The Ultimate Reason for God’s Anger and Wrath
Previously we examined Old and New Testament words for God’s anger and wrath, figurative expressions of the nature of God’s anger and wrath, and literal expressions of ways God’s wrath is administered. Now we will explore the ultimate reason for God’s anger and wrath.
The ultimate reason for God’s anger and wrath cannot be known and understood apart from the fact that, in eternity past, God determined to have a Kingdom over which He could rule as sovereign King. God created the universe, including “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” as the realm of His Kingdom (Ex. 20:11). He also created angels and people to serve Him as subjects (Gen. 1:26–27; Ps. 148:2–5; Col. 1:16).
In fact, the title King is assigned to God 41 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.1
God’s Personal Assertion of Sovereignty as King
God asserted His sovereignty as King over His Kingdom through several claims.
King Over Angels. God declared that, as “the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts,” He is “a great King” (Mal. 1:14). The word hosts refers to the host of angels in God’s heaven. As a result of Isaiah’s heavenly vision of “the Lord sitting on a throne” in the presence of angelic seraphim, Isaiah exclaimed, “My eyes have seen the King, the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts” (Isa. 6:1, 5). King David wrote,
The Lᴏʀᴅ has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lᴏʀᴅ, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. Bless the Lᴏʀᴅ, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure (Ps. 103:19–21).
A psalmist exhorted, “Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts!” (148:2). Micaiah said, “I saw the Lᴏʀᴅ sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left” (1 Ki. 22:19). The Levites declared, “You alone are the Lᴏʀᴅ; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host,…The host of heaven worships You” (Neh. 9:6).
Luke recorded, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Lk. 2:13–14). These passages prompt the conclusion that, as “the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts,” God is “a great King” of the angels.
King Over Nations. God claimed, “I am a great King,…and My name is to be feared among the nations” (Mal. 1:14). He thereby indicated He has sovereign rule over the nations of the world.
He asserted sovereign rule over Babylon, declaring,
“And I will make drunk her princes and wise men, her governors, her deputies, and her mighty men. And they shall sleep a perpetual sleep and not awake,” says the King, whose name is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts (Jer. 51:57).
He asserted sovereign rule over Moab: “‘Moab is plundered and gone up from her cities; her chosen young men have gone down to the slaughter,’ says the King, whose name is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts” (48:15).
He asserted sovereign rule over Egypt, warning,
“As I live,” says the King, whose name is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts,…“O you daughter dwelling in Egypt, prepare yourself to go into captivity! For Noph shall be waste and desolate, without inhabitant. The daughter of Egypt shall be ashamed; she shall be delivered into the hand of the people of the north.” The Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts, the God of Israel, says: “Behold, I will bring punishment on Amon of No, and Pharaoh and Egypt, with their gods and their kings––Pharaoh and those who trust in him” (46:18–19, 24–25).
King Over Israel. God declared, “I am the Lᴏʀᴅ, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa. 43:15), and “Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God’” (44:6). He thereby asserted He has sovereign rule over the nation of Israel.
Assertions of God’s Sovereignty as King Over Other Parties
The Bible records many human expressions of God’s sovereign kingship. For example, after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon humbled himself before God and was released from the mental illness God had inflicted on him because of his boastful pride, he wrote the following:
And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down (Dan. 4:34–35, 37).
The prophet Jeremiah asserted,
Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is Your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to endure His indignation. Thus you shall say to them: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens.” He has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens at His discretion (Jer. 10:7, 10–12).
The author of Psalm 10:16 stated, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is King forever and ever; the nations have perished out of His land.” A psalmist wrote, “For the Lᴏʀᴅ Most High is awesome. For God is the King of all the earth;…God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (47:2, 7–8).
Another psalmist asserted, “For the Lᴏʀᴅ is the great God, and the great King above all gods” (95:3). David said, “I will extol You, my God, O King” (145:1). A psalmist exhorted, “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King” (149:2). Samuel told the Israelites who wanted a human king, “The Lᴏʀᴅ your God was your king” (1 Sam. 12:12).
Revolt Within God’s Kingdom
After God completed the creation of His kingdom, He evaluated that “it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). But sometime afterward, the most magnificent of all His angels––“the anointed cherub who covers” (Ezek. 28:14) and was “perfect in [his] ways from the day [he was] created, till iniquity was found in [him],”—turned against God (v. 15). His “heart was lifted up” with pride because of his magnificence (28:17; cf. 1 Tim. 3:6), and he deceived himself into thinking he could set up a throne for himself in heaven and be like God (Isa. 14:12–14).
He began a revolt to overthrow God and usurp His position as sovereign King of the universe. Thus God changed his name to Satan (meaning “adversary, enemy”2). Satan persuaded a significant number of God’s angels to join him in his revolt against God. Thus the Bible refers to the Devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 12:9).
Satan succeeded in convincing God’s original human subjects, Adam and Eve, to join him in his revolt against God (Gen. 3:1–8). He indicated that, if they would choose to disobey God’s command to them, they would become like God. In other words, they would become their own gods, free to do whatever they wanted, no longer required to obey God’s commands. They made the fateful choice to declare their independence of God’s rule and assert their own self-rule.
This choice produced a radical change in mankind’s spiritual nature. Humanity lost its original, favorable disposition toward God and became confirmed in a disposition of enmity against Him––a disposition that, by itself, does not and cannot submit to God’s rule. (“The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” [Rom. 8:7].) Since enmity against God is sin, the Bible often calls this disposition “sin” (Rom. 6––7). Theologians often call it “the sin nature.”
Since it was the first two human beings who experienced this radical change in their spiritual nature, and since human beings reproduce after their kind, every person inherits this sinful disposition of enmity against God at the moment of conception. Thus King David stated, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5).
This radical spiritual change in mankind in the earliest stage of human history sheds significant light on the ultimate reason for God’s anger and wrath. Gustav Stahlin wrote, “a profound reason for the wrath of God is the same in both” the Old and New Testaments, “namely, the human hubris which basically despises God and seeks to live without Him, cf. Rom. 2:4 ff.; 1:18 ff.”3 The word hubris refers to “wanton arrogance” and “insolent disregard of moral laws or restraints.”4 Thus “the wrath of God is the onslaught of the holy God asserting and establishing His absolute claim to dominion.”5 Divine wrath expresses itself “in attacks on all forces which oppose the holy will of God.”6
- Seybold, “melek,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. Douglas W. Stott, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Alten Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 8:365.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “satan,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 752.
- Gustav Stahlin, ”orge,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), 5:423.
- Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., unabridged (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam, 1939), s.v. “hubris,” 1210.
- Johannes Fichtner, “orge,” TDNT, 5:407.