When I was young there would be times when my best friend and I would get into your run of the mill childhood spat. I’m sure you are all aware of those instances. They tend to occur quite frequently, even among the best of friends.
I remember one sunny summer afternoon we were sitting out on my friend’s play set and we began to quarrel. I don’t remember what set off this particular squabble, but I remember distinctly how he won it. The climactic moment came when he said, “I’ll tell my dad!”
It is funny to think about now. His dad is a rather small fellow. Back then though, everyone seemed like a giant.
But all I could think about was, “What if he told his dad?!” His dad would become angry. Then who knows what would happen. He’d likely hang me by my toes! He might yell at me. He might tell me to go home! He might call my parents! Who knows what might happen!
Being the little boy that I was, it was simply too much to bear that his father might be provoked and become mad at me.
For my friend though, the reaction was quite different. His father’s anger was nothing fearsome. Instead, it was a solace to him. On this occasion he took great joy in his father’s temper. Though it horrified me, it gave him the utmost peace.
That boyhood experience is something of the lesson that is taught in this Psalm. It is the lesson that we need to learn as we prepare for persecution. As we begin to tangle with the forces of evil and as they begin to attack us, we must find our peace in the red hot anger of our Father.
That is exactly what David does here. Notice how the passage starts out in verse 1. He describes those who are persecuting him as “pursuers.” He likens them to a lion who is ready to tear him to pieces. His enemies are coming down hard upon him. And in the midst of this dreadful predicament, he turns to God and it says that he “takes refuge” in him.
The very end of the Psalm also reveals how serene David is. In the last verse David is found strumming on his harp thanking God and singing praises to the Most High. It is the very picture of complete serenity. Fires are raging all around him, but he is perfectly tranquil in the midst of it all.
How is it that this can be so? It is because he refuge in the extreme severity of God’s righteous anger. And that’s what we must do too. If we are going to prepare for persecution, we must learn do the very same. We must learn to find our peace in the pungent indignation of our God.
And if we think about how God’s anger is described, inflamed, and unleashed—and if we really take these lessons to heart—then we will be more apt to maintain a Christian repose in the midst of the persecutions we face.
Perhaps the best place to begin is simply with how God’s anger is described in this passage.
I. How his anger is described
There are two words in this passage that are used to describe God’s anger. The first is found in verse 6. It says, “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies.” The word anger here is actually the Hebrew word for one’s nose. Literally it reads, “Arise, O LORD, in your nose.” It doesn’t make sense to us, but it is a common way for the Hebrew people to talk. They associated anger with the nose because of the way it reacts to this emotion.
Maybe you’ve seen characters like this in the cartoons. You know, when Fog Horn Leghorn gets angry smoke starts billowing out his beak.
Perhaps you know what this is talking about on more personal level. When you get mad, I mean really mad, you can start breathing heavily. Your lips are pursed shut, so you’re breathing out your nose.
Your nostrils can flare & flex. Sometimes people’s noses start to look red because the heart gets charged up and starts pumping more blood. I’ve even heard of some people getting nose bleeds because their blood pressure skyrockets with their anger. And as a result blood starts seeping out of the weaker places in the nasal cavity.
So your nose reacts with anger—especially violent & raging anger. And that’s why the Hebrew people speak like this.
So, when David uses this idiom he’s describing the Lord as being so incensed at his enemies that he rises up with scalding hot wrath for his foes.
The other word is found in verse 11. In verse 11 it says, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” Or, as the KJV puts it, “God is angry with the wicked every day.”
The word indignation describes God’s wrath in an even stronger way. This word literally means “to foam” or “to froth.” This is, of course, taken from the rabid animals that use to be common. Now that we have vaccinations, we don’t see this often. But a rabid animal roams around dazed and delirious. It seems mad because of its uncontrollable barking. He might even look a little wild eyed. But what really gets you is its frothing at the mouth. Because of its hysterics the drool turns to foam as he barks and gasps.
It doesn’t typically occur with people. But maybe you’ve seen someone so infuriated with someone that he starts spitting as he yells. I’ve seen some preachers like this!
That’s the way God is described here. He is rabidly mad at the wicked. He’s so mad he’s foaming at the mouth.
And it is not just sometimes. It is not just a here and there occurrence. It says that he is that furious every single day. There is a constant inferno rising in the heart of God because of the sin of unbelieving people. There is a righteous indignation that billows up within him because of their constant flow of evil.
If you ever want to experience full-fledged outrage, all you have to do is teach high school sophomores. I say this from my own experience. There was one class I had with a couple goofballs in it. They were already testing my limits. At one point in the class I turned to write on the blackboard and they did something disrespectful (I don’t remember what). But I do remember that I became simply enraged. I remember turning around and staring at each one of them—burning holes in them with my eyes. My heart was pounding in my chest because I was so angry. I could feel the muscles in my arms tightening. The students just watched, waiting for me to erupt. I was able to regain my composure without incident, but I lost my chalk in the midst of it all. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in my anger I ground the chalk to dust with my fingers.
