The Anger of God: Is that really necessary??
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
(I really intended to do a history/geography lesson today, but this is what came out. Maybe we can have some maps next time.)
When I think of God’s people as holy, I usually think “set apart.” When I think of God Himself as holy, I think “divine,” “perfect,” “sinless.” All true. But in a very real sense, “set apart” describes the holiness of God, too. He is set apart—far above Satan and the fallen angels, far above all the other heavenly creatures, far above all other so-called gods, and far above the crown of His creation: mankind. Which makes it all the harder to grasp that God invites humanity to share in His divine nature. He said, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44; I Peter 1:16) That's not a terse command to a people with no potential. It's an invitation to greatness. In God’s playbook, humanity was created to display His holiness by walking in His righteousness and justice on the earth.
In opposition to God’s holiness is man's battle for autonomy. He wants his own way and he thinks he knows what’s best. But when what he wants isn’t working, he looks to God, often with accusation, and asks, “Can’t you do anything?” or ”Won’t you do anything?” He casts Him as either impotent or heartless. He thinks God neither sees nor cares. If his thinking isn’t arrested, his heart becomes bitter. He begins to erect walls, and everything outside the walls becomes his enemy. Within the walls of his kingdom, he formulates excuses to keep himself on the throne. The truth he once knew is compromised for the liberty he lusts after. He begins to confuse good with evil, light with darkness, sweet with bitter. He tries to control everything within his reach. The cords of deceit he thought would hold his kingdom together become the ropes of his own bondage. So it was with the sons of Jacob. Wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight, they became the masters of their own destiny. Isaiah 5:16-23
“That is why the Lord’s anger burns against his people…”
There's no tiptoeing around it. Verses like this make it pretty clear—God gets mad.
His hand is raised and he strikes them down.
The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. verse 25
Pretty gruesome stuff, isn't it? Who wants a god like that?
What would God be like if He didn’t get angry? Never indignant. Totally accepting. Smiling continually. Sound good? I think not. I think apathetic. Indifferent. Unconcerned. We don’t want a god like that, do we? I sure don’t. I want a God who is passionate. Protective. Zealous. I also want to stay on His good side.
We’re probably all familiar with the account of God’s anger in Exodus 32:10. While He and Moses were busy writing down His covenant with His people, His people were making a god of their own. It looked to them like Moses and God had gone AWOL, and tradition demanded they have a god. So they did the best they could with what they had and made a calf out of earrings. That time, God and Moses both got mad.
A survey of the Scriptures shows that God gets angry when we don’t trust Him to do what He says He’ll do (Exodus 4:14). We're basically calling Him a liar. When we are whining, we are telling Him we don’t trust Him to take care of us (Numbers 11:1-10). When we speak against His leaders, we tell Him we don't trust His leadership (Numbers 12:1-9). God’s certainly not insecure in who He is, so why does He get so angry when we don’t trust Him? Because we are walking away from the only hope we have.
I know this grates against human logic, but God’s anger really is the fruit of His compassion. When a man walks around with his eyes closed, the best thing he can do is run into a wall.
For the nation of Israel in the time of Isaiah, that wall was the nation of Babylon. Israel was trusting in their own military might, their loose alliances with the nations around them, and their false friend Egypt. Everything and everyone but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Time and again, the prophets had reminded them that God had been faithful through the ages, yet they thought it wiser to depend on some less reliable heroes in the present. So God handed them over.
Let me clarify that. First He whistled for their enemies, then He handed them over:
He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal strap is broken. Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hooves seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue.
(Those Babylonian were some bad dudes.)
In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds.
Isn’t that a little harsh? Besides, David had said: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.“ Psalm103:6-10
Just how slow is “slow“? According to the timeline and the testimony of Scripture, they had chalked up hundreds of years of bad behavior. How long had they walked in disobedience before Isaiah's pronouncement of judgment? How many times had God held back the judgment He had spelled out in the covenant they agreed to? How long had God held back His wrath while waiting for their repentance? How many times had they said “no”?
Isaiah's prophecy made it pretty clear that Israel’s judgment wouldn’t even end with their exile to Babylon. But he did say it would end; the promises jump out at us throughout the book of Isaiah. Today, 2,800 years later, Israel is still waiting. But ponder with me: what could have happened had they accepted their Messiah when he came? If they had repented when He said, “Repent and believe”? If they had followed Him when He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"? But, they plugged their ears and hardened their hearts, and Jesus ended up saying, “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.“ It’s been a long time, but it's not “forever“ yet.
So what about God’s anger? How can a loving God destroy nations?
There comes a place in the mutiny of man that God’s anger is the only righteous response. But it’s slow in coming, it’s less than we deserve, and it will not last forever.
Judgment isn't God's first choice. His judgment hands man over to the logical end of their own choices. (Think Eden.) When man refuses to trust that God's way is perfect, God’s judgment abandons them to their own disorder. (Think flood.) When men will try any way but God's way, His judgment becomes the only way. (Think Israel.) But remember, on the other side of God's judgment, His mercy will result in redemption. (Think Jesus.)