A good understanding of God requires a balanced understanding of his character, including the fundamental attribute of holiness. To obtain such an understanding, we must “take to heart” all aspects of his character. As well as the many characteristics that we find consoling, we also need to appreciate those that inspire godly fear.
- God is holy
- There is nothing bad in God – and he cannot tolerate evil
- There is no one holy like God
- God shows himself to be holy by what he does
- Places where God dwells are also holy . . .
- . . . and God only dwells with those who are holy
- Things of God are likewise holy
- Note: God and his ways are perfect
God’s holiness involves his moral purity. It concerns God’s separateness from and his intolerance of that which is morally impure. Holiness is basic to the other characteristics that follow in the first half of this chapter.
d Or may his glory fill the whole earth
The threefold cry of “holy” (cf. Rev 4:8 ↓) emphasizes God’s perfect holiness.
Rev 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” ▤
Similarly, in Habakkuk 1:12 the prophet calls God “my Holy One”.
John 17:11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. ▤
- . . . and God only dwells with those who are holy
- . . . God does no wrong
- Sin is hated by God
- God turns away from those who persist in sin . . .
- . . . God rejects them and thrusts them from his presence
As is often the case in the Bible, “light” here is a metaphor for holiness and truth, while “darkness” represents evil and falseness.
The fact that God will not allow the wicked to be associated with him illustrates that he cannot tolerate them.
Because God is holy he cannot do such things as stand evil and tolerate wrongdoing.
God’s holiness means that he will not tolerate apostasy – “rebellion” (NIV®, NKJV, NLT; cf. CEV, NCV).
God does no wrong and correspondingly he does not “tolerate” (NLT, GNT) such things as “injustice… or partiality or… bribes”.
- God cannot be tempted by evil:
In addition to the fact that God cannot be tempted by evil, note that the last clause points out that neither does God tempt anyone to do evil.
e Greek angel of the waters
This suggests that God is the “Holy One” – the only one who is perfectly holy.
- There is no one good like God:
Here “good” is a reference to perfection, including being sinless.
- God’s judgment reveals his holiness
- God’s saving of his people shows God’s holiness and righteousness . . .
Isa 5:15-16 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughtyf are brought low. 16But the Lord of hosts is exaltedg in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. ▤
f Hebrew high
g Hebrew high
God would show himself to be holy (v. 16) by his righteous judgment on evil doers (v. 15).
God’s holiness would be recognized in his restoration of his people, fulfilling his promises and proving his faithfulness and righteousness. Consequently the people would “sanctify” God, i.e. acknowledge his holiness and relate to him accordingly.
Ezek 36:22-26 Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. ▤
God’s name had been disgraced when Israel, his people, had been conquered and dispersed throughout the nations. Israel’s rebellion – the reason for its exile – had also very much contributed to the dishonoring of God. So God would take action to demonstrate his holiness, by re-gathering and cleansing his people (vv. 24-26; cf. Ezek 39:25, 27 ↓).
Ezek 39:25-27 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. 26They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, 27when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. ▤
Luke 1:46-49 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. ▤
This may well be implying that God’s holiness was apparent in the great blessing he had bestowed upon his “humble… servant” (v. 48), Mary.
Ps 18:25-26 With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; 26with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. ▤
- God’s way is holy:
Places must be holy for God in his holiness to dwell in them. God is primarily spoken of as dwelling in: heaven; places containing the Ark of the Covenant (cf. comment on Ex 26:33 ↓); and his people (as reflected in the following subsection).
Isa 57:15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. ▤
The tabernacle, a tent-like structure, preceded the temple as the centre of worship of God. In the tabernacle and later in the temple was a section called “the Holy Place”, which had an inner section called “the Most Holy” or “the Most Holy Place”. In the latter was the Ark of the Covenant, which signified God’s very presence (cf. The Ark of the Covenant and God’s Presence). It was the reason why the places in which it was contained were deemed holy places. In fact, even places where the Ark had been were considered holy: “…the places to which the ark of the Lord has come are holy” (2Chr 8:11).
