As a child (ok adult too) I struggled with the biblical rationale of when God goes all old testament in the Old Testament. In certain narratives He seems to strike down folks on a whim, with the precise fierceness of a Thor hammer. A Volvo sized hailstorm here, a mauling bear there, an invisible Angel with a flaming Samurai sword over there.
God was creative with His OT smiting.
In the OT, God shrouded His Holy presence with Israel with clouds and fire and tabernacles and veils and even arks. A baby ark, that is, that could be transported as long as you read and followed the instructions carefully. And these instructions weren’t written by a Chinese toy maker, but the perfect holy Universe maker. Attention to His detail was paramount. When the King David and the ark of the covenant rolled into town, a worker named Uzzah had a brief lapse in judgment that cost him dearly (2 Samuel 6:1-7).
The ark topples a bit and Uzzah reaches out to brace it up. And, like the divine instructions promised, Uzzah was toast (Numbers 4:15).
Now, should such an innocent mistake warrant a knee jerk tasing by the Almighty? we may ask. Like He’s a mentally ill mall cop with a titanic chip on His shoulder.
1. No one is innocent (Romans 3:23). Not even Uzzah. God clearly promised one would die if he took lightly His holy presence. Before he even put a finger on it, Uzzah was already trifling with the transportation design of God; he carried the sacred piece on a cart instead of with the prescribed poles (Exodus 25:14-15). The ark wasn’t just a fancy gold cabinet, it was the concrete illustration of God’s holy presence with His people. Holiness and sinful man cannot mix. Uzzah transgressed the law, and God gave him what he deserved. God cannot break His promises.
The law gives no wiggle room for man (James 2:10). If no man can see His holiness and live then certainly no man can touch His holiness and live. In reality, we all deserve what Uzzah got (Romans 6:23). We sin against His revealed will everyday and God could strike us down right now and be righteous for doing so. His holiness, his otherness, is real and awe inspiring.
2. In the New Testament we see something(One) better than the Old Covenant. Better than any arks or tabernacles or priests or types or shadows. The only place where God’s holiness and grace can coexist. Forever.
In the person of Jesus Christ we find the manifest presence of God (Isaiah 7:14). Look at the juxtaposition:
God shows up in the flesh as a Jewish carpenter’s Son. When His public ministry reaches rock star status the public throngs press against Him and seek Him.
He’s touches. A lot. He usually touches the dirtiest and the diseased. And far from people being soul smited by His perfect fingerprints they are supernaturally healed (Mark 1:34, Luke 17:11-19).
On some occasions He’s touched.
A ritually unclean woman with a nasty blood disorder reaches out to touch His garment in the clamoring crowd (Matthew 9:20-22). Jesus feels her faithful graze and turns to address her. She’s not served up a wrathful bolt of indignation, but rather a warm word from the holy Healer,
“Daughter take courage, your faith has made you well.”
A prostitute bursts through religiosocial boundaries and clings to Christ’s feet during a formal party. She bathes His feet with her tears and kisses them in broken adoration. Far from scolding her for a colossal faux pas, Christ speaks restoration to her,
“Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)
In modern American churchianity these encounters may be taken for granted, but the ancient Jew would have been shocked by a God so accessible and gracious to the scum of society.
After spending centuries of bloody Old Covenant history clarifying how offensive sin was to Him, the Father sends His only Son to enact a bloody New Covenant for us. To take the offense away. Without the stark picture of God’s holiness revealed in the Old Testament we’d be inclined to trifle with God’s grace revealed in the New. Thankfully, the unapproachable God can be touched through Christ. He was not just touched with reverent acts of love but also violent acts of hate: He was beaten and scourged and murdered by sinful men. To die the death we deserve (Isaiah 53:5-11).
The cost of being personal to us was incalculably high for God. In Christ, His heart jerk reaction toward us is not to tase, but to heal.
So we can now without fear
reach out to the God who touches,
and the God who is touched by,
He’s close. As close as faith. So
“Go in peace.”
The gospel of Christ has turned a righteous Judge’s smite into a gracious Fatherly smile.