Wrath and the Rod
No matter what the issue may be there are almost always at least two extremes to which one may go, either of which is wrong. This is true, for example, when it comes to anger. In an article entitled “What to Do with Your Anger,” Margaret Johnston Hess describes one of these extremes:
A hardworking, middle-class father brooded for months over his 19-year-old daughter’s insistence on living in a downtown apartment rather than in the attractive suburban home he had worked so hard to provide for his family. He felt she was getting in with the wrong crowd. His fury mounted till one night he took a gun and went to her apartment determined to bring her home. When he found her sleeping in a room with three young men, one of them in bed with her, he shot at the boy nearest her and instead killed his daughter.
In agony of remorse, he turned himself in immediately to the police. He had expressed his anger56
On the surface, it would seem that the problem with this father was that he had expressed his anger. I would be inclined to view the matter differently, however. believe this father made his fundamental mistake before the incident in his daughter’s apartment in that he had tried to suppress his anger rather than express it by taking appropriate action before his anger got out of control.
Margaret Johnston Hess provides us with an excellent illustration of the danger of suppressing anger when she writes,
Near a town in the state of Washington, millions of gallons of radioactive atomic wastes are being stored in huge underground tanks. The tanks have a life expectancy of 22 or 30 years. The wastes within them will remain deadly for about 600 years.57
Those who attempt to suppress anger, rather than to express it in a righteous way, find that their anger, like the atomic wastes mentioned above, cannot be contained.
While some Christians have difficulties controlling their tempers, many of the rest of us err by suppressing our anger, perhaps even to the point of denying it exists. This hidden anger has a way of eventually erupting, often doing a great deal of damage to our relationships.
If the expression of anger has become a taboo in Christian circles, it is especially condemned in the disciplining of our children. Repeatedly we are told, “Never discipline your child in anger!” I would like to suggest that while much of the discipline which is carried out in anger is sinful and harmful, it need not be so--indeed, it should not be so. It is for this reason that I have devoted this lesson to a study of the relationship of wrath (anger) to discipline.
Those who would teach that the “rod” (discipline) should never be used when we are angry must conclude that parental discipline is different from divine discipline, for it is clear in the Scriptures that God disciplines His children in anger.
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless” (Exod. 22:22-24).
Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp (Num. 11:1, cf. also vv. 10,33).
Therefore the Lord heard and was full of wrath, and a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also mounted against Israel . . . . The anger of God rose against them, and killed some of their stoutest ones, and subdued the choice men of Israel (Ps. 78:21,31).
Rouse yourself. Rouse yourself. Arise, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; the chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs (Isa. 51:17).
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were pulled down before the Lord, before His fierce anger (Jer. 4:26).
I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath (Lam. 3:1).
Few would dispute the anger of the Lord in the Old Testament, but many tend to think of the God of the Old Testament as somehow different from the God of the New Testament. Nevertheless our Lord was angered by the sin of men (Mark 3:5; cf. Matt. 21:12-14) and in parables in which God was portrayed as a man, He was angered at unrighteousness (e.g. Matt. 18:34; Luke 14:21). The Book of Revelation also speaks of those who have chosen to reject and resist God as drinking the cup of His anger (Rev. 14:10).
Not all anger is divine. For this reason, James teaches us that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (1:20). Paul believed that while anger may be justified, it could lead us to sin: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph. 4:26). Let us carefully consider the kind of anger that is righteous by seeking to derive from the Scriptures some of the characteristics of God’s holy anger.
1. RIGHTEOUS ANGER IS OCCASIONED BY SIN. Throughout Israel’s history, God’s indignation was kindled by the sin of His wayward and disobedient people.
Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter NV mind; therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter” (Jer. 19:3-6).
Proverbs views the king as being appropriately angered by sin.
The king’s favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, But his anger is toward him who acts shamefully (Prov. 14:35).
Likewise in the New Testament, governments are divinely appointed to exercise wrath on the sinner.
For it (government] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil (Rom. 13:4).
In every instance that I have found in the Scriptures God is angered only by man’s sin. If man’s anger is to be righteous it must be indignation occasioned by sin. Merely human anger is sin (Matt. 5:22; Eph. 4:31), brought about by our self-centeredness and impatience.