Those boys knew that I was angry, and they knew that they were in danger for having slighted me.
We might say that this is how angry God is with those who slight him. The only differences is that his anger is like that every single day and it is a thousand times more furious.
Now, this is not the typical way we think of God. We’ve noted before how everyone paints God in a lovey-dovey kind of way who could never have an ounce of anger in him. And even those of us who know that God has a just anger, perhaps we don’t typically think of him as this irate.
And it may be that it brings a chill to your bones. Surely, if you have not turned from your life of sin and begun to live a life of holiness for Christ, it should make you uneasy. You should recognize that this is the way he feels towards you. And the only way to change that is to turn away from your sinful life and seek to honor Christ.
But if you are one of His people, you may rest in knowing that this anger is not pointed at you. It is directed to all your enemies. As you hear this anger described you should remember that it is like a hot pot of molten steel being tipped towards those who are intent on persecuting you.
And even though you may be facing the rage of men—even if you would be brought face to face with their fury, you can rest and be at peace because the rage of God towards them is infinitely greater.
But if you are going to enjoy david’s serentity, you must not only see how his anger is described. You must also understand how it is inflamed.
II. How His anger is inflamed
As you read this passage, it is almost as if God’s anger is being stoked like Nebuchadnezzar’s oven. You should see the flames growing higher and the heat becomes 1000 times greater.
Part of what gives David such peace is that he knows that God is provoked by the wrongs of the wicked. And the first half of this Psalm almost seems as if David is seeking to throw more kindling on the fires that are already stoked.
We already mentioned verses 1-2 and how he recounts the lion-like ferocity of his enemies. No doubt this makes God’s anger burn even more. We already said that God is angry with the wicked every day. The ordinary sins that they commit provoke him to wrath. But now their sin is directed specifically at David! There is an attack on one of his own people! This has to inflame his anger all the more.
But then in verse 3 David goes on to highlight his own innocence. He says, “If I had done any wrong, if I had repaid my friend with evil or plundered my foe without cause, I would deserve this. It would be perfectly just for You to let this happen to me, O God.” This is a tatic that David uses to boost his cause. If he had done these things, God shouldn’t be angry with his adversaries. But David hasn’t. He doesn’t deserve to be treated like this! This is a raw injustice, and so God should be downright torqued at this.
That is reiterated again in verse 8. Look at what he says there. He says, “The Lord judges the people, judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.”
You see how he is building his case? God should be roused. He should be angry, and he should become even more inflamed because of the blatant wrongs that are being perpetrated against him.
Think of it this way. When you see injustice, it likely makes you mad. If perhaps you are watching the news and you see some outlandish atrocity being committed, that likely will make you mad. But if that same thing were to be committed against one of your own family members, how would you react? It would be different, wouldn’t it? If it happened to one you knew and deeply loved, that would take it to another level, wouldn’t it? It would make you even more inflamed. You might be so incensed that you might rise out of your chair and do a thing or two about it!
That’s essentially what is being said here. David is going to lengths to say, “God, I am one of your people and I am completely innocent here. Won’t you do something about it?”
We’ll see what he does in just a moment. But I’d like to flesh out this point. The wrath of God is inflamed because it is happening to you. This is not just any anger. It is an anger that rises out of love. God’s anger becomes even more intense because he has an intense love for you.
And I really think this needs to be pointed out because part of David’s serenity is the profession of faith that he so unabashedly makes throughout this psalm. Perhaps you didn’t see it, but David makes at least three explicit expressions of his love for God in this passage.
The first instance can be found in verses 1 and 3. Each of those lines begin with the phrase, “O LORD my God.” He combines two of the prominent names of God, LORD and God. And in doing so he claims the LORD as his God: O Lord my God.
You have another expression of faith in verse 10. David declares, “My shield is with God, who saves the upright.” It almost sounds as though this isn’t part of his prayer. It almost sounds like he breaks from his prayer and yells it out his window: Hey! My shield is with God!
Then down at the end of the passage, in verse 17, you have David singing praise and thanks to the Lord. It is another overt declaration of his faith in God.
Why do I point this out? It is because persecution typically makes you become less overt in your profession of faith! At the very time you need to be bold, you are tempted to shrink back and shut up. How is it then that you can make these bold faced claims of faith like david? How can you in the midst of a culture like ours that is ready to tear you up say without any hesitancy that the LORD is your God? It is only if you know how much God loves you and is inflamed when things happen to you.
To put it another way: The strength of your profession is directly related to the strength of His passion. And if you know that God is roused for you, you will be roused for Him.
