January 25, 2011

The Anger of the Lord – Jeremiah 23:20

January 25, 2011

Trying to understand the anger of God is no small undertaking. Perhaps the best place to start is with some pertinent scriptures:

For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. (Jer 23:18-20)

you have not listened to me, declares the LORD, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm. (Jer 25:7)

Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it:

Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink. “Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’ “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts.’ “You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: “‘The LORD will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the LORD.’ “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, disaster is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth! “And those pierced by the LORD on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground. “Wail, you shepherds, and cry out, and roll in ashes, you lords of the flock, for the days of your slaughter and dispersion have come, and you shall fall like a choice vessel. No refuge will remain for the shepherds, nor escape for the lords of the flock. A voice–the cry of the shepherds, and the wail of the lords of the flock! For the LORD is laying waste their pasture, and the peaceful folds are devastated because of the fierce anger of the LORD. Like a lion he has left his lair, for their land has become a waste because of the sword of the oppressor, and because of his fierce anger.”

(Jer 25:15-38)

Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect –before the day passes away like chaff– before there comes upon you the burning anger of the LORD, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the LORD. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD. (Zep 2:1-3)

In 1741, the famous puritan preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, preached a message titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. His message was simple and clear: outside of Christ, we are fully exposed and on the brink of eternal death and ruin, and the only reason we have not been delivered over to it is because God, by his mere, sovereign pleasure keeps us out of it.

Yes, God is a great deal more angry with the great numbers that are now on earth; yes, doubtless with the many that are now sitting in this congregation, who feel completely at ease, than He is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell. It is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that He does not let loose His hand and cut them off. (Edwards)

When we think about God in the context of the Old Testament, it is easy to get the feeling that the Lord God of Israel is a terrible God of wrath and anger. However, a quick search on such terms reveals the following:

Term Occurrences in Scripture
God of Wrath 0
God of Anger 0
God of Vengeance 1 (Psa 94:1)
Wrath of God 11 (All in New Testament)
Anger of the Lord 35 (All in Old Testament)
God of Love 1 (2 Cor 13:11)
God of Peace 5 (All in New Testament)
God of Glory 2 (Psa 29:3 and Acts 7:2)
God of Justice 2 (Isa 30:18 and Mal 2:17)
God of Salvation 1 (Psa 68:20)

Nowhere in Scripture is God ever referred to as a “God of anger” or a “God of wrath”. He is however called a “God of Love”, a “God of Peace”, a “God of Salvation”, etc. This means that while God can be provoked to anger and wrath, his character and being is eternally rooted in love, peace, mercy, and goodness. It helps to think of God as being angry towards sin because sin, by nature, is anti-mercy, anti-love, anti-grace, or simply, anti-God. Thus, God takes great offense from sin.

It is this offense that can cause God to become fiercely provoked by the humans he created. That is evident to anyone from a cursory reading of the Bible. His anger can literally burn hot like coals beyond what many of us have ever experienced. Sinners can’t be angry with sin the way God, the Holy and Just, can. He fumes and flashes fire over it (Psalm 18:8).

The Pre-Church Age

The “Eye for an Eye” Mandate

The pre-church age is the time before Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed for the sins of the world–past, present, and future. God is a divine being whose throne is grounded on justice (Psalm 89:14). When God is wronged by us, there must be justice. Of course the question is asked, how could we possibly wrong God? But the answer is easy: we are his image.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man [sin], by man shall his blood be shed [justice], for God made man in his own image [it violates God’s holiness]. (Gen 9:6)

He is perfect and exact in his divinity. He overlooks absolutely nothing. Everything is accounted for and everything is dealt with eye for eye, tooth for tooth (Exo 21:23-25). Jesus, as the Lamb of God, was God’s own sacrifice to balance the scales of his righteousness and holiness which we, created in his image, violated.

In other words, we harmed God life, eye, tooth, hand and foot. We burned, wounded, and beat him by our sin. It’s seems hard to believe but consider the words of David:

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psa 51:3-4)

Thus, for justice to be properly dealt, God returned the favor to us: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand and foot. Sometimes it was an individual (Deut 13:5), sometimes it was a community (Num 16:26-33), and sometimes it was a whole nation (Gen 19:28). One time, it was the whole entire world (Gen 6:7).

