A man named Naboth once owned a nice piece of real estate, including an inherited vineyard, near the royal family’s property. King Ahab wanted it, even demanded it, but Naboth turned him down. Ahab was a petty, resentful, powerful man. He sulked petulantly, refusing to eat, while his people conspired to murderously acquire the adjacent property on Ahab’s behalf.
Elijah, like most prophets, had the unenviable job of speaking truth to power after Naboth’s murder. Elijah carried the damning words of God to the king, “Dogs will lick up your blood.” Ahab was warned that his and his descendants’ carcasses would be eaten by scavenging dogs and birds. “I will bring disaster on you. I will consume you.” This is no singular retribution – this is generational retribution.
I do not understand the wrath of God. But I do understand what kindles it. The difficult-to-read tale of God’s wrath begins early in Genesis with Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden, picks up steam with the story of the flood, and rolls like a tidal wave through Scripture. Moses, Elijah, Esther, Isaiah, Deborah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Jesus, Paul. Weeping for the enslaved, raging against kings foreign and domestic, rending their clothes, walking naked through the streets, writing letters from prison. Their embodied grief and outrage shatter the terrible silence of oppression.
Psalm 2 warns political leaders, “Trembling, kiss his feet, or he will be angry.” Our God, though a God of love, is not a God who has ever abandoned the cause of the stranger, the orphan, or the widow. The Biblical mantra reminds us over and over again what it means to be in covenantal relationship with God. It is not a privilege to be flaunted, but a sacred obligation to be for each other. Our calling in particular is to champion the cause of the most vulnerable: those with thick accents and seemingly strange clothes, families in the Mediterranean Sea wearing orange life vests, women and orphans with HIV/AIDS. This love is not sentimental. It is a nailed-to-the-cross kind of love. A rend-the-temple’s-curtain kind of love. A stone-rolled-away, run-away-terrified kind of love. It is a covenantal promise to love even – and especially – when love is costly and the neighbors are foreign.
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.”