Passages of Fury

The other day I ran into a guy that corrected me when I happened to say that God calls His people to rejoice when He destroyed their enemies.

He:  “That’s not right!!! We’re to do all things through love and patience and goodness!”

Me: “Did God tell His people to rejoice when He destroyed their enemies?”

He: “… but we’re to love.”

Me: “Let’s open your Bible and look at a few passages.”

He: “..but.. wait – what attitude do you have? That’s being spiteful. That’s not love.”

Me: “Actually, you first need to decide if the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, *then* investigate what attitude to have while we obey. Does God call His people to rejoice when He destroys their enemies? It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, and we have to start there.”

He: “But that’s the OT. We now live under a New Covenant.”

Me: “Not really, but ok, let’s look at some NT passages. Turn to…”

He: “Waitasec – is that the future? Because if that’s the future…”

Me: “For Moses, it was the present. For Joshua, it was the present. For David, it was the present. For Paul, it was the present. Are we sure it should matter whether God is calling us to only think about the future?”

He: “We’ll have to talk about this later, because I don’t.. we’ll have to talk.”

Me: “Ok.”

Although we got a chance to look at a couple of passages, the conversation ended in short order. We never got that 2nd chance to talk, but I’m sure he’ll pull me aside the next opportunity he gets.

Fear of Fury

Perhaps the biggest issue here is that preachers are deathly afraid to touch passages that make God sound unlike the God we’ve “grown to know and love”. Whenever we find passages that don’t portray Him as the always-smiling-genie-in-the-box, we freak out and shove Him out of sight where He can’t be seen or heard. How unfortunate. But the truth is that when we read the Bible for what it says, it not only depicts God as one who is quite capable of wrath and fury, we also read of a God who calls His people to celebrate when He goes after His enemies. We can’t take these passages off the table just because they’re uncomfortable.

(DISCLAIMER – In the Bible, God is always the one doing or leading the vengeance. His people are never to initiate vengeance of their own volition. And yes, several thousand years ago, when He was running His own theocracy on this planet, He would send His human agents to be the means of His vengeance. We do not live in a theocracy, and it is my firm opinion that individual followers of God have no – NONE, ZIP, NADA, NIL, ZERO – instructions from God to be His agents of vengeance in the 21st century.)

Here’s a short list of the Passages of Fury, frequently combined with His people praising Him for His actions.

Moses & Miriam vs Pharaoh’s Armies:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name. “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. (Exod 15:1-5) The song is much longer, of course. It ends with Miriam taking a tambourine and encouraging all to sing praise to God for drowning ‘all those poor soldiers’ so victoriously.

God and His people vs His enemies:

Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’ For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free. …
“‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven and swear, As I live forever, if I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and will repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh– with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired heads of the enemy.’ ”
Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.”
Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun.
(Deut 32:35-36; 39-44)
Yes, God is the one doing all the speaking here, but note 3 things:
1) It’s a song, meaning they were to sing it. (Do we have any songs like this in our churches?)
2) His people are told to rejoice when God does this.
3) Lest we think this is a weird OT passage, hang on and check out the Romans 12 passage below.

Nehemiah vs Jews who intermarried foreign people who wouldn’t assimilate into Jewish culture:

In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” (Neh 13:23-27)

God’s people vs the people that get judged:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Ps 96:11-13)
Does that sound anything like Deut 32? It should.

Godly people vs all other people:

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the Lord! (Ps 149:3-9)

God’s people vs the wicked Assyrians:

And 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. The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. And every stroke of the appointed staff that the Lord lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them. For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it. (Isa 30:30-33)

And lest we erroneously think all this ‘fury’ stuff is strictly an OT thing…

Jesus vs temple money changers:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (John 2:13-16)

Ephesian Christians vs occultic books/materials:

And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (Acts 19:17-20) 
Can you imagine what would have happened if there were Muslims around, watching people glorify God while burning books?

Paul vs high priest:

And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” (Acts 23:2-3)
I have to confess I don’t understand Paul’s response here when compared with his response 2 verses later, but that response doesn’t negate that he thought it perfectly appropriate to say this to a peer that said something wrong about him.

Paul and Christians vs wicked people:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:19-21, )
This passage is frequently so badly interpreted, it’s beyond sad. Paul is NOT teaching us New Testament saints that we should be kind to people so they’ll be emotionally grieved and repent. NO WAY! Paul is quoting Deut 32 here (specifically verses 35, 40-42 – but read the whole chapter)! There is nothing emotional about this OT promise of God. It’s all literal. Paul is hoping for their eternal damnation, and giving his readers ways in which they can “add salt” (to quote Jesus) to their day of torment – aka “heap burning coals on their heads”. If Paul wanted their salvation, why on earth did he quote Deut 32?!!? Note that the author of Hebrews quotes this same line from Deut 32, saying that it’s a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Paul vs those who don’t love Jesus:

If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema! Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (1Cor 16:22-23)
As we all know, “Maranatha” means “Lord come!”. And when the Lord comes, it’s judgment time. See all the previous verses about the Lord coming in judgment. Paul is wishing this on people who don’t love Christ.

Paul vs hypocrite Christians:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:11-14)

Christ and His people vs those who don’t know God and don’t obey the Gospel:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering- since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2Thess 1:5-10)

Timothy vs persistent sinning Christians:

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1Tim 5:20)
No, this doesn’t rise to the level of “vengeance”, but it is a passage that contains quite a bit more hostility than we might think is appropriate for a modern church.

Heavenly saints vs wicked on the earth:

(Angel speaking…) Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; …
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.”
(Rev 18:20-21; 19:1-5) Note that the ones engaged in rejoicing (or calling others to rejoice) are in heaven where there is no sin. By implication, that means it absolutely cannot be wrong for a person to rejoice when God metes out judgment.

Again – this is a small list. Note how frequently the people of God are praising Him in the midst of His holy actions.

There are plenty more.

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2 comments to Passages of Fury

  • This is a really interesting topic to me, and I agree with your thoughts. The “heap burning coals on the head” topic was one that I had never thought much about until I read your comments. I started looking for other verses that dealt with burning coals from above, or anything for that matter that was burning and coming down from above and inevitably targeting a person’s head(s). Psalms 140:10 says, “May burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise.” Psalms 11:6 says, “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.” Genesis 19:24 says, Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah–from the LORD out of the heavens. There are quite a few more and the intent of whatever is burning, when it comes from above is always done within the scope of punishment, never therapeutic comforting, ever.

    • Admin

      Kinda makes you wonder why so many people preach the NT passages so differently than the way the OT passages were preached – even when the NT guys are quoting the OT guys.

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