In my first post about divine wrath (Sept. 11, 2015) I suggested that God’s chastisement of people, though painful and often even involving death, always serves a redemptive purpose, such as rebuke, discipline, and purification. Such ends are valuable for prodding people to greater virtue. And since to love is to be interested in a person’s growth in virtue, it makes sense to say that divine wrath is consistent with perfect love.
Now there are some distinctions to be made that are potentially helpful in analyzing and categorizing particular instances of chastisement. Thus, we may distinguish between direct and indirect wrath. By “direct” divine wrath I mean those cases where God immediately causes death or suffering, whereas in cases of “indirect” wrath God uses some other agency, whether human, animal, or angelic. Biblical examples of each of these categories are plentiful. Beginning with instances of indirect wrath, we find plenty of wrathful deployments of human beings, such as God’s use of the Israelite army to bring “vengeance” on the Midianites in Numbers 31. Similar instances are to be found throughout the Old Testament and God explicitly declares as much in such passages as Isaiah 10:5 (“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”) and Ezekiel 25:14 (“’I will take vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they will deal with Edom in accordance with my anger and my wrath; they will know my vengeance,’ declares the Sovereign LORD.”)
As for divine use of animals to execute wrath, here is one memorable example:
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-24)
Another case is where the Lord struck the Israelites with venomous snakes in response to their grumbling and complaining during their desert wanderings (see Numbers 21:6).
And as for third category of indirect wrath, where God uses angelic beings to execute his wrath, biblical instances include Exodus 33:2 where God promises to “send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites” and 2 Sam. 24:15-17, where the angel of the Lord strikes the Israelites.
Possibly the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is an instance of divine deputizing of angels, as regarding the city of Sodom the angels declared to Lot, “we are going to destroy this place” (Gen. 19:13). There are also references to God’s use of a “destroying angel” to execute judgment in such passages as 1 Chron. 21:15, Ps. 78:49, and 1 Cor. 10:10.
As for cases of direct divine wrath, apparent examples include the worldwide flood (Gen. 6-9), the Egyptian plagues (Exod. 7-12), the plague on Israel because of their golden calf idol (Exod. 32:35), and the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). I say guardedly that these are “apparent” cases of direct divine wrath because it is possible that God deployed some deputy agency as well to bring these chastisements, though the texts do not inform us of this. This possibility seems evident in the fact that many of the aforementioned cases of indirect wrath are referred to elsewhere in Scripture (and among extra-biblical writers) simply as cases of divine chastisement without any mention of the secondary finite agencies involved. If it makes sense to refer to these cases in such terms, then it is conceivable that all divine wrath is similarly executed through secondary causes.