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Character of God

A Cup of Wrath?

Noses that burn hot? Turning your face away? Drinking a cup of wrath? These unfamiliar phrases are found in biblical passages about God’s anger, but what do they mean? In this episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa explore how God’s anger is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures toward Israel and the nations.
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Episode Details

October 5, 2020
58 min

Episode Details

October 5, 2020
58 min

Show Notes


“Moses gives us language to reflect on times when God withdraws his sustaining power or when he lets people go back into the land of death if they so choose. And he calls it ‘hiding his face,’ God hiding his face. It’s repeated in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. It becomes shorthand for God handing people over by withdrawing his protective or ordering presence.”


  • The Hebrew Scriptures show us that God most often becomes angry with those who have pledged to follow him. He gives them what they want, which leads to their destruction, but he promises to save a remnant.
  • God “hiding his face” becomes a common Hebrew metaphor for God giving his covenant people back to disorder.
  • Jeremiah sees a “cup of God’s wrath,” which very practically represents kingdoms that invade and conquer Israel.

God’s Anger Toward His People

In part one (0:00–15:45), Carissa begins by summarizing the conversation so far. Anger is a difficult topic to discuss, especially when talking about God’s anger, but judgment and anger are not always intertwined. Instead, God often gives people over to the logical outcome of their actions.

In this conversation, Tim, Jon, and Carissa talk through occurrences of God’s anger in the Torah and Prophets. God binds himself to the people of Israel, so it shouldn’t surprise us when we see God’s anger most often expressed at those pledged to him.

Should we take God’s anger at those he loves seriously? Tim responds that the narrative of the Bible is trying to convince us of how corrupt we are individually and corporately. The outcome of going our own way is death, and God knows this. God brings the inevitable consequence of Israel’s actions upon them so that he can further refine them.

God’s anger cannot be viewed apart from the larger messianic trajectory of the Hebrew Scriptures. Stories like that of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah point toward the need for a representative who will save God’s people.

Insisting on Self-Destruction

In part two (15:45–37:30), Tim walks Jon and Carissa through portraits of God’s anger in the book of Numbers.

Numbers 11:1
Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, his anger burned hot...

Numbers 11:4-6, 10
The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was burned hot, very much, and Moses was displeased.

Numbers contains seven stories of rebellion in the wilderness, and the central story is the one about the twelve spies. Upon hearing the report from the spies, the people rebel and begin making plans to return to Egypt.

In response to God’s anger toward Israel, Moses reminds God of his own character from Exodus 34:6-7.

Numbers 14:17-23
“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he visits the iniquity of the parents on their children to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great loyal love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.”

However, in response to the people’s rebellion, God promises to bring the very threats they fear upon them in the wilderness.

Numbers 14:26-34
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness… For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’”

The book of Numbers offers a thorough display of God’s anger, as his covenant people rebel against him seven times over. God visits their sin upon them, but he also promises to spare the children. God is repeatedly shown giving Israel what they insist they want, even though it leads to their own self-destruction.

Moses coins a phrase at the end of Deuteronomy to talk about God’s anger toward humanity.

Deuteronomy 31:15-18
Then the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent. And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. And in that day my anger will burn hot with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’ And I will certainly hide my face in that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

Life, stability, and order are a gift of God, and God “hiding his face” becomes shorthand for God withdrawing his protective and ordering presence.

And the basic claim that the Torah is making about humans is that we don’t want to be near God. Following God leads us to situations that are difficult, fearful, and demanding. Yet God promises through all of it that he has life and new creation in store for his people. Following God forces us to painfully shed much of what we think we want, but we gain far more.

God’s judgment against people who so consistently choose their own way may seem unfair, but Tim points out that God knows the only other alternative is our own self-destruction. God puts us in situations where we have to trust him, even through death, yet in those moments we find our lives given back to us.

God’s Anger in the Prophets

In part three (37:30–43:30), the team talks through God’s judgment in the Prophets. The phrase “and God’s anger burned against Israel” becomes a refrain in the rest of the Hebrew Bible (Judges 2:14, 3:6-7, 10:6-7).

Tim points out that God acts on his anger by handing Israel over to other nations. When Israel chooses life apart from God, God removes his protective, sustaining hand over them. This theme builds until Israel is destroyed and carried into exile by the nation of Babylon.

This leads to an important phrase from Jeremiah and Ezekiel, speaking about God’s anger as a cup from which the nations must drink.

The Cup of God’s Wrath

In part four (43:30–end), Tim talks about the practical meaning of the cup of God’s anger. Jeremiah receives this vision in chapter 25, beginning in verses 8-11 and continuing below.

Jeremiah 25:15-17
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath [“heat” / khemah] and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.” So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it….

This vision isn’t abstract; it refers to enemy kingdoms that will wipe out Israel and their neighbors. This is important when it comes to talking about God’s anger in individual terms. We tend to use these images outside their original context and misapply this prophetic metaphor. Understanding the meaning of this image helps us to better understand how Jesus later uses the image of the cup.

Tim summarizes this concept as God’s anger being most intensely shown toward those who live in covenant with him. When those people turn their backs on God, he hands them over to be conquered by their enemies. This is an exercise of both retributive and restorative justice; God gives Israel less than what they deserve but always with an eye toward restoring them.

Even when God’s people come back from captivity, they still live out the way of the exile under the hand of an enemy empire. God seems to still be hiding his face, and God’s people are waiting for him to once again show himself to them.

Additional Resources

Show Music

  • “Defender Instrumental” by Tents
  • “I Know Your Face Better Than Mine” by Taro
  • “Seafoam feat. Sleepy Fish” by Blue Wednesday and Dylan Witherow
  • “Imagination” by Montell Fish

Show produced by Dan Gummel and Camden McAfee.

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