How can we reconcile God of Numbers 25 with the God of Matt 5:39? To put this another way, is God a god of Anger or a god of Love?
I LOVE THIS TOPIC!!
God is a God of Love. God is also a God of Hate. If you love you must also hate. If you love children then you will hate abortion. God is angry with those enemies of his that practice sin. Here is a verse that describes the anger that God has towards sinners.
Hebrews 10:26-27 (NIV)
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
In Numbers 25 God is specifically talking to Israel. He tells Israel that he has set them apart from the other nations. I can't find the verse right now, but God also tells the Israelites to follow specific commands regarding separation in order that Israel will remain Holy.
Leviticus 20:26 (NIV)
You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
In the New Testament this author is upholding the understanding of of the Old Testament, that we should be a Holy people. But this author tells us to not associate ourselves with unholy people, instead of just killing the unholy people.
1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV)
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[a] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
God is unchanging, He does not want wicked people corrupting you. The reason that he commanded these wicked people to be killed in Numbers is because God wanted Israel to be a Holy land, a nation that could not put up with even the smallest Sins.
God does not dwell with us today like he dwelt with the Israelites, in the temple. God is teaching us how to love these days, when before He was forcing the Israelites to be Pure and Holy. Don't get me wrong we still have a responsibility to be Pure and Holy, but the land we live in is not.
In Mathew 5:39 God is talking to His obedient children, He's teaching them to forgive their enemies. A completely different context from the previous situation of holiness.
Edit: to show that God is also a God that Hates.
Psalm 5:5 (NIV)
5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
Psalm 7:11 (NKJV)
11 God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day.
Psalm 11:5 (NKJV)
5 The LORD tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Psalm 15:4 (NKJV)
4 In whose eyes a vile person is despised, But he honors those who fear the LORD; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
I think you need to take that verse from Matthew in its full local context, rather than in isolation. The passage from Matthew 5:38-45 (ESV) is:
38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,t let him have your cloak as well.
41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
My understanding of "not resist an evil person" is not to retaliate in kind to evil, but to demonstrate love for those who are evil (but not love for evil itself)...not only for your own righteousness, but also for the benefit of those who are evil.
As for the question about whether God is a God of angler or love...I think a certain degree of specificity is necessary. God is certainly a God of Love, that is clearly demonstrated throughout the Bible. However, God is also a God of justified wrath in the face of evil. I think if you look at evil as an infestation, you don't just let an infestation fester. You fight it...you route it out and destroy it before it destroys whatever was infested...like termites in a home. I believe the God of Numbers 25 is a God demonstrating his love for mankind, and demonstrating his will to fight and protect mankind from infestations of evil, just like a home owner protects their home from an infestation of termites.
Although I am not a believer anymore I think that the idea of progressive revelation best reconciles the different images of god in the old and new testaments. This idea means that mankind has written down the part of god that they were able to comprehend and that god revealed (him|her)self in a way that the people of that day could understand. People living in the nomadic tribe of Moses were surely a lot different from city romans 1000 years later.
I think it is easier to reconcile with progressive revelation if you also believe in the tradition. The sola scriptura folks like it more set in stone.
God is our Father, and His acts can be best understood by taking this concept at least somewhat literally, and by maintaining an eternal perspective.
Start from the basis that God has many children, and he wants as many of them as possible to go to heaven--the exact specifics of what "go to heaven" means are intentionally left obscure here, for simplicity's sake. That's a subject for a different answer--and that only those who have lived in such a way as to fulfill certain requirements can go to heaven when they die.
Understood this way, divine acts of death and destruction upon the wicked, up to and including the Flood, can be understood as acts of love. When a society becomes so evil that there is no chance that any new children born to them and raised in that culture can end up qualifying for heaven, then it's not justifiable to allow them to continue. He causes them to be wiped out in one way or another so as to not have to send any of His precious, beloved children into a no-win situation.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer often brought this up (an example being in this essay), and I agree that the Old and New Testaments contradict each other. Christ, after all, was very careful to subvert or discard the teachings of the Old Testament. But they are contradictory for a very good reason.
I see the Old Testament as being man's striving towards God but not reaching God, and going through each wrong philosophy in turn, until eventually Jesus (the second Adam) comes and reveals the truth in the New Testament.
The Old Testament was written by man in his fallen state, so in it we get no real idea of prelapsarian times beyond allegory and bits of facts such as man ate herbs for meat, because man was fallen, and the capability to comprehend that earlier state had been lost. Next the Old Testament goes through each wrong philosophy in turn: the idea in Ecclesiastes that everything is vanity (to a Christian, what can be falser than this?), the sensuality of the Song of Solomon, the outward rituals, the unforgiving and harsh punishments, the idea that God speaks directly to man and so on and so on. Each wrong path to God is laid out, and the consequences quite clearly seen. There is no mention of a future state in the books of Moses, and Moses dies before seeing the Promised Land, which is quite significant.
The main idea of the Old Testament is that you should fear God, then along comes Jesus and the New Testament with the opposite: fear cannot love, you should love God, and God is love. The Old Testament is overturned, and the veil of Moses (as Paul puts it) is lifted.
So the Old Testament is important because it shows man’s failings, it is important as a book of human nature, and we learn through its mistakes and their striving towards God, but not by example, as it gives a distorted vision of God through the eyes of fallen man. So this is why God is seen to command evil (in the eyes of Christian) in the Old Testament.