The Wrath of God, Part I

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake.” Revelation 6:12. In fulfillment of this prophecy, there occurred, in the year 1755, the most terrible earthquake that has ever been recorded. Though commonly known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake, it extended to the greater part of Europe and Africa. Its shock waves pervaded an area of 1,300,000 square miles, and a vast tsunami wave stretched over the coasts of Spain and Africa, engulfing cities and causing great destruction.

It was in Spain and Portugal that the shock manifested itself in extreme violence. At Cadais, the in-flowing waves were said to be 60 feet high. Mountains, some of the largest in Portugal, were impetuously shaken, as it were, from their very foundations, and some of them opened at their summits, which were split and rent in a wonderful manner, huge masses of them being throw down into the adjacent valleys. Flames are related to have issued from these mountains. One survivor reported that a sound of thunder was heard under the ground, and, immediately afterwards, a violent shock threw down the great part of his city. In the course of about six minutes, 60,000 persons perished. The sea first retired and laid the bar dry; it then rolled in, rising 50 feet or more above its ordinary level.

Among other extraordinary events related to have occurred during the catastrophe was the subsistence of a new harbor built entirely of marble at immense expense. A great concourse of people had collected there for safety, that they might be beyond the reach of fallen ruins. But suddenly the harbor sank down with all the people on it, and not one of the bodies ever floated to the surface.

The shock of the earthquake was instantly followed by the fall of every church and convent, almost all the large, public buildings, and more than one-fourth of the houses. In about two hours after the shock, fires broke out in different quarters of the city and raged with such violence for the space of nearly three days that the city was completely desolated.

The earthquake happened on a holiday when the churches and convents were full of people, very few of whom escaped. The terror of the people was beyond description. Nobody wept; they were beyond tears. Yes, they ran hither and thither delirious with horror and astonishment, beating their faces and breasts saying, Miserecordia meu Dios!¾the world is at an end. Mothers forgot their children and ran about loaded with crucified images. Unfortunately, many ran to the churches for protection, but in vain was the sacrament exposed, in vain did the poor preachers embrace the altar images, and priests and people where buried in one common ruin. It has been estimated that 90,000 persons lost their lives on that fatal day.


My question, considering the horrors described above, is, What is the wrath of God? In the Old Testament, the Hebrew hema is identified in Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary as denoting heat, rage, fury, hot displeasure, or indignation. This noun occurs in somatic language with the meaning of heat, wrath, poison, or venom. The noun as well as the verb denotes a strong emotional state. The noun is used 120 times in the Scriptures, predominately in the poetic and prophetic literature, especially Ezekiel.

The first use of hema takes place in the story of Esau and Jacob. Jacob is advised to go to Harmon with the hope that Esau’s rage will dissipate. We read in Genesis 27:41-45: “And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. And these words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah: and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him, Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, [purposing] to kill thee. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; And tarry with him a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away; Until thy brother’s anger turn away from thee, and he forget [that] which thou hast done to him: then I will send, and fetch thee from thence: why should I be deprived also of you both in one day?”

Now, notice that Esau’s fury and anger is a stage of anger and fury that causes an angry person to desire or to bring about destruction and death on the person or persons involved. This is the same word used to denote God’s wrath, God’s fury, and God’s anger.

Regarding this situation, Ellen White wrote: “Threatened with death by the wrath of Esau, Jacob went out from his father’s home a fugitive.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 183.

The anger and the fury that Esau felt for his brother Jacob are the same as wrath. Understanding the words anger and fury used in Genesis 27:41-45, which is also wrath and which, as was stated earlier, is the Hebrew word hema, helps to identify the definition for the wrath that God displays toward unrepentant, rebellious sinners.

In the New Testament, the Greek word orge means wrath; it means anger. Synonyms are indignation and vengeance. Orge is similar in meaning to hema and carries the same understanding. Orge suggests the abiding condition of the mind, frequently with a view to take in revenge. It is less sudden in its lies but more lasting in its nature. Orge expresses active emotion.