2. RIGHTEOUS ANGER IS NOT AN OCCASION FOR SIN. God’s anger is not only properly founded (on man’s sin), but it is also properly focused. In every instance of divine discipline, God’s people must acknowledge that God has disciplined in righteousness. This is expressed in the prayer of Nehemiah for his people:
“Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who dost keep covenant and lovingkindness, do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before Thee, which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and on all Thy people, from the days of the kings of Assyria to this day.
However, Thou are just in all that hast come upon us; for Thou hast dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly” (Neh. 9:32-33).
God never delights in the discipline of His children. It is something which He does reluctantly and regretfully. Divine discipline is God’s “unusual task” (Isa. 28:21).
In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, who have come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word! Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds’” (Jer. 26:1-3).
God’s discipline was severe, but never abusive. There are those who would seek to justify their brutality by citing biblical passages. Let them take note of the fact that God’s anger is never out of control, nor does He discipline without mercy or deal with His children apart from grace.
For their heart was not steadfast toward Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant. But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger, and did not arouse all His wrath. Thus He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not return (Ps. 78:37-39).
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him (Ps. 103:8-11).
In 2 Samuel 24 David sinned against the Lord by numbering the Israelites (v. 1).Through the prophet Gad, David was told that he could choose the form his discipline would take; he had three options: (a) seven years of famine; (b) three months of defeat at the hand of his enemies; or (e) three days of pestilence (v. 13). David chose the latter, for this reason:
“I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (v. 14).
David had learned what we all need to know and to practice in parental discipline: God’s discipline is always carried out in mercy and grace.
3. RIGHTEOUS ANGER IS NEVER A DENIAL OF LOVE, BUT A DEMONSTRATION OF LOVE. God does not forsake his love for us when He disciplines us; He disciplines us when we have forsaken His love.
Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you’” (2 Chron. 24:20).
“But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and departed.
They do not say in their heart, ‘Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain in its season, both the autumn rain and the spring rain, who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.’
Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have withheld good from you” (Jer. 5:23-25).
“You who have forsaken Me,” declares the Lord, “You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting” (Jer. 15:6).
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5).
God’s anger, as expressed in the discipline of His children, is not contrary to love, but consistent with it. Some would tell us that the rod is wrong because it is not the loving thing to do. The Bible tells us the opposite.
I know, 0 Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me (Ps. 119:75).
For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights (Prov. 3:12).
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:5-6).
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19).
The Book of Proverbs tells parents that to love their child is to discipline him, and to fail to chasten him is to hate him.
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently (13:24).
The righteous indignation of the parent toward the rebellious attitude and the disobedience of the child is due to the fact that such attitudes and conduct are not in the child’s best interest, but rather will lead to his destruction. Anger (and the rod) are not inconsistent with love, but are the outworking of love.
4. RIGHTEOUS ANGER IS SLOWLY AROUSED. The godly are God-like in being slow to anger, while the wicked are quickly incited to anger.
But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth (Ps. 86:15).
He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly (Prov. 14:29).
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city (Prov. 16:32; of. also 19:11).
This you know, my beloved brethren. But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
Righteous anger is not volatile--it does not have a hair-trigger. Such hasty indignation is human, sinful anger, which has no place in the Christian life and no positive contribution to make to the parenting process.
5. RIGHTEOUS ANGER IS PROMPTLY EXPRESSED AND NOT UNNECESSARILY PROLONGED.58 If God is slow to anger, He is not slow to act once He is angered. The outpouring of God’s anger in divine discipline comes swiftly and severely, but is over shortly.
“I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror” (Lev. 26:16),
So He brought their days to an end in futility, and their years in sudden terror (Ps. 78:33).
Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; Instantly he will be broken, and there will be no healing (Prov. 6:15).
A man who hardens his neck after much reproof Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy (Prov. 29:1).
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil (Eceli8:11).
But these things shall come on you suddenly in one day: loss of children and widowhood. They shall come on you in full measure in spite of your many sorceries, in spite of the great power of your spells (Isa. 47:9, cf. also v. 11).
While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (1 Thess. 5:3).
