The Wrath of Man

Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.
(Psalm 76:10 ESV)

In the book of 2 Kings, chapters 18 and 19, we read of an event which took place in Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah. Sennacherib king of Assyria fought against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. When he set his sights on destroying Jerusalem, Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib by giving him silver and gold which he took from the house of the Lord. Sennacherib was not deterred by the gift and sent an envoy with a message for Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem.

The envoy touted the people of Jerusalem in an effort to get them to surrender and make peace with the king of Assyria. They even said that the Lord had sent them to come to Jerusalem to destroy the city; which may have had validity as we will see later. They also sought to undermine Hezekiah’s integrity by saying that he was misleading the people by telling them that God would deliver them.

Using their many accomplishments as a tool to discourage the people, the envoy mocked God by saying, Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? (2 Kings 18:33-35 ESV)

When Hezekiah heard the words sent by Sennacherib he sent his own envoy to Isaiah the prophet who responded; Say to your master, Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land. (2 Kings 19:6-7 ESV)

Again Sennacherib sends messengers to Hezekiah saying, Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. (2 Kings 19:10 ESV) Now, not only has Sennacherib called Hezekiah’s integrity into question he has also accused God of deceiving Hezekiah with false promises. Hezekiah goes to prayer and God responds through the prophet Isaiah.

In God’s response through Isaiah he brings to mind that Sennacherib has bragged of his victories over other nations. However, God assures Hezekiah that it was he that determined long ago that Sennacherib would have such military success (2 Kings 19:25-26 ESV). And because Sennacherib had raged against him, he would send him back to Assyria. That night an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib returned home and was later killed by two of his sons as he worshiped in the house of Nisroch his god.

God planned Sennacherib’s military success (2 Kings 19:25 ESV). Even Sennacherib said through his envoy that it was not without the Lord that he came against Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:25 ESV). God gave Sennacherib the power to subdue all the nations with which he fought. The gods of the nations were not able to deliver their worshipers from the hand of Sennacherib. Only the God of Israel was able to defeat Sennacherib. It was none other than God who put a spirit in Sennacherib that caused him to leave Jerusalem and return home. Why did God plan Sennacherib’s success and demise? The answer may be found in the words of Hezekiah’s prayer; . . . that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone (2 Kings 19:19 ESV).

The wrath of Sennacherib and his evil intentions toward Jerusalem were thwarted by God to prove that God is more powerful than any other so-called gods (Psalm 86:8 ESV), that it is God’s plans and counsel that stand (Psalm 33:10-11 ESV), that God sovereignly rules over the nations (Psalm 103:19 ESV), and that God alone is to be worshiped and feared among the peoples (Psalm 76:7 ESV). I believe Asaph had this in mind when he wrote; The wrath of man shall praise you…

Another example of how the wrath of man leads to the praise of God is found in God’s dealing with Pharaoh King of Egypt. After God had performed the sixth plague upon Egypt he told Moses to tell Pharaoh, For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go. (Exodus 9:14-17 ESV).

One way that the wrath of Pharaoh led to the praise of God is that God triumphed over the plans of Pharaoh. Albert Barnes wrote, “It is not that there was anything in the wrath itself, or in their plans or intentions, that was in itself “adapted” to honor God; but that it was overruled by him, so that he took “occasion” from it to display his own character.” God raised Pharaoh to power for three specific purposes; so that Pharaoh would know that there was none like God in all the earth, to show Pharaoh his power, and so that God’s name would be proclaimed in all the earth. God told Pharaoh that he could have already cut him off from the earth. However, God created Pharaoh and used Pharaoh’s wrath and evil deeds for the purpose of displaying his own character and attributes; his glory.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7 KJV) The Hebrew word for create used in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 1:1; In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In fact, the word is used throughout the creation narrative. The Hebrew word for evil used in this passage is also the word used for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9), and of the wicked (evil) men of Sodom (Genesis 13:13). It is also used in Psalm 34:14 (ESV) which says,Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

We gasp at the thought that God creates or ordains evil. However, scripture tells us that God created all things (John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 2:10). The Apostle Paul wrote, For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16 ESV) Proverbs 16:4 says, The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. (KJV) God has created all things, even the wicked, for his purposes and for his praise.

The Hebrew word for evil used in Isaiah 45:7 and Proverbs 16:4 is ra`a` which means bad or (as noun) evil (natural or moral) : adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, exceedingly great grief, harm, heavy, misery, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked, wretchedness, and wrong. To choose to believe that God does not create evil leaves us without the hope of Romans 8:28 (ESV); And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. If God does not have sovereign control over the circumstances (evil) in our lives what hope do we have that he can turn them or use them for our good?

Though God creates or ordains evil the scriptures never say that God does evil. God is neither to be blamed for evil nor his holiness brought into question. Evil is perpetrated by the willing choices of evil men who are held accountable for their evil deeds. Barnes also wrote, “It is certain, also, that the fact that God overrules the wrath of people does not justify that wrath. The purposes of people are, like the pestilence and the storm, what they are in themselves; and the nature of their conduct is not affected by any use that God may make of it. People must be judged according to their own deeds, not for what God does through their wickedness.”

Jesus’ own words attest to the fact that God ordains evil yet holds man accountable for his willing choices. We read in Luke 22:22, For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! Concerning evil Jesus said, Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Matthew 18:7 ESV)

In speaking about God’s dealing with Pharaoh, Paul anticipated the question; “How can God find fault with man if it was indeed himself that created the evil?” His answer is; You will say to me then, Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, Why have you made me like this? Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory… (Romans 9:19-23 ESV)

Does a potter place a lump of clay on the wheel and let it decide what it wants to be? Absolutely not! The potter forms the clay according to his will and purpose. So, God created (like a potter does with clay) vessels of wrath to make known the riches of his glory; using the evil of men to display his mercy.

To say that God does not use evil to display his glory leaves us with a dilemma. Wayne Grudem writes in Systematic Theology, “…if we maintain that God does not use evil to fulfill his purposes, then we would have to admit that there is evil in the universe that God did not intend, is not under his control, and might not fulfill his purposes. If evil came into the world in spite of the fact that God did not intend it and did not want it to be there, then what guarantee do we have that there will not be more and more evil that he does not intend and that he does not want? And what guarantee do we have that he will be able to use it for his purposes, or even that he can triumph over it?”

In the second Psalm the psalmist wrote that God has set his King (his Son) in power and it is he who rules over the rage of the nations (Psalm 2:6-9). God’s rule and reign over the rage of the nations is a source of thanksgiving for the twenty-four elders when they heard the words, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15-18). Such a proclamation gives us great comfort in knowing that regardless of how wicked man becomes, God has sovereign control. And should we suffer at the hands of wicked man, we know that God will triumph unto his glory; that our suffering will lead to his praise.

Psalm 2 begins, Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. (Psalm 2:1, 4 ESV) Again in the Psalms we read, The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11 ESV) Our world is full of the wrath of man. Nation wars against nation and civil wars abound. Rulers make great boasts about their military might and ally themselves with like minded rulers. God is not moved, his plans do not change. All of the rage of the nations and the plotting of the rulers exist for this purpose; to fulfill the plan of the Almighty God to exalt his name above every name and to be made much of among the nations.