Just as the temple was holy because it contained the Ark of the Covenant which signified God’s presence, in turn Jerusalem was considered holy as within it was the temple and so God’s presence. Note that “Zion”, God’s “holy mountain”, originally denoted the mountain or hill in Jerusalem on which the temple was built. It was later used to refer to the whole of Jerusalem.
Rev 21:2-3 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling placeh of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,i and God himself will be with them as their God.j ▤
h Or tabernacle
i Some manuscripts peoples
j Some manuscripts omit as their God
The holy city known as the new Jerusalem (v. 2) is where God will dwell, with his people (v. 3) throughout eternity.
Ex 3:2-6 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. ▤
God’s presence in the burning bush meant that the ground before it was holy.
- Because God is holy, his people must be holy – which included avoiding uncleanness
- Uncleanness would defile God’s dwelling place amidst his people – and so required isolation and cleansing
- God turns away from those who persist in sin . . .
- . . . God rejects them and thrusts them from his presence
- The godly, blameless and pure are accepted by God and Jesus Christ
Ezek 37:27-28 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore. ▤
The term “sanctify” basically means to make holy. This passage and Ephesians 2:21-22 below demonstrate that God dwells with those who are holy and it can be inferred from these passages that he only dwells with those who are holy.
k Or in
Here the church, God’s people, is described as “a holy temple” (v. 21) – “a dwelling place for God” (v. 22).
Verse 2 effectively describes one who is holy (cf. Ps 24:4 ↓; Heb 10:22 ↓). As God only dwells with those who are holy, only those who are holy can dwell with or approach him (cf. Ps 24:3-4 ↓; Heb 10:19-22 ↓) – or see him (cf. Heb 12:14 ↓; Matt 5:8 ↓).
Ps 24:3-4 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. ▤
Heb 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers,l since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. ▤
l Or brothers and sisters
Note that here “Lord” may be referring to God rather than to Jesus Christ. The implication here and in Matthew 5:8 immediately below is that only those who are holy will see God (and Jesus Christ) and dwell with him in the afterlife.
- The Israelite soldiers’ camps had to be kept holy so that God would not turn away from them:
Deut 23:14 Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you. ▤
- The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God . . .
- God’s word is holy, righteous and good
- Being God’s, the church is holy
All things belong to God, but not all things are holy. However, things that are his in a more exclusive or dedicated sense are holy.
God’s “holy arm” denotes his “holy power” (GNT, NCV, NLT).
As shown earlier, heaven (cf. Ps 20:6 ↓) and God’s temple are holy due to his presence. They are holy also because they belong to him.
Note that Jeremiah is speaking of being overcome by the Lord and his holy words against the false prophets.
Dan 9:16 O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. ▤
The people of God – “his treasured possession” – are holy.
Lev 27:9, 14-15, 28 If the vowm is an animal that may be offered as an offering to the Lord, all of it that he gives to the Lord is holy. ▤ … 14“When a man dedicates his house as a holy gift to the Lord, the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15And if the donor wishes to redeem his house, he shall add a fifth to the valuation price, and it shall be his. ▤ … 28“But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the Lord, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. ▤
m Hebrew it
Things given to God become holy. In the OT this included things dedicated to him – which could be redeemed or bought back (vv. 14b-15) – and particularly things devoted to him (cf. text note) – which could not be redeemed, being deemed “most holy to the Lord” (v. 28).
- God’s Holy Spirit:
In Leviticus 19:2b God says: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus’ statement here is based on this, with “perfect” being used in place of “holy”.
n Or blameless
o Greek age
p Or what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God
God’s works being perfect reflect that his ways are perfect. The same applies to his law being perfect, as stated in Psalms 19:7a below.
q Or hoverings
r Or blameless
Similarly, James refers to “the perfect law” (James 1:25).
