might see fewer overall immediate judgments of people in the New Testament, but they are there (e.g., Acts 12:20–23). Moreover, some of the clearest warnings about the coming wrath of God come from Jesus Himself. For instance, Christ tells us that causing one of His little ones—His people—to sin can lead to the judgment of hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:42–49).
Second, once we understand who God is in His perfect holiness, we realize that His wrath must issue forth when people treat Him as unholy. Returning to the story of Uzzah, it is clear that he and the others bringing the ark into Jerusalem had little regard for the law of the Lord. They had the ark on a cart, not on the priests’ shoulders via the poles made for its transport, which was a blatant violation of God’s commands (2 Sam. 6:1–4; see Ex. 37:1–5; 1 Chron. 15:1–15). Additionally, Uzzah likely had a good intent in trying to steady the ark—he did not want it to fall and get dirty. But the fact that he transported the ark wrongly and did not obey the Lord’s warning not to touch the ark showed just how far his heart was from true obedience (2 Sam. 6:5–11; see Num. 4:1–15). Uzzah’s act was no minor violation but was directly contrary to God’s revealed law. Because of sin, his hands were dirtier than the ground the ark was in danger of touching.
What should surprise us is not that the Lord sometimes executes His wrath immediately but that He does not do so more often. We must be grateful for His gracious restraint when we sin.