God’s Anger Is Good

Anger in the Old Testament 

Verb: כָּעַס (kāʿas). Kāʿas denotes the idea of provoking one to anger and may be translated “to anger, irritate.” This term commonly conveys the anger of God against his people, usually for idolatry (e.g., 1 Kgs. 14:9, 15; 2 Kgs. 22:17), and it occurs most often in Deuteronomy to Kings. As Moses proclaims, “After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger . . .” (Deut. 4:25). The term is also used to mean “jealousy” (Ps. 78:58). Ezekiel proclaims, “Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry” (16:42).

All parents experience kāʿas when they’re provoked to anger by disobedient children. In the same way, we can provoke God to anger when we’re lured away by sin and modern forms of idolatry. First Kings 16:13 states, “Because of all the sins Baasha and his son Elah had committed and had caused Israel to commit, so that they provoked the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger by their worthless idols.” 

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Noun: אַף (ʾap). The noun ʾap literally means “nose” or, in the plural, “face” or “nostrils,” but it’s often used figuratively for “anger.” Because the nose commonly reflected intense anger—a flaring and snorting of the nostrils—ʾap is often used to convey anger.

(1) About 80 times in the Old Testament and always in connection with God,ʾap is used with the verb “burn” (ḥārâ) in the expression (lit.) “his nose became hot,” which in context means “his anger was kindled” (Exod. 4:14; Deut. 13:18; cf. Deut. 32:22). “Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he struck out his hand and struck them” (Isa. 5:25). In such instances, it almost always occurs in the context of disobedient Israel (Num. 12:9; Josh. 7:1; Judg. 2:20; Isa. 5:24–25; Hos. 8:5), who has begun to follow after foreign gods (Deut. 6:15; 7:4; 29:27; 31:17; Josh. 23:16). Job 4:9 describes God’s righteous anger against sinners: “At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish.” Psalm 18:8 states even more vividly that “smoke rose from his [God’s] nostrils.” Most of the time, however, these phrases are translated with words such as “fury.” Thus, in Psalm 78:49 the NIV translates the phrase “hot anger” (cf. Num. 22:22; 2 Kgs. 23:26).

(2) When ʾap is linked with the word “slow” (ʾārēk), the figurative sense can mean “slow to anger.” This phrase is used many times to characterize God’s loving patience. Thus, the psalmist says: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Ps. 145:8; cf. Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Prov. 14:2915:1816:32;19:11; 25:15; Jer. 15:15; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2; Nah. 1:3). 

Noun: חֶמָה (ḥēmâ). The basic meaning of ḥēma is “anger, wrath,” though in certain contexts it may mean “poison, venom.”

As an intense emotion of hot displeasure, the most common use of ḥēma describes the fury or rage of God or of his people. This word is found mostly in poetic and prophetic literature. Ezekiel speaks of the “heat” of his spirit, which is descriptive of his righteous anger against the Israelites for their sin (3:14). People express anger (2 Sam. 11:20; 2 Kgs. 5:12; Dan. 11:44). Jacob waits for the “fury” of Esau to subside (Gen. 27:44). King Xerxes seethes with anger when Queen Vashti refuses to come at his command (Esth. 1:12; 2:1), and Haman is full of “rage” when Mordecai refuses to bow down to him (3:5, 9). Proverbs speaks about the damage caused by the anger or fury of people (Prov. 6:3415:1819:1922:24; 27:4; 29:22).

In contrast to human anger, God’s anger is righteous because it’s incited when the Israelites sin against him (Lev. 26:28; 2 Kgs. 22:13, 17; Ps. 90:7). God causes Israel to be defeated by enemies because of his anger toward them (2 Chron. 28:9; Isa. 42:25), but his anger can also be restrained or turned away from his people (Num. 25:11). Ultimately, God will burn with great “fury” against his enemies (Zech. 8:2). 

Anger in the New Testament 

Noun: θυμός (thymos). Thymos is generally used to refer to “anger, rage, fury.” 

Noun: ὀργή (orgē). Orgē signifies “anger, wrath.” Depending on the context, the term emphasizes either emotional anger or retributive wrath. In the former sense, it can refer to a person who is angry, such as Jesus’s anger at the lack of concern and legalism of the Jewish leaders (Mark 3:5). In several places the New Testament instructs believers not to be given to anger (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Tim. 2:8).

More often, however, orgē signifies God’s indignation directed at wrongdoing (e.g., Rom. 1:18). When God cut off a generation from entering the Promised Land, it was an oath he made “in wrath” (Heb. 3:11; 4:3). Paul equates God’s wrath with his vengeance, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Paul speaks of those who heap up their sins, saying that “the wrath of God has come upon them at last” (1 Thess. 2:16; cf. Rom. 1:18). Governing authorities are temporal conduits of divine retribution (Rom. 13:1). “The wrath of God” remains on those who do not believe in the Son (John 3:36). Paul writes that “God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph. 5:6; cf. Col. 3:6). God “stores up his wrath” for those who are unrepentant and saves it for a “day of wrath,” when it will be visited on the same (Rom. 2:5). But Christians are not destined for such an end, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). 


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