Isa 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. ▤
In keeping with his ways being perfect, God’s ways are infinitely better than our ways.
- God has excellence:
s Or by
t Or virtue
- God is righteous
- God is just
- God’s righteousness and justice are great – and everlasting
- God’s ways are right and just . . .
- . . . Examples of God’s righteous and just ways
- All God does is right and just . . .
- . . . God does no wrong
- God is truthful
- God does not show favoritism
- Note: God loves righteousness and justice
The heavens are depicted as witnesses to God’s righteousness – possibly because they have been present during his righteous acts as judge.
Justice ultimately comes from God, who therefore should be the focus of one’s petitions for justice.
u Hebrew high
Isa 28:5-6 In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,v and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people, 6and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate. ▤
v The Hebrew words for glory and hosts sound alike
The first clause in v. 6 speaks of God leading judges to make decisions justly (cf. GNT, NCV, NIrV, NLT).
w Or for teaching; also verse 7
The last clause suggests that God’s justice will become a “guiding light” (NIrV®) to the nations, possibly in part due to the prevalence of God’s aforementioned law. Additionally, God’s salvation (cf. v. 5) may be in view as securing the nations’ welfare, turning the darkness of their circumstances to light.
Gen 18:25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? ▤
Here Abraham points out that injustice is outside of the sphere of God’s actions.
- God guards the paths of justice:
The greatness of God’s righteousness is paralleled with the greatness of the awesome mountains that he has created.
x Or more than; twice in this verse
Particularly if the rendering in the text note is taken (cf. NIV), this indicates that God’s righteousness surpasses that of all others.
This indicates that God’s righteousness – and justice (cf. NKJV, NRSV) – is abundant.
Isa 51:6, 8 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;y but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed. ▤ … 8For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations. ▤
y Or will die like gnats
God’s righteousness is associated with his salvation, for in bringing salvation God is doing what is right (cf. NCV).
Hos 14:9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. ▤
Rev 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servantz of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!a ▤
z Greek bondservant
a Some manuscripts the ages
Ps 85:10-13 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 12Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way. ▤
This attests to God’s righteousness – along with his love and faithfulness – in his dealings with his people.
At the start of v. 8, “they” may refer to God’s works (v. 7a) – the things he does – or alternatively his precepts (v. 7b).
Jer 9:24 … but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. ▤
God states that he will make justice and righteousness the standards by which he will judge the evil doers in view here.
“My righteousness draws near,” means that God will soon show his righteousness by what he does – here in bringing salvation and judgment/justice.
Rom 3:25 … [Jesus Christ] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. ▤
In the NT “propitiation” means to turn away or appease the wrath of God against sinners in their guilt. The second sentence means that God’s justice requires that sins be dealt with – with the implication that sins committed under the old covenant were not satisfactorily dealt with, and could not remain as such. God dealt with them through Jesus Christ, thus showing his righteousness.
2Chr 12:5-6 Then Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam and to the princes of Judah, who had gathered at Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, ‘You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak.’” 6Then the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, “The Lord is righteous.” ▤
God is shown to be just even in his punishment of people (cf. Neh 9:33 ⇓).
Dan 9:14, 16 Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. ▤ … 16“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. ▤
In v. 16a, “all your righteous acts” (cf. 1Sam 12:7 ↓) does not necessarily mean that all of God’s acts are righteous, but particularly in light of v. 14 saying, “God is righteous in everything he does”, it does suggest this.
In all that God had caused to happen to the Israelites, he had been just (cf. CEV, NLT).
This implies that God definitely does not do such things.
Job 34:10, 12 Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. ▤ … 12Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. ▤
God “will have no part in” (NASB) nor “tolerate” (NLT, GNT) such things as “injustice… or partiality or… bribes”.
- It is impossible for God to do wrong:
This illustrates that it is impossible for God to do wrong, for him to do anything incompatible with his holiness.
