Hi @Mohembo, you are asking an important question. I think it is a question many of us grapple with in our walk with God. It used to be a huge obstacle for me. I have come to peace with this, so I would like to attempt to address your question.
You are correct in asserting that Jesus is the exact representation of God. (Heb.1:3) So what this means is that in all the places where we find God difficult to understand, we can turn to Jesus for a fuller understanding. We often think of God’s love and His justice as being at odds with one another. I am reading a book called Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. (I highly recommend this book to you if you have not read it yet!) In chapter 7, Ortlund states,
“It is probably impossible to conceive of the horror of hell and of the ferocity of retributive justice and righteous wrath that will sweep over those found on the last day to be out of Christ. Perhaps a word like ferocity here makes it sound as if God’s wrath will be uncontrolled or blown out of proportion. But there is nothing uncontrolled or disproportionate in God.
The reason we feel as if divine wrath can easily be overstated is that we do not feel the true weight of sin.”
I think this is our starting point. We cannot, even remotely, understand the depth of our offense to God. If we did, we would understand how just is His wrath. In response to the OT passages that you have raised, I would like to make several points:
(1) God is indeed long-suffering. In Genesis 15:13-16, God is revealing to Abram the future of his descendants. He tells Abram that his offspring will be given the land of Israel for an inheritance after they have been oppressed in Egypt for 400 years. In verse 16 He states,
Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.
What?! God is holding off on giving His chosen people the land of their inheritance for 400 years because the people currently living in the land (the Amorites) are being given another 400 years to repent of their sin. And this, even though God in His omniscience knows that they will not repent! Wow, I would call that long-suffering!
(2) God’s judgment does not come unannounced to His people. Leviticus 26 begins with this in verse 1,
'You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.
God then goes on to promise them blessings if they walk in His statutes and commandments. (Lev. 26:3-13)
Next, He gives them the other side of the coin in which He promises punishment if they turn from His ways. (Lev. 26:14-33)
Notice that He promises a progression of punishments, all of them aimed to bring His people back to Himself in repentance:
a) Initially He will bring sudden terror, consumption, fever, enemies who eat the produce of the land, and oppression by enemies,
b) Secondly, punishment that is increased 7X if they refuse to repent and return to God, following the initial punishments (breaking down their pride of power, a sky like iron and an earth like bronze, and land that will not produce),
c) Thirdly, a punishment increase of 7X, yet again, if the previous punishments go unheeded (plague that is 7X increased, beasts of the field which attack their children and animals),
d) Again, a punishment increase of 7X following even greater obstinancy from the people (a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant, pestilence, delivery into the hands of the enemy, famine),
e) And finally, in Lev. 26: 27-33 God tells His people that if they still remain unrepentant that He will act toward them with wrathful hostility and will punish them seven times for their sins. This is where the verse you mention comes into play. In verse 29 God says,
Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.
This is not because God wants this outcome! This is because His covenant people have rejected their God by choosing to live unholy lives these five times, turning to pagan gods and brutal practices!
Leviticus was laying out God’s law for His people before they ever entered the Promised Land. The people freely and willingly entered into a covenant relationship with God at Sinai. And God here is telling them that if they turn from Him, He will punish them for the breaking of the covenant. And part of that punishment is that He will turn them over to their own wickedness. Which unfortunately is exactly what happened.
(3) God judges Israel for the same type of sins that He judges the nations for. In Deuteronomy 20:18 Moses explains why the command is being given to utterly destroy their enemies:
so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin agaist the LORD your God.
When the people entered the land, they failed to follow God’s commands and rid the land of their enemies. They then conformed to the practices of the nations around them, by turning to the worship of Molech, Baal, and other pagan deities. In the western world we have a bit of a hard time identifying with this. We think, “Oh, they set up some stone idols and bowed down to them. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal…weird, but not such a big deal.” But what they actually did, was to sacrifice their children to these pagan gods by making them to “pass through the fire”. (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21: 6; Jeremiah 19:4-6) They offered their children as live sacrifices to a stone image! And all of this to ensure that these foreign gods would bless their land with crops and the womb with children.
So what God tells them is that if they walk in this way, their land will NOT produce crops, and eventually they will be so cut off from the land by famine, and besieged by their enemies, that when their children die they will turn to cannabalism. Refined and dignified people don’t do THAT, right?! Unfortunately they did.
When we look at the big picture what we see is the long-suffering nature of God, followed by punishment that is appropriate to the offense. God did not desire the death of children. His desire was to bless His people. But let’s be honest, when His people adopted the practices of the nations around them, they did not act in love toward their own children. They were willing to turn from the living God and put their trust in a stone idol with fire in its belly, offering their children to that dead deity. So God eventually lifted His hand and gave them over to the wickedness of their hearts, pouring out His wrath upon them. (See Romans 1:18-32)
Would God be truly loving if He turned a blind eye to this barbarism, ignoring the cries of the innocent as they fell upon deaf ears? I think not. God’s love and His justice are in direct proportion to one another. And here is where the cross comes into focus. God could not excuse the high treason that we, as sinners, each chose in our hearts. And yet, His heart still beats for us. He longs to rescue His people and restore us to a right relationship with Himself. So Jesus willingly came as the penal substitution, to take the full blow of the wrath of God upon Himself, to pay the debt that we owed, and to purchase our forgiveness and redemption, making us once again His own…if only we will turn to Him and humble ourselves.
It all sounds a bit harsh to modern ears. But in reality it speaks of the depth of our offense and the depravity of our hearts, all the while speaking of the love and justice of a God who longs for His people to be blessed with the greatest of all blessings…Himself!
How deep the Father’s love for us…