So, what is the wrath of God? It is that active emotion embedded in God’s righteousness and love that is reattributed in nature, which leads to the destruction and death of every unrepentant sinner that rebels against God.

Bible Defines Wrath

The Bible provides definitions concerning the wrath of God. In Romans 1, we read: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” “And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” Verses 18, 21, 24, 26, 28.

So, the biblical definition of the wrath of God is that action in which God gives the sinner over to sin and its results.

David prayed for God’s mercy in the hour of His anger. Read what he says in Psalm 6:1: “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.” What a beautiful passage! David is not saying that God should not rebuke him, but that He would please not allow His wrath to come with the rebuke. David knew that to allow God’s wrath to be mixed with it would mean certain death. It must be understood that there is a basic difference, which confuses many Christians. There is a basic difference between God’s retributive judgment, or what we call His wrath, and His rebuke or chastening.

The apostle Paul records for our benefit these words in Hebrews 12:5–11: “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son,” (of course, that is generic and means daughters too) “despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected [us], and we gave [them] reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened [us] after their own pleasure; but he for [our] profit, that [we] might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

Paul evidently was quoting portions of King Solomon’s book, Proverbs 3:11, 12, where the wisest man said: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son [in whom] he delighteth.”


From these passages, we can conclude that God’s chastening and rebuking are messages to provide correction. The word chastening, as used by Paul and Solomon, literally means disciplinary correction—chastisement, destruction, nurture, education, and to train up a child, to teach. This is the meaning of the word chasten as used by Paul and by the wise man Solomon. Therefore, we can say that the chastening and the rebuke of the Lord are designed to bring about change in the sinner’s attitude and behavior. They are designed for character development, not death and destruction. The psalmist confirmed this fact in Psalm 118:18: “The Lord hath chastened me sore.” Ellen White says that God brings His workmen to bitter disappointment: “Christ’s true disciples follow Him through sore conflicts, enduring self-denial and experiencing bitter disappointment.” The Acts of the Apostles, 590. It is a thought about which David is passionate: “The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.” Because His chastisement, His rebuke, is not towards death; it is correction.

This thought is brought out clearly also in these words: “Our sorrows do not spring out of the ground. God ‘doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.’ Lamentations 3:33. When He permits trials and afflictions, it is ‘for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.’ Hebrews 12:10. If received in faith, the trial that seems so bitter and hard to bear will prove a blessing. The cruel blow that blights the joys of earth will be the means of turning our eyes to heaven. How many there are who would never have known Jesus had not sorrow led them to seek comfort in Him!

“The trials of life are God’s workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our character. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only His precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace.” Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 10.

So, the wrath of God or His anger or retributive judgment is totally different. God’s wrath is towards destruction and death. It is not for instruction, nor is it corrective. God’s retributive justice relates to the infliction of penalties. It is an expression of the divine wrath; while, in a sinless world, there would be no place to exercise it, it necessarily holds a very prominent place in a world full of sin. On the whole, the Bible stresses the reward of the righteous more than the punishment of the wicked, but even the latter is sufficiently prominent. Read such verses as Romans 1:22; 2:9; 12:19; 11 Thessalonians 1:8, and many other passages. It should be noted that while man does not merit reward, which he receives, he does merit the punishment, which is meted out to him. Divine justice is originally and necessarily obliged to punish evil, but not to reward good. (See Luke 17:10; 1 Corinthians 4:7; Job 41:11.) Many deny the strict, punitive justice of God and claim that God punishes sinners to reform them or to deter others from sin, but these positions are not tenable.

Does God Kill?

The primary purpose of the punishment of sin is the maintenance of right and justice. Of course, it may incidentally serve and may even secondarily be intended to reform the sinner and to deter others from sin. Having stated that, the question that is now bothering many Seventh-day Adventists and that is dividing the Adventist Church is, Does God kill? Is it in His loving nature to kill or destroy human beings whom He has made in His own image? There are a fraction of Adventists who say that God does not kill, and there are those who say that God does kill. It was the great artist Leonardo da Vinci who said, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

In an attempt to answer this question as to whether or not God kills, I would like to point out that God’s retributive judgment or wrath is based on the amount of knowledge and opportunity to which a person is exposed in order to know God, and what is done with the knowledge and opportunity.