Isa 45:19, 23 I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’b I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. ▤ … 23By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’c ▤
b Hebrew in emptiness
c Septuagint every tongue shall confess to God
The use here of “truth” quite possibly alludes to God’s promises to his people and his faithfulness to his promises.
Isa 65:16 So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes. ▤
As “the God of truth” God will fulfill his promises and will carry out what he has stated he will do. This verse appears to imply that when all this has come to fruition, God’s truthfulness in fulfilling his word will be reflected by people who invoke a blessing or take an oath doing so by “the God of truth”, in order to emphasize the truthfulness of what they have said. (cf. BBC)
In saying that God is “true” (cf. 7:28) Jesus could well be implying that God is truthful (cf. CEV, GNT, NIV). Alternatively, he may be meaning that God is real – the true God – and/or that God is faithful. Note that Jesus refers here to his testimony of what he had seen and heard from God (cf. vv. 31-32).
God will remain true and faithful (cf. v. 3) even if or when every person is false. The contrast with men being liars implies that God is always truthful. Paul may be using the subsequent quotation to show that God is justified in what he says and does (in particular in his judgments) or possibly that he is faithful to his word, carrying out threatened judgment for sin.
d Greek Lord
Job 34:17b-19 Will you condemn him who is righteous and mighty, 18who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’ and to nobles, ‘Wicked man,’ 19who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands? ▤
e Or The might of the King loves justice
f Or robbery with a burnt offering
Jer 9:24 … but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. ▤
- God is displeased when there is no justice:
Isa 59:14-15 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. 15Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased himg that there was no justice. ▤
g Hebrew and it was evil in his eyes
Ps 40:10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. ▤
Ps 89:8, 14 O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? ▤ … 14Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. ▤
Verse 7a means that God is “faithful and right in everything he does” (NIrV®; cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NLT). As noted earlier, “they” (v. 8) may refer to God’s works (v. 7a) – i.e. the things he had done in saving and caring for Israel – or to his precepts (v. 7b).
- God is true:
As noted earlier regarding John 3:33, the description of God as being “true” could have in view one or more of the following: God is faithful; God is truthful (cf. CEV, GNT); and/or God is real, the true God.
h Syriac, Targum; Hebrew Because of the steadfast love of the Lord, we are not cut off
Gen 32:10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. ▤
This appears to be implying that God’s faithfulness is “as enduring as the heavens” (NLT; cf. CEV, GNT, NCV) – i.e. that it is “unchangeable and perpetual” (AMP).
Ps 89:30-33 If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules,i 31if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, 32then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, 33but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. ▤
i Or my just decrees
j Septuagint; Hebrew me
Isa 42:16 And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. ▤
k Hebrew their land
1Chr 28:20 Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. ▤
David promised Solomon that God would not fail or forsake him throughout all the work in building the temple.
- God does not fail his people:
The reference appears to be in particular to God not failing to bring forth his justice.
- God is truthful
- God does not change his purposes and plans . . .
- . . . though God may have reason to alter something he did – or relent from something he proposed
- So, God was faithful to his covenants and promises with Abraham and Israel
- God fulfills his promises through Jesus Christ . . .
- God faithfully keeps his promises to his people
l Greek before times eternal
Although not specifically stated, this and 2 Samuel 7:28 immediately below imply that God, “who never lies”, will keep the promises referred to.
m These two lines are supplied by one Hebrew manuscript, Septuagint, Syriac (compare Dead Sea Scroll)
As well as keeping promises regarding blessings, God does not change his mind and take back his words regarding promised judgments (cf. Jer 4:28 ↓).
Heb 6:17-18 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. ▤
God’s promise and oath (v. 17) are “two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie”.
- The Lord is not slow to keep his promises:
2Pet 3:8-9 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,n not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ▤
n Some manuscripts on your account
- God’s anger and its consequences are awesome . . .