This is why it is so important to have a right view of God’s anger. If you believe in a wishy washy, lovey dovey God—a god who loves everyone no matter what they do, you are not going to have courage to stand up for him. You are not going to even enter persecution, let alone stand strong through it. You’ll bend and fold because your god will do the same. Your god won’t stand up for you if that’s the kind of god you believe in.
But a god who is angry and who is inflamed, that is a God who will support you in your cause. That’s a God who will back you. And knowing that he will support you in your righteousness will embolden you in that hour when you need it.
But as you look at this psalm, you not only see how intense this anger is and how it can become inflamed. You also see how this anger is unleashed.
III. How His anger is unleashed
It wouldn’t give us much ease if God was all passion and no action. If he simply got all hopping made, but never did anything then he’d just be like a child having a temper tantrum. But that’s not the way God is at all. Our passage tells us that the ire that builds up within the Lord is unleased upon his enemies as he brings forth is just judgment.
Look at verse 12. God is depicted as a Special Forces warrior who comes down upon his enemies with unrelenting, Rambo-like vengeance. “If a man does not repent, God will whet (i.e. sharpen) his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.”
You can kind of see the Lord going through his arsenal of weapons here. He’s got his sword, his arrows, his spear, all his artillery is being prepped. He’s getting each one ready to have a bath in blood.
This is a description in pictorial form, of course. But in the next three verses David tells us how his wrath is actually displayed. Verse 14 tells us that everything that these wicked people devise completely backfires on them. “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head and on his own skull his violence descends.”
This is the story of Wile E. Coyote. You may remember that Loony Tunes character from your youth. The coyote was always laying traps for the Road Runner, but every single time he’s the one who falls into it. The rock would fall on him. The rocket would shoot him up into the air. The plan would backfire and he would be the one running off, over the cliff.
That cartoon is an illustration of what happens to the foes of the church. Through the providence of God the events transpire so as to explode in the face of those who devised the evil in the first place.
One very clear bible example may be found in the book of Ester. The whole book is dedicated to how a foe of God fell into his own pit. Haman, that wicked fellow, sought to kill off all the Jews. He sought to hang the righteous Mordechai on a gallows made especially for him. What’s more, he sought to exalt himself in the presence of the King and the people. But what happened? Everything backfired. Instead of Mordechai being hanged, it was Haman. Instead of Mordechai’s people being slaughtered, Haman’s family was cut off. All of his wicked schemes not only fell through, but they ended up being dispensed upon himself!
Another great illustration comes from the life of the early church. In the 3rd century the Roman Emperor started an empire wide persecution of Christians. He wanted to destroy Christianity. But his plan backfired terribly. First of all, when you persecute Christians the end result is that you produce more Christians. As the saying goes, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Christians inevitably spread out and take the gospel with them to the surrounding regions.
But not only did Christianity increase, but the persecutions actually worked to weaken Rome’s standing as an empire. At this time you have the barbarian nations standing at the borders of the empire. And with the emperors focusing his resources on Christians he ends up diverting these resources away from his boarders. So, a few years later, the Barbarians start marching in and taking over. Rome ends up falling to the Barbarians! So instead of ending Christianity, he actually puts Rome to death!
I’ve also heard recent reports that the persecutions in Iran are starting to backfire there too. When the Muslim clerics took over in the 1979 they promised the Iranian people a Muslim utopia. In order to accomplish that, of course, these radicals have to eradicate the Christians. However, there has been nothing but war and unrest in the land for the whole 30 years. And the house churches are growing in number. The more they persecute the Christians, the more this feeds the national unrest.
Muslim people are starting to get fed up with the rule that was ushered in by the Islamic Revolution. So we are seeing a revolution against the Muslim Revolution! Their plans are falling upon their own heads.
And, if the Lord would allow us to come into the same kind of persecution, we must remember this principle. We must remember that God’s anger will be roused and his indignation will be unleashed. We should be bold to stand because we know that in time these schemes will be reversed and our own foes will end up falling into their own trap.
You may remember that under the Bush administration we went and attacked Iraq. Our initial tactic was called “Shock and Awe.” The strategy was to break the Iraqi forces by using a paralyzing display of power. We bombarding them with bombs, and unleashed such an overwhelming barrage of artillery that it was a shock to their military status.
I remember hearing one report though, of how many Iraqi people would go up and sit on their housetops while we bombarded them. It’s odd, because you would think that they would run for cover. But instead they would sit out on their rooftops like they were watching the Fourth of July fireworks.
One reporter interviewed an Iraqi man on why he did this. He said that the United States hit their targets with such precision that he felt no danger at all. He knew that we were not out to kill off innocent Iraqis. So he felt perfectly safe when the air raids began, and he could come up and enjoy the show.
This feeling of perfect security should be what each and every one of us experiences when our foes rise against us. Though enemies surround us and seek to overwhelm us, we are perfectly safe in the hands of God. God’s anger is mounting, he is becoming more and more inflamed with each injustice that we experience.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.