The Anger of the Lord Kindled Against Us
When you hear it from an unbeliever, you understand, “Ah, yes, this person is in denial.” When you hear, “God is not angry,” from a Christian, it is a bit more disturbing. Doesn’t the Bible say something about the anger of God? If someone’s theology distills down to, “God is not angry,” then you know this person is a victim of liberal theology. God becomes the pacifist Easter bunny, warm and fluffy, with chocolate eggs in a basket for everyone. Instead of so quickly succumbing to such a subtle imposter and virile reproducer, let us consider what the Bible says about God and His anger.
First, God does not change (Mal 3:6), and Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). Therefore, if we can find one instance of anger in God, from the Scriptures, then we have established the presence of anger in God’s nature. God is perfect in all of His attributes, even the ones we ignorantly find abhorrent in Him. Maybe we do not like the fact that, “God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7:11).” Is there more? Let us find out.
Second, God’s anger is recorded and displayed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Moses knew Yahweh was angry with Israel (Ex 32:11). Yahweh affirmed His own anger, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Ex 34:6).’” From this passage, we learn of a number of attributes, anger being one of them. God is to be glorified for being, “slow to anger.” Notice it does not say, “void of anger.”
No doubt people speed up God’s anger, when they act corruptly and provoke Him to anger (Dt 4:25). God is a jealous God, desiring exclusive devotion from His people. When Israel played the harlot, they turned to demonic spirits, who incited God’s people to bow down before idols (1 Cor 8; 10). The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel (Dt 6:15; 7:4; 31:17; 32:16; 32:21). Consider these text reference addresses to God’s anger. Note they are all in the book of Deuteronomy and together, they represent less than ten percent of the biblical references to God’s anger. In addition, they are all references to God’s anger against His people, Israel.
A simple study of the history of the Israelites is one of idolatry. God always preserved a remnant of those who would not bow their knee to foreign gods, but idolatry is interwoven throughout their history. In the wilderness wandering, “The anger of God rose against them and killed some of their stoutest ones and subdued the choice men of Israel (Ps 78:31).” The Babylonian Exile was the result of God’s anger (Lam 2:1). Ananias and Sapphira were struck down, too (Acts 5).
Other nations experienced God’s anger, too (Ezek 25:14; 38:18). God’s anger against Jonah threatened the lives of the others on the boat to Tarshish (Jon 3:9). Still, there is the praise from and promise for God’s people, “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love (Mic 7:18).”
Yet, how different is it for those who are subject to God’s eternal wrath and anger, “Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name (Rev 14:9–11).”
Jesus was angry with the Pharisees regarding their interpretation of the Sabbath Law and their hardness of heart (Mk 3:5). Jesus did not hide God’s anger toward those who were summoned to salvation but who did not come (Lk 14:21).
The writer of Hebrews used God’s anger toward Israel as a warning for those who will perish in unbelief under His anger and wrath (Heb 3:8–19). Christians are encouraged to be angry but not to sin in their anger (Eph 4:26), following the example of God, in being slow to anger because it does not produce righteousness for us (Jas 1:19–20). Jesus emphasized how unprofitable it is to be angry (Mt 5:22), for vengeance belongs to God, who repays (Rom 12:19). So, it is better for Christians to put away anger and wrath, and let God perform His righteous anger and wrath (Eph 4:31).
Jesus clearly taught there is a wrath to come (Mt 3:7; Lk 3:7; 21:23), as well as an abiding wrath (Jn 3:36). Paul also acknowledged a directed wrath from God (Rom 1:18) and a wrath to come (Rom 2:8; 1 Thess 1:10), and God is not unrighteous in His wrath (Rom 3:5). God is willing to make His wrath known (Rom 9:22) because of transgressions of the Law (Rom 4:15). God employs human government to inflict His wrath (Rom 13:4–5). From this we should rightly understand God’s hatred toward sinners (Ps 5:5; 11:5), pouring out His wrath on the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2–3). This is true even if the doctrine of God’s anger is not popular among today’s Christians.
In sum, there is no question about God’s anger and wrath, displayed across history against people, nations (Ps 2:5), and even His own people (Ps 85:3). Jesus Christ is coming a second time, and the prophet Isaiah gives us a view to the future, “For behold, the Lord will come in fire and His chariots like the whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire (Is 66:15).” To deny this is absurd, and to preach, teach, or tell people, “God is not angry with you,” is nothing short of dangerous neglect of an important, albeit unpleasant, doctrine. We must inform all people with the whole counsel of God’s Word regarding His anger.
In conclusion, we have also seen God’s remarkable restraint toward His people, regarding His anger toward them. He is slow to anger and not angry forever with them. Jesus Christ’s propitiation for sins redirected God’s wrath from believers to Himself on the Cross (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). Therefore, Christians must not be terrified in our fear of God, but we must be solemnly reverent toward Him who disciplines us in love (Heb 12:4–11). He is not done pouring out His wrath in anger (Heb 10:27), and we should fear and tremble at the prospect of what we have seen and what is coming. Moses asked of God, “Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You (Ps 90:11)?” Hopefully, we do.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 12, 2021