Just what does the anger or wrath of God look like? A basic concept of this view of God’s character is the principle that God will “leave” the sinner when His presence or influence is not desired. Basically, as a gentleman Who highly respects the free will of others, He does not impose His presence or influence where it is not desired. When He “leaves,” those rejecting Him reap the consequences of all that separation from God and His protection might include.
The pattern presented below is used very many times in God’s word to describe “the wrath (anger, fury etc) of God” which is defined and described in Romans chapter 1. I first saw this pattern illustrated in Marilyn Campbell’s book Light on the Dark Side of God and have since found many (over 70) examples of its use. If you see any not listed below, please let me know.
The pattern is:
Because of man’s sin
God in “anger” or “wrath”
Leaves the sinner
And trouble comes (from a source other than God).
I’ll just share why I chose the particular color scheme for this that I did – it helps me to remember and it might help you:
- Because of sin – mankind sinned (originally) in the green garden.
- God in “anger” – we speak of red-hot anger or wrath.
- leaves the sinner – and goes back to His place in the blue sky.
- and trouble comes – a commonly-accepted warning color is orange.
Here are some important examples of its use:
“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)
The passage above is interesting because it shows that even the people involved recognized that the troubles had come because God was not among them. It seems that they understood this principle better than do most people today.
Here is an example that gives a definition:
“For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.” (Isa 54:7-8)
The next verse is very interesting:
“For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.” (Isa 54:9)
After verses 7-8 give yet another explanation of how God’s wrath works, He says in verse 9 that this is similar to the situation of the flood, “the waters of Noah.”
In “wrath” God hides His face. The experience (we would think of it as an emotion) of God’s wrath is accompanied by the action of Him “hiding His face” or leaving/forsaking or giving up the sinner to some other power. The two go together.
While the two (the anger/wrath and the leaving/forsaking) go together, there are quite a number of examples where there is no actual mention of wrath or anger but it is implied within the mention of Him leaving, delivering them up etc which, by biblical definition, is caused by His “anger.” Take note, however, of God’s consistent act of withdrawing and especially of the fact that the trouble which only then results, occurs in His “absence.” (See on Nehemiah 9 below, regarding the lack of mention of wrath or anger.) Below are a number of passages showing the use of this pattern. At the bottom of the page is a list of other verses which have not yet been added in detail to this page.
To make it a little easier to remember this pattern I have used the acronym “SALT” which can be described as:
Examples (in Biblical order)
This example is a little more complex and is discussed on its own page – Moses Turns God Down
“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 4:14)
“With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.” (Num 12:8-10)
Notice, that it was after the LORD departed that the leprosy came.
“And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned. And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the LORD, therefore the LORD will not be with you. But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.” (Num 14:40-45)
This passage says quite clearly that the Lord would not be with them because they were turned away from the Him.
“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. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” (Num 21:5-9)
In Deuteronomy, Moses is recounting how God rescued them from slavery and protected and sustained them in their wilderness journeys:
“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; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; ” (Deut 8:15-16)
Clearly, God was caring for them and protecting them:
- He led them when they would have wandered aimlessly.
- He fed them in the wilderness where there was no food.
- He gave them plenty of water when there was no water.
He blessed them in those ways and many others; even their clothes did not wear out (Deut 8:4). The implication clearly is that He also protected them from the danger of the fiery serpents. It was when they sinned that (following the pattern) God withdrew His protection and that is when the serpents struck. When the people confessed their sin (“We have sinned,” Num 21:7) He provided a remedy – the serpent on the pole.
The word “sent” in verse 6 is from the Hebrew word “shalach” (Strong’s 7971) which is frequently used in the permissive rather than the causative sense.
“Then ye answered and said unto me, We have sinned against the LORD, we will go up and fight, according to all that the LORD our God commanded us. And when ye had girded on every man his weapons of war, ye were ready to go up into the hill. And the LORD said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies. So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the LORD, and went presumptuously up into the hill. And the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah. And ye returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you.” (Deut 1:41-45)
This passage is basically a repeat of that in Numbers 14. Here, although the Lord said He was not among them, He was speaking to Moses (who was presumably within the camp of Israel). So being among them does not seem to refer to a physical presence so much as being, in this case, in a supporting/protective role.