I believe there is a principle here for us to apply, not only in the raising of our children, but in all our relationships: our anger should be promptly and expressed.
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity (Eph. 4:26-27).
Some Christians have concluded that all anger is evil and have therefore attempted to suppress anger, even if it is rightly motivated. I believe that anger which is not handled quickly, even when it is righteous anger, can turn sour and may give Satan a point of weakness to exploit in our lives.
In the 37th Psalm, David exhorts the righteous not to be distressed over one fact that the wicked sin and go unchecked. In this instance, the solution is beyond the control of the upright and so they must learn not to fret on account of evildoers, but must commit themselves (and divine retribution) to God, who will ultimately make matters right. We too must deal with our anger by committing ourselves to God, trusting Him to bring retribution rather than seeking vengeance ourselves. Even in a c;7a such as this, where we are not to take action against the sinner, we must quickly submit our anger to the Lord, lest it lead us into sin.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom. 12: 17-19).
But while we must not seek revenge and we may not be able to correct evil (i.e., in general, we are responsible to correct our children when they do wrong). Unnecessary delays in disciplining our children may allow our anger to get to the boiling point, and it may lead our child to the erroneous conclusion that it is possible to get away with sin. Correction, I believe the Bible teaches, is to be quickly administered because our anger should not be allowed to brew too long.
If the “bad news” is that God’s discipline comes quickly once His wrath has been aroused, the “good news” is that His anger passes quickly.
Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:4-5).
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His anger forever (Ps. 103:8-9).
“For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid my face from you for a moment;
But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer (Isa. 54:7-8).
6. THE ROD DISPLAYS RIGHTEOUS ANGER, BUT IT ALSO DISPELS IT. One of the reasons why divine anger quickly passes is because discipline satisfies the demands of God’s righteousness, and therefore appeases His wrath.
“Thus My anger will be spent, and I will satisfy My wrath on them, and I shall be appeased; then they will know that I, the Lord, have spoken in My zeal when I have spent II wrath upon them” (Ezek. 5:13).
One of the great doctrines of the Bible is that of propitiation. Students of the New Testament understand that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary satisfied the righteous anger of God toward the sinner. A part of the good news Of the gospel is that man no longer needs to dread the wrath of an angry God. The work of Christ on the cross puts the sinner at peace with God, or, conversely, puts God at peace with the sinner.
My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).
It was not the physical pain of the cross that our Lord dreaded (Matt.26:3646) as much as it was enduring the wrath of God. Those who have placed their faith in the person and work of Christ recognize that He has borne the wrath which we deserve, for as unbelievers we were “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Those who trust in Christ need no longer fear the wrath of God on sinners, for our Lord has suffered in our place.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. for if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom. 5:8-10).
Noah and his family passed through the ordeal of the Flood, as did the others of his day. The critical difference was that Noah did so in the ark, while the rest were outside. It was the ark that endured the wrath of the storm and that saved those who were within. So too it is being “in Christ” that saves a man or a woman. The wrath of God fell upon Him. In Him we have endured God’s wrath and in Him we have everlasting life. A part of the joy of being saved is knowing that God’s righteous anger has been satisfied in Christ.
Properly administered, parental discipline dispels anger, just as divine discipline does. In the first place, parental discipline satisfies the righteous anger of the parent. When I used to teach in a public school, it was interesting to sense the relief of the entire class (and especially the one who was disciplined) when we would come in from the hall and I would put the paddle back in the closet. Those students knew that it was over--finished. Justice had been carried out.
In another sense I believe that the rod also relieves the anger of the one who is disciplined. I have seen many children who have built up some real hostility, but after a brief session in the hall their anger was gone. The rod brings with those tears, it would seem, the anger, which can build up in the child. The child who is not corrected, who is “left to himself” (Prov. 29:15), tends to store up greater and greater amounts of hostility until he is ready to explode in some very detrimental kind of conduct. The rod relieves the pressure of such feelings by dispelling them.
