by Kimberly B. Southall


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Is Anger Always Wrong?

Anger can be sinful. But sometimes anger is not wrong. This is a study in how to tell the difference.

God's Anger

The Lord is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3). Even so, God expresses his wrath every day and is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Psalm 7:11; Romans 1:18). However, God is always in control of His wrath. God's anger and wrath are upon those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil (Romans 2:8). And while God remains angry with unbelievers (John 3:36; Romans 1:18-20), His anger does pass for those who repent (2 Chronicles 30:8; Psalm 30:5; Psalm 103:9; Isaiah 57:14-19; Romans 5:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

God is angered by many different things. Among them are disobedience, rebellion, idolatry, irreverence, ingratitude, complaining, pride, selfishness, opposition to God's people, dishonor, lack of trust, and disbelief, mistreatment of others, and false prophets.

Disobedience and Rebellion. Disobedience greatly angers God and brings His wrath. God was angered because Moses hesitated to do His will (Exodus 4:13-14). God became angry because the Israelites disobeyed Him and were sexually immoral with Moabite women. Twenty-four thousand people died as a result of the plague with which God punished them (Numbers 25:1-9). God made it abundantly clear to the Israelites that their obedience was expected, and He outlined very severe punishment in the event they would disobey (Leviticus 26:14-45). When Achan disobeyed, his entire family and their livestock were stoned to death to assuage God's anger (Joshua 7:1, 19-26). The exiled Israelites had disobediently intermarried with foreign women who worshiped false gods. This greatly angered God. They came to their senses and separated themselves from foreign wives in order to turn away God's fierce anger from them (Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Ezra 10:9-17). The Bible makes it clear that disobedience and rebellion brings God's anger and wrath (Deuteronomy 9:7; Psalm 2:1-6; Psalm 78; Isaiah 30; Isaiah 42:23-25; Psalm 106:34-43; Micah 5:15; Ephesians 5:6).

Idolatry. The Israelites were quick to disobey God's commandment not to worship idols. They built a golden calf to worship and angered God. Had it not been for Moses pleading on their behalf, God would have destroyed all of them except Moses (Exodus 32:7-14; Deuteronomy 9:18-21). God warned the Israelites time and time again of the consequences idolatry would bring upon them (Deuteronomy 4:25-27; Deuteronomy 6:13-19; Deuteronomy 7:1-6; Deuteronomy 11:16-17; Deuteronomy 29:9-28; Joshua 23:14-16; Jeremiah 25:6; Jeremiah 44:4). In fact, He even gave them specific instructions for what to do to turn the Lord's anger away in the event they discovered anyone in idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:12-18). And again and again, the Israelites worshiped idols and were punished (Judges 2:10-15; Judges 3:7-8; 1 Kings 14:7-13; 1 Kings 14:22-24; 1 Kings 16; 1 Kings 21:20-29; 1 Kings 22:52-53; 2 Kings 13:2-3; 2 Kings 17:7-23; 2 Kings 21:2-16; 2 Kings 22:11-20; 2 Kings 23:26-27; 2 Kings 24:19-20; 2 Chronicles 24:18-20; 2 Chronicles 25:14-16; 2 Chronicles 28:22-25; 2 Chronicles 29:6-10; 2 Chronicles 33:2-9; 2 Chronicles 34:23-28; Psalm 106:28-29; Jeremiah 7:16-20; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 11:17; Jeremiah 17:1-4; Jeremiah 25:4-11; Jeremiah 32:29-35; Jeremiah 44; Ezekiel 5:8-17; Hosea 8:5). The Israelites' continued idolatry so angered God that He punished them with cannibalism, exile, plague, famine, and war (Isaiah 9:19-21; Ezekiel 5:7-13)!

Irreverence. God was angered when Uzzah disobeyed and showed irreverence toward God by touching the ark of the covenant. God struck him dead (2 Samuel 6:7; 1 Chronicles 13:9-10; 1 Chronicles 15:13-15).

Ingratitude and Complaining. God was angered when the ungrateful Israelites complained in the wilderness, and He punished them with fire (Numbers 11:1-33).

