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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Anger (Wrath) of God

ANGER (WRATH) OF GOD . It might seem that the idea of the Divine anger, manifesting itself in judgments of destruction, belongs to an early and anthropomorphic stage of religion. Yet, on the whole, the Biblical conception will be found consistent and profoundly ethical. God is holy a term which seems to unite all the unapproachable perfections of Deity, especially His majesty and awful purity. He is the ‘Holy One of Israel,’ in covenant relation with a nation to whom He has revealed Himself as holy, and whom He will fashion with slow redemptive purpose into ‘an holy people.’ Moreover, God is righteous , a moral governor and lawgiver, demanding obedience and punishing transgression of His commands. The Divine holiness is not an element in an abstract conception of Deity: it is not a passive perfection, but an active attribute of a self-revealing and redeeming God. It follows that one side of this activity is necessarily a reaction against, a repudiation of, what is unholy and unrighteous in His creatures. This disposition towards sin is the anger or wrath of God. In the history of Israel it appears as a terrible factor in the discipline of the nation to righteousness: the ungrateful, the rebellious, and especially the idolatrous, are destroyed by fire and sword, pestilence and famine ( Psalms 78:1-72 , Deuteronomy 32:15-43 ). So ‘jealous’ is God for His holiness, that even accidental profanation of its symbol, the Ark, is visited by extreme penalty ( 1 Samuel 6:18; 1 Samuel 6:20 , 2 Samuel 6:7 ). But the anger of the Lord, though fierce, is also just: it is ‘provoked’ by moral causes and for moral ends, and is averted by penitence and moral acquiescence in the righteousness of His judgments ( Exodus 32:1-35 , Leviticus 10:8 , Numbers 25:11 , Deuteronomy 13:17 ). Psalmist and Prophet dwell upon the subordination of the Divine anger to the Divine mercy. God is ‘slow to anger’ ( Psalms 103:8; Psalms 145:8 , Joel 2:13 , Jonah 4:2 , Nahum 1:3 ), and His anger passes away ( Psalms 30:6 , Isaiah 12:1 , Jeremiah 3:12 , Micah 7:18 ).

Yet the wrath of God remains an essential element of His revelation through the prophets, a real Divine attribute, conplementary, not antithetic to the Divine mercy (Isaiah 1:18-20; Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 42:25; Isaiah 54:8 ). In the NT, although the stress has shifted to the love of God revealed to the world in Jesus Christ, the anger of God still holds place. The teaching of Jesus, while refusing to see in all physical ills the Divine displeasure against sin ( Luke 13:1-5 , John 9:3 ), contains impressive warning of the terrible reality of God’s judgments ( Luke 13:3-6 , Matthew 25:30; Matthew 25:41 , Luke 12:5 ). In St. Paul’s writings this conception of judgment, held in reserve against unrepentant sin, is expressed in the phrase ‘the wrath of God,’ or, more simply, ‘the wrath’ ( Romans 1:18 , Ephesians 5:6 , Colossians 3:6 , Romans 2:8; Romans 5:8 ). There is a coming ‘day of wrath’ ( Romans 2:5 , cf. Matthew 3:7 ); sinful man unredeemed by Christ is necessarily a ‘vessel of wrath,’ a ‘child of wrath’ ( Romans 9:22 , Ephesians 2:3 ).

It is true that the NT references to God’s anger are mainly eschatological and contain figurative elements (see esp. Revelation 6:16 ‘the wrath of the Lamb,’ Revelation 11:18 , Revelation 14:10 , Revelation 16:19 , Revelation 19:15 ). But for the significance of the Divine wrath as an ethical necessity in God, though His fundamental attribute is love, it may he noted that (1) the writer through whom the revelation of the Divine love attains its culminating expression (‘God is love,’ 1 John 4:8 ) declares also of him that obeys not the Son, ‘the wrath of God ahideth on him’ ( John 3:36 ). (2) The Epistle which shows how in Christ the aloofness and terror of Israel’s worship are done away in favour of full and free access to a ‘throne of grace,’ has, as the climax to its glowing description of Christian privilege, the solemn warning ‘our God is a consuming fire’ ( Hebrews 12:18-28 ).

S. W. Green.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Anger (Wrath) of God'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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