I find a biblical illustration of this in the way David failed to deal with his son Absalom. Amnon raped Absalom’s sister, Tamar. David became very angry over this incident, but failed to take any corrective action (2 Sam. 13:21-22). Absalom was incensed over this incident; but he, like his father, did nothing about it--for a time. Finally, Absalom got revenge by killing Amnon (13:23-29). Absalom fled for his life and David, having been comforted concerning Amnon, failed to send for Absalom until he was prodded to do so (14:1-21). Even after David had sent for Absalom, he did not deal with the evil he had committed, but insisted that he remain in his own House and not see the king’s face (14:24). As a result, Absalom became very bitter in spirit and purposed to take the kingdom from his father.
Had David decisively disciplined Amnon, Absalom might never have committed murder. And had David dealt with the sin of his son Absalom, his kingdom would likely not have been in such turmoil. If David would have properly disciplined Absalom for his sin, then the anger and bitterness of Absalom would have been appeased.
I do not wish in any way to try to sanctify sinful, human anger. The Bible teaches that this kind of anger should be put away. Some who read this message may be tempted to use it to justify their bad temper and their brutality toward their wife, their children, and others. The vast majority of the anger we express is sinful, not spiritual. God forbid that we should use His Word to “sanctify” our sin. That is a part of the old self that must be put off (Col. 2:5-11).
I confess to you that most of the anger which I feel toward my children and their actions is not of the right kind and is often not handled biblically. Nevertheless, I must also say that it is about time you and I who have come to view passivity and complacency as piety get mad. If we are to be godly, we need to be angered by sin; and we should do something about it, even if it is only to pray about it (cf. Psa. 37; 73). While some Christians sin by getting angry, many more sin by failing to get angry when they should.
Henry Ward Beecher is reported to have said,
A man who does not know how to be angry, does not know how to be good. A man who does not know how to be shaken to his heart’s core with indignation over things evil, is either a fungus, or a wicked man.59
And Powell Davies has written,
That is one of the truly serious things that has happened to the multitude of so-called ordinary people. They have forgotten how to be indignant. This is not because they are overflowing with human kindness, but because they are morally soft and compliant. When they see evil and injustice, they are pained but not revolted. They mutter and mumble, (but] they never cry out. They commit the sin of not being angry.
Yet their anger is the one thing above all others that would make them count. If they cannot lead crusades, or initiate reforms, they can at least create the conditions in which crusades can be effectual and reforms successful. The wrath of the multitude could bring back decency and integrity into public life; it could frighten the corrupt demagogue into silence and blast the rumor-monger into oblivion. It could give honest leaders a chance to win.60
As George Matheson, the Scottish hymn-writer and preacher once said, “There are times when I do well to be angry, but I have mistaken the times.” 61
To say that we are not to discipline in anger may suggest to some that we are never to discipline our child when we are angry--which is probably why some of us discipline so seldom. And the rest of us fail to discipline because we are not angry enough. To say that we should never discipline in anger is like saying we should never eat when we are hungry, or saying we should never cry when we feel sad. There is nothing wrong with the emotion of anger, so long as it is properly founded and properly focused. If our anger causes us to lose self-control and to injure or abuse our children, let us learn to control it, just as we must learn to control other emotions and appetites. But let us not condemn anger altogether--that is going too far.
For those who would tell us that to spank children is to give them “a taste of the jungle,” I can only say that it is more cruel and inhumane not to spank (or discipline in some other way) than it is to employ the rod. Many parents have abused their children by not making use of the rod. The anger of the parent continues to build until, in rage, the parent strikes the child with a fist, or a lamp, or shoots him with a gun. Many a child has become angry and hostile because he has not been disciplined as in the example of Absalom.
Let us first experience the joy of knowing that God’s anger toward sinners has been propitiated, satisfied, through the redemptive work of the cross. Let us then seek to understand and apply the principles of divine wrath and the rod to the parenting process, by God’s grace and to His glory.
58 It is vital that we differentiate here between God’s discipline, His chastening of His children, and God’s judgment on unbelievers. God’s anger is not promptly expressed on unbelievers, so that men may have additional opportunity to repent, (2Pet. 3:9). Once God’s wrath on unbelievers is commenced there will be no turning back (cf. 2 Thess. 2:11-12), and this wrath is eternal. A good part of the reason for the differences between discipline (of believers) and judgment (of non-believers) is to be explained by the differences in the purposes of each. Discipline is corrective, but judgment is punitive.