How different it would have been to live in an eye for eye world! Although this was the name of the game back then, it was never a true fulfillment but just a prophet shadow—a message. If all sins are ultimately against God, there remains the need for due justice, and the mere death of the body was not sufficient to balance the scales of our offence to God. There would need to be much more: the death of the soul. Thus from Jesus we learn about the real retribution, or real death:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mat 10:28)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. (Rev 2:11)

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev 21:8)

The Church Age

The “Turn the Other Cheek” Mandate

Anyone alive today can see that God is clearly not acting out in the way revealed in the Old Testament. God is not actively judging or bringing retribution for anyone’s sin, at least not in the way he used to. But how can this be? Consider Jesus’ startling words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Mat 5:38-39)

Something very significant changed just then. We call it the perfect sacrifice: Jesus Christ, who harmed neither God nor man, offered himself as payment for the sins of all mankind by sacrificing himself. The profoundness of this change is simply incredible. It meant no less than that all the harm to God from mankind—every last bit of it—was atoned for(1 John 2:2).

In Christ, God offers a free way out of paying for your own sins. In essence, God is turning the other cheek because Jesus was God (John 1:1).

God sacrifices God. Justice is complete. Man is spared.

There is only one requirement on man’s part, and that is to believe it:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:23-26)

By putting forth Christ Jesus, this text shows us that God was able to accomplish three things. One, to make clear to all mankind  his righteousness. Two, to maintain his integrity as a God of justice (Psalm 89:14). And three, to justify all who have faith in Jesus.

So now the tides have turned, and the era of the Church has begun. The Scripture speaks of this as an appointed time of grace, not anger (2 Cor. 6:2). There is no anger of God being poured out on humankind. The anger that would otherwise be upon us is abated by the rule of Jesus Christ (Mat. 28:18). He is instead pouring out grace. He is full of grace and not wrath. And that grace is in a very specific form: the Church. Thus the church is not a means for God to bring judgment, curse, or retribution. Those who beat non-believers over the head with the Bible surely do not know God. Those Christians who are always ready to pour out their own wrath on other people’s sins surely do not know the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

Yet, as Jonathan Edwards points out, God holds all up over the pit of hell by his pleasure—his goodness, patience, grace, and mercy. Our sin would immediately banish us to the depths of Sheol if it weren’t for God holding us up in this very moment. So long as Jesus is in authority and at work through his Church, humanity gets to experience nothing but the peace, love, grace, and mercy of God. As the Church spreads, so the grace, love, and peace of God spreads. This is the very mission of the Holy Spirit.

In the context of the church age, no one in the New Testament ever talks about God being angry. Jesus himself never talks about God’s anger with people’s sin except in terms of the day of judgment.

Jesus responds to sin thus:

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Mat 18:9)

He takes sin very seriously. Yet, rather than destroying those offending his holiness, he instead eats with them:

“This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luk 15:2)

Jesus Christ will deal with those who reject him later (Rev 19:11-16).

The Future Judgment

The “Eye for an Eye” Fulfillment

While sin may be overlooked by God presently, there will be a day when all who have not repented of their sin and put their trust in Jesus will have to account, and pay, for their own sin eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Those who are in Christ, have nothing to worry about for the Lord will deal with them according to Jesus.

Paul speaks about it in this way:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works… (Rom 2:4-6)

In Psalm 18 there is a revelation of the future judgment of God.

(Psa 18:4) The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
(Psa 18:5) the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
(Psa 18:6) In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

In other words, sin has enslaved me, I am bound to hell and confronted by my wretchedness. But grace is available to all who cry for help.

(Psa 18:7) Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
(Psa 18:8) Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
(Psa 18:9) He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
(Psa 18:10) He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
(Psa 18:11) He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.
(Psa 18:12) Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
(Psa 18:13) The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones [see Rev 16:21] and coals of fire [see 2 Pet 3:12].
(Psa 18:14) And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
(Psa 18:15) Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
(Psa 18:16) He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.

The appointed time comes when the authority is transferred back from Jesus, and God is fury is let loose. After the world has denied Jesus, their only hope of salvation, glowing coals begin to flame forth from him, and his own are taken out of harm’s way.

(Psa 18:17) He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
(Psa 18:18) They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support.
(Psa 18:19) He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
(Psa 18:20) The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.

The Lord will deal with believers according to their faith in Jesus who is called “The Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

(Psa 18:21) For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
(Psa 18:22) For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
(Psa 18:23) I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt.
(Psa 18:24) So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
(Psa 18:25) With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
(Psa 18:26) with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
(Psa 18:27) For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.

With the purified, God shows himself pure, but to the crooked he shows himself tortuous. Here we see how justice can be the most beautiful thing in the world (to those purified by Jesus’ blood) or the worst thing in the world (to those who deny Jesus).

So, in light of all this we can conclude the following:

  1. God is not dealing with humanity according to its sinfulness, but according to the work of Jesus through the Church. His anger and wrath is put aside.
  2. In Christ his anger is completely appeased forever. He is as approachable as that father was for the prodigal son (Luke 15:19-23).
  3. Jesus Christ is the only way to approach him as an un-angry father (John 14:6). Any attempt to approach God outside of Jesus Christ will be in vain and actually count against you in the Day of Judgment.


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