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God Displays Wrath for Sin, Part 1
Characteristics of God, God is Judge
Much of the Bible is devoted to telling us how God cares for his people. Of the 70 characteristics of God that we identified in our overview studies, the vast majority of them are “positive” characteristics of God—God is sovereign, God is righteous, God is love, God is majestic, God is a protector, and so on. These characteristics represent God’s unchanging nature and how he interacts with those who follow him. Only four of the characteristics are specifically aimed at how God deals with those who reject him. One of those is that God displays wrath against sin, which is our topic for this lesson.
This lesson ended up being fairly long, so I’ve split it into three more manageable parts. These lessons will come out over the next three weeks.
Part 1: Why does God have wrath, and who is God’s wrath against?
Why Does God Have Wrath?
Many people have trouble with the violence they see God displaying throughout the Old Testament. This violence is God displaying his wrath against sin. In the Old Testament, before Jesus came to Earth, God interacted more directly with his people. And when his people sinned, he sometimes had patience with them, and he sometimes executed swift judgment on them. Why did God display wrath against sin? Why can God not tolerate being around sin? The Bible gives us two main reasons.
God is Holy
The first reason that God cannot tolerate sin is that he is holy. When God gave the law to Moses, he said in Leviticus 19:1-2:
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
Holy means to be set apart for a special purpose, especially in a religious sense. When the Bible says that God is holy, it means that he is set apart from all else. He is high and above everything that was created. Nothing in the physical world as we know it or in the spiritual realms can compare to God. He is the only one worthy of worship, he is the one who controls all things, he is the one who is perfect. Because of this high and holy status, God cannot associate himself with anything that goes against his identity or his nature, and that includes sin.
God is Righteous
The second reason that God cannot tolerate sin is that he is righteous. Psalm 7:11 says:
God is a righteous judge,
a God who displays his wrath every day.
We will look at God’s characteristic of righteousness more deeply in another lesson. For the sake of this lesson, it is important to understand that God’s righteousness means that he is morally upright in every way. He does not ever act in sinful ways. He is pure in his thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Habakkuk 1:13a tells us this about God:
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
God’s expectation is that God’s people will be like him, that they will be holy and righteous even as he is holy and righteous. When God sees that his people are not following him and are instead pursuing evil, he cannot tolerate this, and his wrath appears.
Who is God’s Wrath Against?
In general, the Bible indicates that God’s wrath is reserved for his enemies. Nahum 1:2 says:
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.
What makes someone an enemy of God? Let’s take a look at several examples.
Those Who Sin
The first group of people who feel God’s wrath are those who sin (hint: that’s all of us). The following verses make this point:
Psalm 90:7-9: 7 We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
Romans 1:18: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Colossians 3:5-6: 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
These verses use several words to refer to sin: iniquities, sin, godlessness, wickedness, earthly nature. Whatever the term used, it’s clear that these are actions and thoughts that go against the nature of God. These are the things that invoke God’s wrath.
Those Who Reject God or Worship Other Gods
As we learned in the 10 Commandments lesson, one of God’s first commands is that his people should have no other gods before him, and they must not worship idols. Anyone who does this rejects God. As we saw above in Nahum 1:2, God is a jealous God. When he sees people rejecting him or worshiping other gods, this causes his wrath to appear. Let’s take a look at some verses that support this idea.
Leviticus 20:1-3: 1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. 3 I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.’”
John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Romans 2:5, 8: 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. … 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
For those who reject God or follow other gods, God will set his face against them, and they will see the full force of his wrath and anger.
Those Who Disobey God’s Commands
Another group of people who specifically receive God’s wrath are those who know God’s commands and willfully disobey them. Leviticus 26 details God’s differing responses for those who obey him vs. those who don’t. For those who obey him (vs. 1-13), he will grant safety, peace, and plenty. For those who disobey him (vs. 14-29), he will bring terror, disease, hunger, and defeat. Here’s a sample of what God says to those who disobey his commands:
16 Then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.
The consequences get worse from there. But amazingly, at the end of this passage (vs. 40-45), God does something that shows another part of his nature: forgiveness. Even after all the rejection and all the disobedience, God says that if the people will confess their sin and turn back to him, he will remember his covenant with them and will not destroy them.
Those Who Harm God’s People
The last couple groups of people we discussed were related to God’s people rejecting him and disobeying him. But there’s the opposite side to that as well. God also brings wrath on anyone who harms his chosen people. This is evident in Ezekiel 25:15-17:
15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because the Philistines acted in vengeance and took revenge with malice in their hearts, and with ancient hostility sought to destroy Judah, 16 therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will wipe out the Kerethites and destroy those remaining along the coast. 17 I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I take vengeance on them.’”
There were times that God used other nations to bring his wrath upon the Israelites when they rejected him and disobeyed his commands. At other times, God took revenge on those who sought to destroy the Israelites. These nations, whether working for God or against him, usually did not follow God, and they were often on the receiving end of God’s wrath.
Now that we know who God’s wrath is against, next week we’ll discuss what God’s wrath looks like. How can you recognize God’s wrath when you see it? I hope you’ll come back for Part 2!
Each individual characteristic of God study will come with two resources: a word search just for fun (including an answer key), and a list of verses for if you want to investigate that individual characteristic of God more completely.
You can access these resources by clicking here: God Displays Wrath Resources