Wrath, Anger – definition

God's wrath and anger is different than man's
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Wrath and anger, as the Bible uses them, are especially important words to understand correctly. Note that this is an especially-long definition page but a very important term to understand.

Traditional Legal Model – God’s outrage at the wrong done to Him; at how He has been treated. It is directed towards the one who has carried out the act and has a degree of retribution associated with it – to make the offender pay; to even the score so to speak.

 Biblical Healing Model – How God feels (grief) and what He does in reaction to man’s sinful/distrustful actions. He will always honor man’s freedom of choice and does that by allowing people to have their desires, go the way they want etc.  which may involve some degree of accommodation to the spiritual maturity or cultural state of the people. It also involves giving people over to the consequences of their choices even if detrimental.

“Wrath” and “anger” are each translated from several different Hebrew and Greek words (list near bottom of page).  And many of those are translated as both “wrath” and “anger” and often several other words. As “anger” and “wrath” are used almost interchangeably in scripture, they are treated together in this glossary.

 From a Modern Dictionary

Anger (noun)

a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.

Wrath (noun)

strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.
vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.
(www.dictionary.com)

 From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Anger (noun)

1. A violent passion of the mind excited by a real or supposed injury; usually accompanied with a propensity to take vengeance, or to obtain satisfaction from the offending party. This passion however varies in degrees of violence, and in ingenuous minds, may be attended only with a desire to reprove or chide the offender.
(http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/anger)

 Wrath (noun)

1. Violent anger; vehement exasperation; indignation; as the wrathof Achilles.
When the wrathof king Ahasuerus was appeased–Esther 2:1.
O Lord–in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:2.
2. The effects of anger. Proverbs 27:3.
3. The just punishment of an offense or crime. Romans 8:1.
God’s wrath in Scripture is his holy and just indignation against sin. Romans 1:18.
(http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/wrath)

Wrath and Anger as a Metaphor

Author Brian Zahnd describes the wrath of God:

“The wrath of God is a Biblical metaphor we use to describe the very real consequences we suffer from trying to go through life against the grain of love. Canadian theologian Brad Jersak says, ‘The wrath of God is understood as divine consent to our own self-destructive defiance.’ When we sin against the two great commandments – to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves – we suffer the inevitable consequences of acting against love. We can call this the wrath of God if we like; the Bible does, but that doesn’t mean that God literally loses his temper. God no more literally loses his temper than he sleeps, even though the Bible says ‘The Lord awoke as from sleep.’ Literalizing a divine metaphor always leads to error.” (Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p16-17)

A good point. We will see further though that God does get angry, He does react in wrath – when those words are understood as the Bible defines and uses them.

The wrath of God. Just what does the anger or wrath of God towards people look like? How is wrath understood? It is, first of all, an attitude towards another person of indignation, upset and often personal offense as might be expressed in the countenance of this image.

But it is more than just an attitude. It implies action or at least a strong desire to take action against the offending party. Any action would involve the wrathful one in some way imposing upon the offender with direct physical punishment by coming towards or sending towards the offender something to cause pain or loss. The object is to cause physical or mental pain or to coerce the offender into making some change against their will.

The one expressing the wrath is definitely putting their interests or desires ahead of those of the offender. This is the opposite of scriptures which speak of putting the interests of others first such as:

“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.” (1 Cor 10:24)

“Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Cor 10:33)

“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Phil 2:4)

A basic concept of the view of God’s character presented on this website is the principle that God will not impose His will or presence on others. Basically, as a gentleman Who highly respects the free will of others, He does not impose His presence or actions or influence where it is not desired.

So What Does God Do?

What attitude does God take? What was His record in dealing with Israel when they sinned? His reactions were described in various ways:

  • forsaking – Deut 31:17, Isa 54:7-8
  • hiding His face – Deut 31:17
  • show them His back – Jer 18:17
  • neither will I be with you – Josh 7:12
  • not hearken to their voice – Deut 1:45
  • delivering/giving up – Hosea 11:8
  • deliver into the hand of enemies 2 Kings 21:14
  • sold them into the hand of – Judg 2:14
  • the Lord departed – Num 12:9
  • removed them out of His sight – 2 Kings 17:23
  • take away the hedge – Isa 5:5
  • break down the wall – Isa 5:5
  • withdrawing His protection – Hosea 5:6

Those are not describing God taking direct personal action against people who have acted against Him. There are some cases where it seems to read that way such as:

God Sending Fiery Serpents

“And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” (Num 21:4-6)

It could be understood as through God purposely sent the serpents perhaps as punishment for their continual complaining. However, another passage reveals that, in fact, He was shielding them from serpents that were common in the wilderness all along.

“Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;” (Deut 8:15)

He accommodated their complaining and distrust of Him. Note that the word “sent” is often used in a permissive sense.

