While it is true that God is loving (Romans 8:39), merciful (Psalm 57:2-3), and willing to offer His grace to all (Titus 2:11), one striking characteristic of the Almighty is His fierce anger. The most common Hebrew term for anger is ’ap, which can be used to denote either divine or human anger (Genesis 27:45; Numbers 11:1, et al.). The term refers to “nostril,” which the ancients thought to be the locale of anger (Harrison, 1979, 1:127), while the word ’anap (which is used exclusively to denote the anger of God; Deuteronomy 4:21, 1 Kings 11:9) means “to breathe hard.” The Bible writers clearly have revealed that God is capable of being angry with a righteous indignation (see Miller, 2003). Consider a sampling of the passages that bear out this idea:
Deuteronomy 29:27-28: “Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day” (emp. added).
2 Chronicles 29:10: “Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us” (emp. added, cf. 30:8; 32:26).
Nehemiah 9:17: “They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them. But they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader to return to their bondage. But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them” (emp. added, cf. Psalms 103:8; 145:8, et al.).
Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (emp. added).
God’s fierce anger is such an essential aspect of His divine nature that Bible writers (and people whose words are recorded in Scripture) sometimes referred to “the wrath,” knowing that readers would understand exactly Whose anger was under consideration. Consider the words John the Baptizer spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7; cf. Numbers 1:53; Joshua 22:20). In John 2:14-17, we read of Jesus’ righteous indignation at those who turned God’s house into a “house of merchandise.” Christ certainly knew how to utilize anger properly, thereby giving us an example of how one’s temper can be used to the glory of God (see Butt, 2001). Paul instructed the Ephesian Christians: “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). Anger has its place. It can be greatly beneficial, and God is our perfect example in this area. What is it about the anger of Christ that makes it righteous?
Observe that, unlike many humans, God does not become angry because of the “heat of the moment” or because He possesses a confusing, constantly fluctuating emotionality. On the contrary, God’s anger is rationally retributive. His anger is His direct, calculated response to sin. Nowhere is His anger observed more clearly than in the pages of the Old Testament, where we read often of God exhibiting His anger at the children of Israel in a very demonstrative and graphic manner. Remember, however, that God never became angry at the children of Israel unless they breached their covenant with Him; if God was angry, it was Israel’s fault (see Deuteronomy 11:17; 29:24-28; Ezra 8:22; Nehemiah 13:18, et al.).
The psalmist wrote that God is “angry with the wicked every day” (7:11). F.K. Farr stated regarding the English word “anger”: “As…denoting God’s ‘anger,’ the English word is unfortunate so far as it may seem to imply selfish, malicious or vindictive personal feeling. The anger of God is the response of His holiness to outbreaking sin. Particularly when it culminates in action is it rightly called His ‘wrath’” (1956, p. 135).
The redemptive work of Christ on the cross does not indicate that God relinquished His wrath in New Testament times. On the Day of Judgment, His wrath will be exercised against the unrighteous. Paul said: “…He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:31). We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), and if we are saved, our salvation through Christ will be salvation from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9). In a sense, the wrath of God already rests upon impenitent humans, because they have rejected the only means of salvation available to them. John the Baptizer said: “…he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Paul wrote: “…forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thessalonians 2:16; see Simpson, 1988, p. 1135).
How wonderful it is to serve a God Who understands all of our emotions perfectly, to learn from His wisdom, to hold dear His utter hatred of evil, and to obey His command to be cautious in how we act upon our anger (Ephesians 4:26-31; James 1:19).
Butt, Kyle (2001), “Even Jesus Had a Temper,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1611.
Farr, F.K. (1939), “Anger,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson) 1:135.
Harrison, Roland K. (1979), “Anger,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans) 1:127.
Miller, Dave (2003), “God’s Fierce Anger,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2242.
Simpson, John W. (1988), “Wrath; anger,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans) 4:1135.