Deut 31:17-18 – see introduction
“They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters. And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them.” (Deut 32:16-23)
Verses 24 and on describes more of the troubles that would come to Israel. Then verse 30 states again why these troubles are coming:
” How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?” (Deut 32:30)
Many versions end the verse with “given them up.” Here is one version that (based on many other examples of this pattern) makes it very clear what is happening:
“Why were a thousand defeated by one, and ten thousand by only two? The LORD, their God, had abandoned them; their mighty God had given them up.” (Deut 32:30, Good News Translation)
Notice that verse 20 sounds a little contradictory: “I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be.” God may withdraw a sense of His presence from those who have rejected Him and not act on their behalf but it is not saying He doesn’t know what is going on.
“And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!” (Josh 7:7)
God’s answer was that He had delivered them (ceased to protect them) because:
“Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.” (Josh 7:11-12)
Notice the close association between Israel being cursed and God not being with them – that is what it means for God to curse. The story goes on to describe how Achan is identified as the one who, because of his sin, had brought the curse (God leaving them) upon Israel. After he was stoned:
“… they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.” (Josh 7:26)
The marginal reading in the King James Version for “valley of Achor” is “that is trouble.”
In some cases, God left people by withdrawing His protection so that they were given up to destruction by another group. This happened even to other nations given into the hand of Israel. A good example is the nation of the Amorites who were delivered into the hand of Israel in the time of Joshua.
“And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee. Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night. And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah. And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword. Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” (Josh 10:8-13)
This is an example where the sins were not spelled out in the passage. However, the Amorites level of iniquity was previously mentioned even to Abram with the implication that by the time Israel entered the Promised Land they would have reached a level of iniquity which would have changed their status with God:
“But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Gen 15:16)
The passage in Joshua from later in history when their iniquity was full showed God delivering up the Amorites. This is the first of the two incidents referred to in Isaiah 28:21 which refers to God’s “strange act.” Notice God’s action in the passage above. It was not to kill anyone but, rather, to deliver the Amorites to the hand of another power.
“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger. And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.” (Judg 2:11-14)
“And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves. Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel , and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.” (Judg 3:6-8)
“And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD , when Ehud was dead. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan , that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.” (Judg 4:1-3)
“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: … And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.” (Judg 6:1-2, 4-6)
The next several verses describe God’s reaction to Israel’s cry for help (v7) and His choice of Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites (v14). In v13, Gideon recognized the reason they were in such trouble:
“And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” (Judg 6:13)
“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him. And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon. And that year they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. Moreover the children of Ammon passed over Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was sore distressed. And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim. And the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more.” (Judg 10:6-13)
“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.” (Judg 13:1)
“And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.” (Judg 16:20-21)
“The Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. And David enquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up to the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into mine hand? And the LORD said unto David, Go up: for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into thine hand. And David came to Baalperazim, and David smote them there, and said, The LORD hath broken forth upon mine enemies before me, as the breach of waters. Therefore he called the name of that place Baalperazim. And there they left their images, and David and his men burned them.” (2 Sam 5:18-21)
This is the second of the two incidents referred to in Isaiah 28:21. See the note above under Joshua 10.
“For the Lord will strike Israel as a reed is shaken in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the River, because they have made their wooden images provoking the Lord to anger. And He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who sinned and who made Israel sin.” (1 Kings 14:15-16)
“And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Syria, and into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, all their days.“ (2 Kings 13:2-3)
“And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only. Also Judah kept not the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.” (2 Kings 17:17-20)
“Then came Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said unto them, Thus saith the LORD, Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak. Whereupon the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves; and they said, The LORD is righteous. And when the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah, saying, They have humbled themselves; therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance; and my wrath shall not be poured out upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak.” (2 Chron 12:5-7)
Notice that God’s wrath is poured out by the act of God leaving Judah so that they fall into the hand of Shishak who is then the active agent by whom the trouble comes. When they humbled themselves, God said that He would not destroy them by the hand of Shishak – the agent of the deferred destruction.
“And now ye think to withstand the kingdom of the LORD in the hand of the sons of David; and ye be a great multitude, and so that whosoever cometh to consecrate himself with a young bullock and seven rams, the same may be a priest of them that are no gods. … we keep the charge of the LORD our God; but ye have forsaken him. … Then the men of Judah gave a shout: and as the men of Judah shouted, it came to pass, that God smote Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. And the children of Israel fled before Judah: and God delivered them into their hand. And Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter: so there fell down slain of Israel five hundred thousand chosen men.” (2 Chron 13:8-9,11,15-17)
Notice that it says both that “God smote Jeroboam” and “Abijah and his people slew them.” Another example of God being said to do that which He merely allowed.
“Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father: For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. Wherefore “the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter. For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers. … But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Oded: and he went out before the host that came to Samaria, and said unto them, Behold, because the LORD God of your fathers was wroth with Judah, he hath delivered them into your hand, and ye have slain them in a rage that reacheth up unto heaven.” (2 Chron 28:1-6,9)
“For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD, and turned their backs. … Wherefore the wrath of the LORD was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes.” (2 Chron 29:6,8)
“So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria. And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see. Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the LORD, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you. For if ye turn again unto the LORD, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.” (2 Chron 30:6-9)
“Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the LORD which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand.” (2 Chron 36:14-17)
If anything is missing out of this four-part pattern it is most often the anger/wrath part. Nehemiah chapter 9 is a good example where the other elements are present but anger/wrath is missing. In fact, rather than wrath, God’s mercy is emphasized (shown below by the bold black print). The chapter starts with recounting the goodness of God as He led them out of Egypt. But then it shows how the people acted:
“But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments, And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not. Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations; Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go. (Neh 9:16-19)
Note above how the “slow to anger” and “forsookest then not” go together. After recounting many of God’s blessings in verses 20-25 it continues and says how they acted and how God reacted:
“Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations. Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies; And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear. Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands. [Where they would have experienced trouble.] Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.” (Neh 9:26-31)
Note the complete absence of any mention of anger or wrath in this passage. Perhaps it was because God was considering their ignorance of His ways and their condition having just come out of slavery.
“Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies: But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow. For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images. When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men; And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand. He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.” (Psa 78:56-62)
“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. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.” (Psa 81:11-14)
Here is a good verse to show that God’s wrath is His hiding, withdrawing His presence etc. Hebrew parallel structure often helps to understand Biblical terms:
“How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?” (Psa 89:46)
“They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them: But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood. Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance. And he gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them.” (Psa 106:34-41)
“Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.” (Isa 1:4-7)
The country (Judah) was desolate because of the destruction caused by the invading Assyrians. They had lost God’s protection having “gone away backward.” That they were distanced from God is shown more clearly in other versions (last part of verse 4):
- “… they are utterly estranged.” (Isa 1:4, ESV)
- “… They are alienated from him.” (Isa 1:4, NET Bible)
- “… they’ve walked away from me. (Isa 1:4, ISV)
While there is no reference in this passage to God having left them, it could be safely understood that He had in light of this verse:
“And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded: And he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.” (2 Chron 15:1-2)
He left them because they had forsaken Him (that is God’s “anger/wrath”) and then the trouble came upon them from another source; in this case, the Assyrians.
“Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. (Isa 5:3-7)
The vineyard, of course, represents Israel that God brought out of Egypt:
“Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.” (Psa 80:8)
The hedge represents God’s protection of Israel. He looked for good fruit (grapes) from Israel but it produced bad fruit (wild grapes). Because of Israel’s rejection of God He removed His protective presence from Jerusalem with the final result that in 70AD the Roman army under Titus destroyed the city and trod it down.
“I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” is interesting because scripture indicates that God actively sends rain so to withhold it He would not have to “do” anything; just don’t send it.
“Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the LORD, and he shall send thunder and rain …” (1 Sam 12:17)
“For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 17:14)
“And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 18:1)
“Then hear thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, when thou hast taught them the good way, wherein they should walk; and send rain upon thy land, which thou hast given unto thy people for an inheritance.” (2 Chr 6:27)
“Who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields:” (Job 5:10)
“Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.” (Psa 68:9)
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for 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)
“For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed. Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke. Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire: no man shall spare his brother.“ (Isa 9:16-19)
Isa 54:7-8 – see introduction
“For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.” (Isa 57:17)
This verse quite clearly links God’s state of being wroth with His act of hiding Himself.
“For thus hath the LORD of hosts said, Hew ye down trees, and cast a mount against Jerusalem: this is the city to be visited; she is wholly oppression in the midst of her. As a fountain casteth out her waters, so she casteth out her wickedness: violence and spoil is heard in her; before me continually is grief and wounds. Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall throughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine: turn back thine hand as a grapegatherer into the baskets. To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it. Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days. And their houses shall be turned unto others, with their fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD. For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.” (Jer 6:6-13)
God takes no delight in trying to warn those to whom His words are regarded as a reproach and who will not hear Him. He does not impose Himself, He simply departs.