Pride, Selfishness, and Opposition to God's People. After it was made clear to the Egyptians that the Israelites were God's people and that He wanted them to leave Egypt, the Egyptians angered God by trying to recapture the Israelites. Consequently, the entire Egyptian army was destroyed in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:4-10). Later, God was angered when Aaron and Miriam, obviously full of pride and selfishness, opposed Moses. God punished Miriam with leprosy until Moses pleaded on her behalf (Numbers 12:1-15).

Dishonor, Lack of Trust, and Disbelief. Even the righteous are not exempt from God's wrath when they anger him. Moses lost the privilege of entering the promised land when he angered God by not trusting and honoring Him (Numbers 20:7-12; Psalm 106:32-33). Indeed, the Israelites' continued faithlessness so angered God, that he had them wander in the wilderness for forty years! Only two of the Israelites who originally escaped from slavery in Egypt ever set foot in the Promised Land (Numbers 14:18-24; Numbers 32:10-13; Hebrews 3:7-19).

Mistreatment of Others. God's warnings against mistreating foreigners and taking advantage of widows and orphans included the most severe penalties (Exodus 22:21-22). In the parable of the unmerciful servant, we find that God is angered by and takes wrath upon those who show no forgiveness or mercy (Matthew 18:21-35).

False Prophets. Those who give false prophecies anger God and receive His wrath (Ezekiel 13).

Unrighteous Anger

It isn't too difficult to identify unrighteous anger; there is all too much of it in the world. There are many instances of it in the Bible, too. Cain, Esau, and Jonah are cases in point. Because Abel's offering to God was acceptable and his was not, Cain became jealously angry and murdered his brother (Genesis 4:3-8). Esau carelessly gave his birthright to his brother, Jacob, then he later realized what a foolish thing he had done and plotted to kill his brother in unrighteous anger (Genesis 27:41). Because the people of Ninevah had long been cruel to his people and he thought they deserved punishment, Jonah became unrighteously angry when Ninevah repented and God had compassion upon them (Jonah 4).

Unrighteous anger stems from evil human traits, including jealousy, carelessness, and selfishness. Hatred and fits of rage are acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21). Consequently, the scriptures tell us not to remain angry with a brother, to rid ourselves of anger, and that anger based upon the earthly nature is not righteous (Psalm 37:8; Matthew 5:21-22; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; James 1:19-20). Paul warns us against outbursts of anger and wants everyone to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger or disputing (2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Timothy 2:8).

Righteous Anger

There are also Biblical examples of people displaying righteous anger. Moses became angry with Pharaoh when he disobeyed God's order to let the Israelites go (Exodus 11:8-10). Moses broke the tablets containing the ten commandments when he became angry with the Israelites for worshiping a golden calf (Exodus 32:19). When Jonathan discovered that his father, King Saul, intended to kill David, one of God's servants, he became righteously angry (1 Samuel 20:34). What made these instances of righteous anger? They were all occurrences which also angered God. And this is the key to righteous anger. If it is something that does not also anger God, then it isn't righteous anger. On the other hand, if something angers God, then we can righteously be angry, too, so long as we do not sin in our anger. The scriptures give us guidelines for our anger:

Do not be easily angered or quick to anger (1 Corinthians 13:5)

The Perfect Example

Jesus set some perfect examples of righteous anger from which we can learn. Jesus continued to do God's work by healing a man with a shriveled hand even though others' actions had angered him (Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11). Jesus' anger spurred him into action when he overturned the money changers' tables at the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-16). Jesus faced the Pharisees in anger and told them they were hypocrites (Matthew 23). Two instances of Jesus' righteous anger give us vital insight into righteous anger-while sin angers the Lord, at the same time it greatly saddens and distresses him (Matthew 23:37-39; Mark 3:5).


From this study, we can clearly see that anger is not always wrong. When we become angry for selfish reasons, then it is surely sinful. However, with all the sin we find around us, there are surely plenty of reasons for us to become righteously angry-that is to become angered at sin for the same reasons that God is angered by it.

Copyright © 1996-2000 Kimberly B. Southall. All rights reserved.