Wrath (in Jeremiah)

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An emotion of intense anger, ascribed both to human beings and to God. The major Hebrew words describing wrath have to do with “nose” and “heat”—anger is expressed physically in heavy breathing and in heated or intense emotions. Just as words for the physical body, such as arm and eyes, are used of God, so also are words of human emotions.

The word for anger (’ap, derived from “nose”) is used in Jeremiah more often than in other books: 24 times (e.g., 2:35; 15:14; 33:5). A second term for anger as a burning sensation and also as kindling a fire (ḥarah) is used to describe Potiphar’s feeling against Joseph (Gen 39:19) and God’s anger against a murmuring people (Num 11:1). The noun form, always ascribed to God, is found 41 times in the Old Testament and often with ’ap to give the translation “fierceness (burning) of his anger” (4:8; 12:13; 25:37; 30:24). A third term (ḥemah) is also linked with heat as of fire and conveys the concept of an inner intense emotional disturbance. Of its 125 occurrences, 33 are found in Ezekiel and 17 in Jeremiah (e.g., 7:20; 25:15; 30:23). In Jeremiah 42 different verses or passages mention or elaborate God’s anger.

Wrath is pictured as “breaking out and burning like a fire” (21:12). In another image it is as a tangible thing which leaves God’s presence and is not diverted or turned until it has reached its target (30:24). Or, God’s wrath is as a hurricane “swirling down on the heads of the wicked” (30:23). In still another image God’s anger is in a cup to be poured out or taken as drink (25:15).

God’s anger is aroused by the sin and the disbelief of his people (4:4; 32:31) or that of other nations (25:15–28 and comments there). His anger raged against the towns of Judah (44:6) and Jerusalem (42:18). His anger is pictured as devastating a region (4:26–28). God banished his people in anger (32:37). God’s anger, as Luther said, is not against sinners but against unbelievers.

Wrath may be thought of as the energy of divine justice expressing itself. It is not an irrational outburst. It is God’s concern which is the source of his anger. God’s anger is protective of his interests, including the objects of his love. His anger is against evil and all that is not in keeping with his holiness. The measure of his anger is justice. Anger is not the opposite of love; love’s opposite is apathy. One does well to remember that the God who put the sentence of judgment on Nineveh also lifted it off.

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Elmer A. Martens