If you ask people what the word wrath means, most people will give an answer that is related to anger. Likewise, if you ask specifically about God’s wrath, most people will relate it to God’s judgment. What is the wrath of God and how do we avoid it?
What does the word wrath mean?
In the Old Testament, the first instance of the word wrath in the English Bible is found in Genesis 39:19 when the wife of Potiphar falsely accused Joseph of trying to rape her. When retelling the story to her husband, we are told that his “wrath was kindled.” The Hebrew word in this case is the word, “af”, which is more often translated as anger. It is also translated as face, nostrils, or nose as well as a few other cases. The root of the Hebrew word “af” is the word “awnaf”, which means to breathe hard, be enraged, or angry.
Using the word kindled to describe Potiphar’s wrath brings to mind a burning, such as a fire, which presents a picture of someone breathing fire (1). Other Hebrew words that are used in the Old Testament to indicate wrath or anger are the words “hemah” and its root “yaham”, which means to be fiery or hot (2). Another English word indicating wrath or angry found in the King James Bible is the word wroth, which originates with the Old English wrath, but is related to the Dutch word “wreed”, meaning cruel (3). In all of these cases, we get a picture of a condition where someone is angry, hot, breathing fire, and cruel.
What is the practical application of the word wrath?
Practically speaking, wrath is the last of the seven layers of anger as addressed in Biblical anger management (4). It is that point when someone has progressed from unresolved stress to anxiety. From unresolved anxiety to agitation. Form unresolved agitation to irritation. From unresolved irritation to frustration. From unresolved frustration to the heart of anger. At the heart of anger, if it is not resolved then humanly speaking it goes over the line from controlled sanity to an uncontrolled insane outpouring of wrath. This concept is presented in James 1:19-21 as follows:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Biblically speaking, this passage is presented in the context of James 1:13-18. It teaches us about temptation being a result of our own lusts: lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride (1 John 2:15-17), which results in death from sin. James 1:19 is then showing us the result of unresolved temptation that has resulted in the lust inspired sin of wrath or uncontrolled anger and what we should do about it.
Is wrath then sinful?
Whether of not wrath is sinful depends on what is the motivation, which produced the wrath. In human terms, we just saw where human wrath is the outpouring of uncontrolled anger based on a sinful motivation. However, God can also be angry and pour out wrath because God is not the author of temptation and sin (James 1:13). The difference is that God’s wrath is not based on a sinful motivation and it is not uncontrolled (Deuteronomy 9:7; Job 20:23; Psalms 78:31; Jeremiah 10:10; Ezekiel 22:31; Romans 1:18; Romans 9:22; Revelation 19:15). It is penalty for sin based on justice (Revelation 14:9-20; Revelation 19:11-21).
Likewise, in James 1:19-21 we see that man’s wrath does not demonstrate the righteousness of God. This means that man’s wrath does not demonstrate that we are born again believers whom have trusted Christ as our Savior. It is not a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Instead, it is the fruit of our fleshly disobedience to God as seen in the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19-21.
Since man’s wrath is the last of seven layers of anger, it is rooted in sinful anger. On the other hand, since God’s wrath is motivated by justice, it is rooted in righteous anger. Therefore, it is the motivation that determines if wrath is sinful or not. Some examples of sinful anger would be if I am angry because of lust of the flesh because I did not get what I wanted to please my flesh. Likewise, if I am angry because I did not get what I wanted to please my eyes or something I saw that I wanted. Finally, if I am angry because I did not get what I wanted to please my pride.
On the other hand, righteous anger is motivated by a love of God and love of our neighbor, which cries out for God’s justice. For example, if I hear someone cursing using the name of God or blaspheming Him, I am angry because I love God. Or, if I am angry because someone molested a child, I am angry because I love my neighbor, the child, because they were harmed and their innocence was violated.
How then do I not engage in sinful anger?
As we read in James 1:19-21, we must immediately engraft the word of God into our thinking and take action to put off the filthiness and naughtiness of the behavior of pouring out uncontrolled wrath. We must be doers of the Word, and not just hearers (James 1:21-27). This means we must take our thoughts off the temptation leading to the anger and wrath and put our thoughts on the things of God’s Word that lead to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:8-10; Philippians 4:4-9). This also means we must leave the justice to God and those whom He has ordained to carry out His wrath (Romans 12:14-21; Romans 13:3-4). Simply stated, we can be righteously angry, but leave the carrying out of justice or wrath to God or His appointed ministers such as the courts or law enforcement.
How do I avoid the wrath of God?
We must be born again as a child of God so that we are no longer a child of disobedience or of the devil (Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:1-7; Ephesians 5:6). Therefore, if we believe that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, we are born again and are no longer a child of anti-Christ (1 John 1:9-2:2; 1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 3:10-12; 1 John 4:1-4; 2 John 1:7-9). If we are no longer a child of disobedience or the devil, then we are not appointed or subject to God’s wrath that He will pour out upon the earth (Psalms 138:6-8; Proverbs 24:17-26; Nahum 1:2-8; John 3:36; Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Humanly speaking, wrath is a condition when someone is angry, hot, and loses control so that they exhibit uncontrolled anger and cruelty. Man’s wrath is rooted in sinful temptations – the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride, which makes man’s angry wrath unrighteous. On the other hand, God’s anger and wrath is based on justice motivated by His love for us. Therefore if our wrath is based in sinful motivations we must change our motivations by engrafting the word of God and leave the execution of justice or wrath to God and His appointed ministers.
Read more about this topic here: Amazing KJV Bible Verses About and Wrath
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index. “Nose” Page 162-163. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996. Print. (2) Ibid. “Wrath” Page 147. (3) Google. (2017). “Wroth”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/#safe=active&q=wroth. (4) Williams, Michael L. (2017). “Preaching: Introduction to Biblical Anger Management”. Retrieved from Wisdom4Today, http://wisdom4today.org/preaching-introduction-to-biblical-anger-management/