The words “violence” and “before me” appear both here and in the flood account (Gen 6:11,13). In each case, they are from the same original words. In both events, God acted the same way – by departing from those who did not want Him and allowing the natural consequences to take place.
“Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity [worthless idols], and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.” (Jer 18:15-17)
“They come to fight with the Chaldeans, but it is to fill them with the dead bodies of men, whom I have slain in mine anger and in my fury, and for all whose wickedness I have hid my face from this city.” (Jer 33:5)
Here is a version that is clearer:
“The Chaldeans are coming to fight and to fill those houses with the dead bodies of the people that I’ve struck down in my anger and wrath, for I’ve hidden my face from this city because of all their wickedness.” (Jer 33:5, ISV)
Notice how “those houses” is a reference back to the houses mentioned in v4: “concerning the houses of this city …” The people of Jerusalem were killed by the Chaldeans.
“We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned. Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied. Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through. Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people. All our enemies have opened their mouths against us. Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.” (Lam 3:42-47)
This is consistent with what God said He allowed earlier:
“The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her [Jerusalem’s] palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the LORD, as in the day of a solemn feast.” (Lam 2:7)
This was the turning over of God’s people to the Babylonians because of continued and persistent disobedience. The troubles that came upon them were not a direct act of God but happened because God removed His restraint of the Babylonians.
“He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? but turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations.” (Eze 8:6)
That God is leaving is more clear in this version:
“He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing here, more detestable things that the house of Israel is committing, so that I must depart from My sanctuary? You will see even more detestable things.” (Eze 8:6, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“And thou, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning the Ammonites, and concerning their reproach; even say thou, The sword, the sword is drawn: for the slaughter it is furbished, to consume because of the glittering: Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine a lie unto thee, to bring thee upon the necks of them that are slain, of the wicked, whose day is come, when their iniquity shall have an end. Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy nativity. And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee, I will blow against thee in the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, and skilful to destroy. Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land; thou shalt be no more remembered: for I the LORD have spoken it.” (Eze 21:28-32)
“I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge, their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction, they will seek me early.” (Hosea 5:15)
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;” (Rom 1:18-28)
“The recompense of their error” (verse 27) is referring to them appropriately receiving the natural consequences of their behavior. This passage speaks of a revelation or instance of God’s wrath but it also provides one of the clearest definitions in scripture of what the wrath of God is. When man persists in sin (and there is lots of it in this passage) God’s reaction is to give them up to receive the consequences of their actions from which He, to that point, Had been trying to protect them.
Some Thoughts about Wrath
You can see from the passages above – and there are others – that this is a definite pattern in scripture. God, being a gentleman, never imposes His presence where it is not desired. He just leaves and then, without His protection, the trouble comes. His leaving can be expressed directly as Him leaving or as Him giving the sinners up (withdrawing His protection/presence) to the dangers or enemies they face.
Here is an interesting verse about wrath:
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Here are two versions that make the meaning more clear:
“For a man’s anger does not lead to action which God regards as righteous.” (James 1:20, Weymouth New Testament)
“For human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20, International Standard Version)
If human wrath/anger is not the sort of righteous action that God desires, how can divine wrath be seen as righteous? Wrath is wrath – unless there are different possible meanings for “wrath” when applied to God’s actions in the Bible.
Remember this verse:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” (Isa 55:8)
Apparently, at least in some areas, God’s ways of doing things are different than man’s ways. This and the evidence of all the passages included above suggest that the wrath of God has quite a different meaning than the wrath of man – the way we (since we are all part of mankind) normally understand the meaning of wrath. Man’s wrath normally involves moving towards a person with a weapon or, perhaps, by verbally attacking. God’s wrath/anger, in every case cited above, involves Him moving away from the object of His wrath either physically or by removing His protection or influence. Here is a verse that associates God’s anger with Him hiding His face:
“Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.” (Psa 27:9)
Here is another verse that associates God hiding His face with trouble coming to the one from whom God is hiding:
“LORD, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” (Psa 30:7)
Further passages not included in detail above:
Eze 25:3-4, 6-7
1 Cor 5:1-5