God Killing King Saul

The death of King Saul is described in one account as an act of God:

“So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it; And enquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.” (1Chr 10:13,14)

In another account, quite a different version of His death is reported:

“And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers. Then said Saul to his Armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.” (1Chr 10:3,4)

God did not kill him, rather He honored Saul’s free will to be independent of God and even consult a medium instead. It is specifically stated that the Lord had departed from Saul:

“But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.” (1 Sam 16:14)

Is it possible that the Spirit of the Lord honored (accommodated) the will of a man who would even turn to mediums rather than to God? See more examples of God’s accommodation.

In such cases there is always an explanation from other accounts or from a careful examination of original words. The more extreme cases need to take into account basic Biblical principles the most important one being the simple statement that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The word study of the term “sent” is also very important in understanding that many actions seemingly attributed to God were cases where He merely allowed those events to happen.

Understanding God’s Wrath and Anger

God’s wrath can be better understood by breaking it down like this:

What He is reacting to:    man’s sin or rebellion
How He feels about it: God’s wrath/anger
His response: God’s accommodation – respecting free will, allowing consequences etc
The result (usually negative) trouble from another source

An example:

“And he [Moses] said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.” (Exo 4:13-14)

The result came later when Aaron could not stand up to the demands of the Israelites (like Moses might have done) and fashioned a golden calf for them to worship. Had Moses fully accepted the role God had prepared him for, this probably would not have happened. See a detailed discussion of this passage here. Note that the color coding above follows the system explained on this page. It is also interesting that this is the first occurrence in the Bible of the phrase “the anger of the Lord.”

Growth in Understanding

In an earlier understanding of this concept, I described this pattern as:

SinsWrath/angerAllowsTrouble or S-W-A-T:

Man Sins,
God, in Wrath/anger
Allows the consequences and
Trouble comes (from a source other that God)

And God does allow (He has the power to prevent) man to make his own choices and reap the results, however, “allows” can imply that God is no more than a casual observer in such circumstances. We know that God loves us too much to just disinterestedly watch us head down the wrong path. Rather than “allow,” “accommodate” seemed a much better term. While He does not interfere to prevent, He may take other actions (consistent with honoring free will) such as:

  • Appealing to our conscience to change course
  • Allowing trouble to awaken us to a course of action
  • Trying to reason with us to follow His way
  • Taking into account a person’s spiritual maturity and cultural situation

Here is a good example that includes all of the above:

“And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Sam 8:5)

Through Samuel, God tried to reason with them and warn them that this was not a good idea:

“And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you …  (1 Sam 8:11)

A long list of the problems a king would cause for them is given and then He said:

“And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.” (1 Sam 8:18)

It is not that God can’t hear but that He allows us to experience the results of the choices we make. The people kept insisting:

“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” (1 Sam 8:19-20)

Finally, God accommodated their desire:

“And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.” (1 Sam 8:22)

God had already promised to fight for them:

“For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Deut 20:4)

Clearly, this was a rejection of God as He stated:

“And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Sam 8:7)

So here is the updated formula:

Man Sins,
God, in Wrath/anger
Accommodates man’s decisions and
Trouble comes (from a source other that God)

This pattern is very common, in fact, there are over 70 examples in scripture (and probably many more). I remember it as S-W-A-T: Sin – Wrath – Accommodation – Trouble

Some cases are clearly accommodation as in adapting to the circumstances and culture of the people. Other cases seem like God simply honoring the free will of the people to go their own way.

God’s Experience

What is God experiencing in any of these situations where He is limited (by His respect for our free-will choices) in how He can protect and support?

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt 23:37)

How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” (Hosea 11:8)

“I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. 11  But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. 12  So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. 13  Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!” (Psa 81:10-13)

So how do the feelings expressed in those verses match with the word “wrath”? They sound more like grief.

Wrath and Anger in the Hebrew

Well it so happens that the most common word translated as “anger” or “wrath” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word “aph” (H639):

aph from 0599; n m;
AV-anger 172, wrath 42, face 22, nostrils 13, nose 12, angry 4, longsuffering + 0750 4, before 2, countenance 1, forbearing 1, forehead 1, snout 1, worthy 1; 276
1) nostril, nose, face
2) anger

“Aph” also has the meaning of face or even just the nostrils/nose:

“David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face <H639> to the earth, and bowed himself.” (1 Sam 24:8)

Hiding the Face

One expression often used in such cases of God hiding His face which a person might do when experiencing strong emotion. In Deuteronomy, anger is associated with hiding the face:

“Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.” (Deut 31:17-18)

In the New Testament, Mark associates anger with the emotion of being grieved:

“And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.” (Mark 3:5)

“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,” (Luke 19:41)

The weeping was because of the destruction that Jerusalem was bringing on itself due to its rejection of Him. In fact, the acronym could stay as SWAT and yet be understood as:

Sins, of rejection of the Messiah
Weeping of Jesus in response
Accommodation of their wish to leave Jesus out of the temple
Trouble from the Roman siege decades later

As already mentioned, anger can be associated with God hiding His face. It can also be linked by the use of Hebrew parallelism to God forsaking.