- . . . This has been and will be evident upon all nations and the whole earth
- God’s anger cannot be quenched
- God’s anger cannot be withstood
- God is slow to anger and often holds it back
- God does not stay angry
- God’s anger arises in response to sin and disobedience
- God’s anger arises in response to people forsaking him
- Other things that arouse God’s anger
Although we usually view anger in a negative light, this is not how the Bible depicts God’s anger, or wrath. God’s anger is always justified and righteous, consistent with his holiness. Moreover, it arises in response to that which is contrary to his holiness. Unlike human anger, God’s anger is never uncontrolled, wayward or spasmodic – and is tempered by his mercy, notably where his own people are concerned.
Ps 18:7-8, 15 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. 8Smoke went up from his nostrils,o and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. ▤ … 15Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. ▤
o Or in his wrath
Verse 8 poetically portrays God’s readiness to potently express his anger (cf. text note), consuming his enemies. Verse 15 may have in view God’s devastation of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea.
Isa 5:25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. ▤
The Lord’s anger burned against his people because they had rejected his law and spurned his word (cf. v. 24).
Jer 21:5-6 I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. 6And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence. ▤
Jer 33:4-5 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defense against the siege mounds and against the sword: 5They are coming in to fight against the Chaldeans and to fill themp with the dead bodies of men whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their evil. ▤
p That is, the torn-down houses
The Hebrew in parts is not clear, but it is clear that there would be numerous dead bodies of men struck down due to God’s anger and wrath.
Jer 50:25-26 The Lord has opened his armory and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord God of hosts has a work to do in the land of the Chaldeans. 26Come against her from every quarter; open her granaries; pile her up like heaps of grain, and devote her to destruction; let nothing be left of her. ▤
Lam 2:1-4 How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud! He has cast down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger. 2The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers. 3He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around. 4He has bent his bow like an enemy, with his right hand set like a foe; and he has killed all who were delightful in our eyes in the tent of the daughter of Zion; he has poured out his fury like fire. ▤
Rev 14:9-10 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. ▤
More so than the surrounding subsections, metaphorical or figurative language features prominently in this subsection. There are also a number of references that are generally understood to be eschatological (e.g. Isa 34:2-3; 63:3, 6; 66:15-16; Zeph 3:8; Rev 14:17-20).
Isa 13:9, 13 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. ▤ … 13Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. ▤
Isa 30:27-28, 30 Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;q his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire; 28his breath is like an overflowing stream that reaches up to the neck; to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction, and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads astray. ▤ … 30And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones. ▤
q Hebrew in weight of uplifted clouds
The final illustration in v. 28 implies that God leads the nations “off to their destruction” (NLT, cf. CEV).
Isa 34:2-3 For the Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; he has devoted them to destruction,r has given them over for slaughter. 3Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. ▤
r That is, set apart (devoted) as an offering to the Lord (for destruction); also verse 5
Isa 63:3, 6 “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifebloods spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. ▤ … 6I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” ▤
s Or their juice; also verse 6
Isa 66:15-16 For behold, the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many. ▤
Jer 4:23-26 I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. ▤
Jer 25:15-16 Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” ▤
Ezek 38:18-20 But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord God, my wrath will be roused in my anger. 19For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. 20The fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all the people who are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence. And the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. ▤
The final statement – in view of the preceding one – may well be referring to the effect on the whole earth rather than just in Israel.
Zeph 3:8 “Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. ▤
Rev 14:17-20 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.t ▤
t About 184 miles; a stadion was about 607 feet or 185 meters
This is quite possibly speaking of the final judgment, although some suggest that end-time judgments preceding Jesus Christ’s return may be in view.
- God regularly feels indignation:
2Ki 22:17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. ▤
Jer 7:20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched. ▤
Jer 21:12 O house of David! Thus says the Lord: “‘Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds.’” ▤
Jer 17:4 You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever. ▤
Note that “burn forever” may be hyperbole, indicating that God’s anger would burn against Judah until that generation had been destroyed.
- . . . and irresistible [Characteristics of God’s Judicial Retribution]
Nah 1:5-6 The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. 6Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. ▤
The final statement reinforces the implication of the preceding rhetorical questions, i.e. God’s anger cannot be withstood or endured.