God’s messenger, Ellen White, states: “God will judge all according to the light which has been presented to them, whether it is plain to them or not.” Sketches From the Life of Paul, 87. Whether it is plain or not! So long as it is presented to you and to me, we are responsible. “It is their duty to investigate as did the Bereans. The Lord says through the prophet Hosea: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee.’ [Hosea 4:6.]” Ibid., 87, 88.

Some people stay away from church because they do not want to hear, because they do not want to be responsible. Even taking that position, it means that you know; that is why you stay away.

No Turning

Read of the experience of the Amalekites and God’s wrath that had befallen them: “Samuel also said unto Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint thee [to be] king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember . . .” God does not forget like we do! We do not talk about it, especially when we do not repent. But God says, “I remember. Acknowledge, do not apologize, and take the necessary steps to correct it; we need to talk about it; I will not forget it.” “I remember [that] which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid [wait] for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” 1 Samuel 15:1-3. Everything! Everybody and everything! Wipe them out!

In those ancient times, God ordered people to utterly slay all members of that wicked, unbelieving nation, the Amalekites, including infants and sucklings. Sometimes people wonder why God would order the killing of those innocent little toddlers. They declare that God is unmerciful, that God is wicked. Is He? Did God know that those infants, if preserved, would perpetuate the evils of their parents? As a nation, the Amalekites had closed the door of their probation for themselves and for their children, even for the infants and sucklings.

God’s servant points out that, “Some parents allow Satan to control their children, and their children are not restrained, but are allowed to have wicked tempers, to be passionate, selfish, and disobedient. Should they die these children would not be taken to heaven. The parent’s course of action is determining the future welfare of their children.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 314, 315.

The Amalekites had been the first to make war upon Israel in the wilderness, and for this sin, together with their defiance of God and their debasing idolatry, the Lord, through Moses, had pronounced sentence upon them. By divine direction, the history of their cruelty towards Israel had been recorded with the command, “Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget [it].” Deuteronomy 25:19. God gave them time for 400 years. For 400 years the execution of this sentence had been deferred, but the Amalekites were not turning from their sins. That was the point—to give them time, to give them an opportunity, to give them privileges—but there was no turning.

The Lord knew that this wicked people would, if it were possible, blot His people and His worship from the earth. For each one of us who takes a position against God continually, God knows that if He allows us to continue, we will at some time cause problems for Him and for His people.

The time had come for the sentence so long delayed to be executed. The forbearance that God had exercised toward the wicked embodies men in transgression, but their punishment will be nonetheless certain and terrible for being long delayed.

A Strange Act

Look now to the area that we need to understand: “For the Lord shall rise up as [in] mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as [in] the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” Isaiah 28:21. Note that phrase, “His strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” To our merciful God, the act of punishment is a strange act.

“[As] I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Ezekiel 33:11. The Lord is merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. Yet He will by no means clear the guilty. While He does not delight in vengeance, He will execute judgment upon the transgressors of His law. He is forced to do this to preserve the inhabitants of the earth from utter depravity and ruin. In order to save some, he must cut off those who have become hardened in sin. “The Lord [is] slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit [the wicked].” Nahum 1:3. By terrible things in righteousness, He will vindicate the authority of His downtrodden law.

The very fact of His reluctance to execute justice testifies to the enormity of the sins that call forth His judgment and to the severity of the retribution awaiting the transgressor. No, God does not delight in destroying His creatures, but He will. If we take a path that is a path of rebellion and ongoing stubbornness, God will destroy us. That is a strange act.

Within the experience of the Amalekites, we see the wrath of God that was visited upon them. 1 Samuel 15:1–3 clearly shows that God was the One who ordered the death and destruction of this people. That is the reason why I cannot subscribe or hold to the idea that God does not kill, as some teach.

To be continued . . .

Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.