God Does Not Interfere

Rather than moving towards a person to impose some manifestation of wrath, God, it seems, moves away; He takes a hands-off approach.  But does He really move away, abandon or forsake? What about verses such as:

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb 13:5)

That must mean that He will not forsake them in attitude; the list above shows many ways in which He will be understood, at least physically, to depart.

Here is a representation of God honoring free will (by allowing free choice and the resulting consequences) or not:

Wrath and free will

If man seeks to go his own way and God says “no” thus preventing him, man might be safely protected but he is controlled and without free will. God honoring and saying “yes” to man’s free will potentially exposes him to danger but he has freedom. Which would you rather have? Remember, you can always use your free will to choose to abide within God’s law. God did not make robots.

Wrath and Anger in Greek

 In the New Testament, wrath (and anger) are most often translated from:

3709 orge

from 3713; TDNT-5:382,716; {See TDNT 560 } n f
AV-wrath 31, anger 3, vengeance 1, indignation 1; 36
1) anger, the natural disposition, temper, character
2) movement or agitation of the soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion, but esp. anger
3) anger, wrath, indignation
4) anger exhibited in punishment, hence used for punishment itself
4a) of punishments inflicted by magistrates

The Bible itself defines the word “orge” by its use in Romans chapter 1:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;” (Rom 1:18)

If the wrath “is revealed,” we should be able see what it looks like. Verses 19-23 describe the ungodliness that is the reason it is revealed. Then verse 24 says specifically what God did:

“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:” (Rom 1:24)

“Wherefore” or “therefore “God also gave them up” – He let them go the way they had chosen. Verses 25 and 27-28a describe other activities, additional reasons for which “God gave them up” (verse 26) and “God gave them over” (verse 28b).

God honors the free will of men and lets them have the consequences of the choices they have made. This is also seen in the Old Testament:

“But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.” (Psa 81:11-12)

See a discussion of this principle (sometimes termed Divine Recession).

Why the Dire Threats?

Some examples of wrath are cases where God verbally “threatened” Israel with what He might do:

“Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the LORD’S wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.” (Deut 11:16-17)

Note that “He shut up the heaven is not so much Him doing something as it is Him ceasing to do what He normally does:

“… he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:45)

Why would God speak in such threatening language? It is similar to if our children are in danger and will not listen, so that we have to raise our voices and say words that get their attention to warn them:

“The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?” (Hosea 4:6, NIV)

God would much rather speak in a still, small voice but our spiritual hearing is so dull that He sometimes has to use stronger words and allow troubles to come in attempts to save His children.

Words Translated as Wrath or Anger

Each listing includes the Strong’s number, the original Hebrew or Greek word, the total number of uses of the original word and each major translation (in the KJV) with its number of occurrences. Cases of anger and wrath or variations of each are emphasized.

Hebrew

  • H599 anaph (14) – angry 13, displeased 1
  • H639 aph (276) – anger 172, wrath 42, face 22, nostrils 13, nose 12, angry 4
  • H2194 zaam, verb (12) – indignation 4, defy 3, abhor 2, angry 2, abominable 1
  • H2195 zaam, noun (22) – indignation 20, anger 1, rage 1
  • H2534 chemah (124) – fury 67, wrath 34, furious 4, displeasure 3, rage 2, anger 1
  • H2734 charah (90) – kindled 44, wroth 13, hot 10, angry 9, displease 4, grieved 1
  • H2740 charown (41) – fierce 23, fierceness 9, wrath 6, fury 1, wrathful 1, displeasure 1
  • H3707 kawas (54) – anger 43, provoked 3, angry 2, grieved 1, indignation 1, sorrow 1, vex 1
  • H5678 ebrah (34) – wrath 31, rage 2, anger 1
  • H7107 qatsaph (34) – wroth 22, wrath 5, displeased 3, angry 2, angered 1, fret 1
  • H7110 qetseph (29) – wrath 23, indignation 3, sore 2

Greek

  • G2372 thumos (18) – wrath 15, fierceness 2, indignation 1
  • G3709 orge (36) – wrath 31, anger 3, vengeance 1, indignation 1
  • G3949 parorgizo (2) – anger 1, provoke to wrath 1

The large amount of overlap and variation in translations is apparent.

The Difference Between God’s Wrath and Man’s Wrath

With such a variety of original words translated as anger and wrath in so many verses there is, no doubt, more we can learn about this topic. It is useful though to compare the differences between God’s wrath/anger and man’s:

God's WrathMan's Wrath
releasesimposes
is consequential is vindictive
honors free choicedestroys free choice
moves away (from man's perspective) in the sense of not imposing to honor free willmoves towards to harm

This verse strongly suggests a difference between the wrath of God and the wrath of man:

“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)


C.S. Lewis has said that at the end of this world there will be
but two groups of people: Those who say ‘Thy will be done,’
And those to whom God will say, ‘Thy will be done.’ This is
the Loving Wrath of God–letting the sinner have his own way.


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