Rev 6:15-17 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slaveu and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” ▤
u Or servant; Greek bondservant
This speaks of the day of God’s judgment, with the manifestation of his wrath.
- God’s anger does not relent until he fully accomplishes his purposes:
Ex 34:6-7 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7keeping steadfast love for thousands,v forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” ▤
v Or to the thousandth generation
This description of God is often quoted in some form throughout the OT (cf. Num 14:18 ↓; Nah 1:3 ↓). The phrase “slow to anger” occurs nine times in the ESV. Note that v. 7b appears to mean that the ongoing effects of severe punishment would still be felt by future generations. Some commentators think that it also alludes to the sin itself filtering through to later generations, and so being accompanied by appropriate punishment – although this would not apply to any repentant children.
Num 14:18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ ▤
The latter part of the verse suggests that, in accordance with restraining or holding back his anger, God is generally reluctant to express it to its full extent.
Here “defer” may have the sense of “restrain” (NKJV, NRSV; cf. NLT).
Hos 11:8-9 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.w ▤
w Or into the city
- God is always acting justly when he expresses his wrath:
Rom 3:5-6 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6By no means! For then how could God judge the world? ▤
Note that v. 10 suggests that God’s people do not suffer the full extent of God’s anger.
x Or and in his favor is life
y The Hebrew for you is singular in verse 1
The reference is to God’s fury.
- God’s jealousy arises in response to his people’s sin
- God’s jealousy arises particularly in response to unfaithfulness
- Sin makes one subject to God’s wrath
- God’s wrath against sinners is manifested in punishment
1Ki 16:2 Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, … ▤
2Ki 17:11b, 17-18 And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, ▤ … 17And they burned their sons and their daughters as offeringsz and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 18Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only. ▤
z Or made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire
2Ki 22:13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” ▤
Isa 5:24-25a Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 25Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. ▤
Isa 42:24-25 Who gave up Jacob to the looter, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey? 25So he poured on him the heat of his anger and the might of battle; it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand; it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart. ▤
a Or in your ways is continuance, that we might be saved
God’s anger was due to the people’s sin.
Mic 7:9 I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. ▤
Those who stubbornly do not repentant of sin and disobedience will experience the ultimate expression of God’s wrath on the final judgment day.
Eph 5:5-6 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. ▤
The phrase “because of these things” is here referring to the sinful characteristics listed in v. 5, rather than the “empty words” (v. 6) that excuse them (although it is applicable to the latter).
Heb 3:8-10, 17 … do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ ▤ … 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? ▤
Verses 8-9 speak of the people hardening themselves and rebelling against God, testing his patience. As such they went astray from God’s ways (v. 10), and so sinned (v. 17). The final clause in v. 10 refers to a willful ignorance of God’s ways; they had not “understood” (NCV™, cf. CEV) them, although they had had ample opportunity. The result of the people’s sinfulness was that God “was provoked” to anger.
Deut 29:24-26 … all the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ 25Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, 26and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. ▤
Judg 2:12-14a, 19-20a And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. ▤ … 19But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, … ▤
Judg 10:6-7 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. 7So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, … ▤
- God’s anger arises in response to acts of unfaithfulness to him:
Josh 7:1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel. ▤
Although it would appear to be not as serious as being unfaithful to the point of actually turning away from God (as in the above passages), acting unfaithfully to God in regard to any matter can arouse his anger, as was the case here.
Num 11:1 And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. ▤
Num 32:10-11 And the Lord’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, 11‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, … ▤
Ps 2:2, 5 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ▤ … 5Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, … ▤
Those who oppose God face his anger.
Ps 78:21-22 Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, 22because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power. ▤
b Or contentious
- God’s wrath remains on whoever disobeys Jesus Christ:
Because of their sin every person is under God’s wrath. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are saved from God’s wrath, but those who do not believe and disobey the Son remain under it.