‘What He Means Is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor’

Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd).

In a well-known part of the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters,” the eponymous heroes are trying to explain the consequences of taking the supernatural for granted to a beleaguered mayor of New York City. As Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) puts it, “What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.” But what is that, anyway? Just how wrathful can the Christian God be?

I happen to be passing through Numbers in a sporadic, nonspiritual reading of the Bible, so allow me to provide something of an answer. Leaving aside the flood of Noah and the sundry tragedies of Egypt, and everything (yike!) that comes after the Exodus is over, consider that God repeatedly slaughters members of his own chosen people, the very folks he promised a warm and sticky future of milk, honey and numerous descendants. People who, for whatever reason, made the same mistake as the movie mayor, i.e. taking the supernatural for granted.

In Exodus 32:27, for instance, angry that some of the Israelites have regressed to worshiping a golden calf, God orders Moses to get the rest of the Jews together and kill “every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.” Because they worshiped the golden calf. That Moses’s brother Aaron made. (Don’t worry; he’s fine. But 3,000 others are slaughtered.)

The real “wrath of God” heats up in Numbers, after the Jews have left Egypt for the aforementioned (proverbially and literally) Promised Land. Not surprisingly, the trip (across the desert, with screaming children, livestock, etc.) is full of hardships, and the Jews come to Moses frequently with complaints. (Never mind that they had just been delivered from generations of mean-spirited oppression under the pharoahs.) God, irritated and impatient, responds with great violence.

In Numbers 11:1, God consumes a round of generic complainers with fire. Later on in the same chapter, some of the Jews lament the lack of meat. God gives them all they could want – “until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you.” Payback comes, though, in Verse 33 when God brings a plague to kill those who complained.

In a series of calamities described in Numbers 16, God dispatches a group of usurpers who challenge Moses’s priestly authority – some are swallowed by a hole in the ground, some are consumed in fire and some die of disease. In Numbers 21, the Jews complain again of not having enough to eat, and God sends fiery serpents (seriously!) to take care of business. And in Numbers 25, God has Moses hang thousands of Jews who had been committing “whoredom” with “the daughters of Moab.”

And on and on. It gets to be a lot, a death toll well into the five figures. And that is if you only count the Jews. You could be forgiven (Isaiah 1:18) for wondering why the Jews don’t have it figured out after a while, you know, that the “LORD” does not suffer any fools. I suppose, though, if they had figured it out there would have been no reason to write any of it down in the first place.