I want to start by reading some quotes. So just listen closely and think about whether or not you agree with what’s said.
“Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.” – Albert Einstein
“Anger is a short madness.” – Horace
“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Never do anything [out of anger], for you will do everything wrong.” – paraphrase
Anger isn’t one those character traits we usually desire. No one likes anger. Anger leads to bitterness and holding grudges. Anger leads to bad decisions. Anger sometimes even leads to violence. People usually don’t want to be around someone who may fly off the handle at any moment. It seems a bit unstable.
But here’s my question: does God get angry? Is there anything that can make the God of the universe boiling mad? Well I think our text this evening will address that question.
You don’t have to turn with me. In Exodus 17, the people of Israel test God by acting as if they can’t trust Him. After everything He’s done for them, making them His people, delivering them from slavery, providing for them and so on, they still don’t trust Him. So they fight with Moses and tell him to give them water now. They ask him why he brought them in the desert to die. And they actually ask the question, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
And this is the kind of grumbling and complaining against God that characterized this generation. Fast forward to Numbers 14, once again, almost like a repetitive broken record, they are once again complaining and saying it would be better to be back in Egypt. They didn’t trust God to deliver them and keep His promises.
This Psalm brings to mind both of those particular stories. And our verses show us God’s response to their lack of trust in Him.
Turn with me to Psalm 95:10-11.
For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”
We’re going to consider three brief points from this text this evening.
I. Sin Provokes God’s Anger
Listen again to the text. God says, “For forty years I was angry with that generation…” Well I think that answers the question pretty clearly. God does get angry. And it’s the sin of His people that provokes this anger. But I don’t think there should be any surprise here that their sin made God angry. This is how God responds to sin.
Growing up I had a good father, who was loving and attentive and we had a pretty good relationship. But I never really knew what mood he was going to be in. So for a kid who wanted to get stuff and go places, I kind of felt like I had to play the game. Before I asked him for something, I kind of tried to feel him out and see what kind of mood he was in. “How bout those Cowboys, dad? Your haircut sure looks nice.” And those feeler questions would help me figure out if I should ask him now or later. But my methods weren’t perfect. So when I asked I could never know for sure if he would respond with joy (“Sure, son!”) or anger (“Get outta my face, son!”). He was unpredictable in that way.
Well we shouldn’t expect this kind of unpredictability in God. God works in mysterious ways. So God is unpredictable in many ways, but there’s nothing unpredictable about His response to sin. It provokes His anger. He promised Adam and Eve, they would die if they disobeyed Him. Because of sin He opened up the ground and dropped people through it down to Sheol in Numbers 15. And in the events alluded to in this Psalm, God once again responds with anger. Sin provokes God’s anger.
Actually, the phrase that’s translated I was angry with that generation, more literally means “I loathed that generation.” That’s what many translations say. It communicates this picture of disgust. God is disgusted with this people because of how they’ve behaved. So to answer our question, God does get angry and He responded to the sin of the previous generation with a furious, holy, disgust.
Now I know this may, rub up against some people’s concept of God. They think, “Well that’s not my God you’re talking about. My God doesn’t get angry. My God would never say that.” Well you may be right. Maybe your god wouldn’t say that, but the God of the Bible just did here in this text.
So is there a problem here? How could a perfectly, holy God so consistently respond with furious anger and even disgust? If I consistently responded to my wife with anger and yelled at her, that would be a horrible sin on my part. God’s anger, though, is not sinful like ours. It’s not a character flaw.
As I preach this, I don’t feel the need to tip toe around or apologize for God’s anger. And you shouldn’t feel the need to apologize to your non-Christian friends about God’s anger either. Or about Hell. And you don’t have to be embarrassed about His judgment in the Old Testament like some secret about God’s sinful past was leaked.
God’s anger is not a sin. It’s the way a holy God responds to sin. It is the only holy response to cosmic rebellion and treason from men made in His image. Don’t try to conform God to your standard, because He is the standard. Our anger is sinful, because we are sinners. But God as a perfectly holy God can only be angry in a righteous way.
Sin is the only thing that angers God. And it always angers God. And every sinner will have to answer to an angry God, unless somehow God’s anger aimed at them can be taken care of.
Application: Sometimes when we sin, we’re tempted to think it’s not that bad. I know before I was a Christian, and even sometimes after that, I didn’t think of sin as a big deal. But it’s because all I thought about was that I was breaking some rules. I wasn’t being moral enough. Well sin is more than just a failure to be moral enough. It is an offense against a person – the most faithful person. And it grieves that person and makes Him angry. God hates sin.
Maybe that does not satisfy you though. Maybe you think God is overreacting. I mean really He was angry for forty years? Sounds like He’s holding a grudge. Sounds kind of petty, God. Why does it make Him so mad? Well that brings me to point two.
II. Sin Is An Alternate Path
Look at verse 10 again. God gives a description of this generation He was angry with. He says, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.”
God says they go astray in their hearts. They don’t just go astray externally in their actions. But in their innermost being, at the core of who they are, they go astray.
I happen to be horrible – I mean absolutely awful – with directions. So on probably a weekly basis my wife will send me somewhere to get something or drop something off and either I don’t make it without calling her or it takes me five times as long. And it’s not because her directions were bad, it’s because I make wrong turns and go the wrong way and get turned around.
Well this is kind of the picture that’s painted here when He says their hearts go astray. Their hearts travel down the wrong path and lead them to the wrong place. They’re lost. And the same can be said of all sin. All sin is more than just external, it happens because our hearts go the wrong directions. And our actions follow.
And He also says, “They have not known my ways.” God’s character had been on full display before them – His mercy and His power, etc. And He gave them commands to follow His ways, to follow His path. But instead they chose to follow another path. He’s the one who delivered them from Pharaoh and split the Red Sea! It’s unbelievable that they wouldn’t trust Him after seeing that. They saw His works, but they didn’t know His ways.
Christian, are you aware that this is what you’re doing when you sin? That you’re not just falling off the horse or coming short of your full potential? You are choosing an alternate path to the one that God has set out for you. You’re saying, “God, I’ve seen your ways and I don’t like them. I’m aware of how you want me to live, and I think my way is better. I am wiser than you and a better Lord than you. I’m going to choose my own path.” This is wicked. And this is what we do every time we sin. Our sin is no better than the sin of this grumbling, doubting, wicked generation from this text.
We have to think rightly of our sin, or we won’t hate it like we should. Do whatever it takes to see your sin rightly. It’s ugly. Don’t try to make it pretty. We may want to even change the way we talk about it. We shouldn’t only think of our sin as “Oh, I lost the battle. Or oh, I’m struggling with this.” No we chose to disobey God. We chose to do something other than what God commanded us to do, because we don’t like what He has to say. That is the ugly reality of sin. And even as believers who want to do God’s will, we have fight to keep the right perspective on our sin.
Ralph Venning helps us understand it in Sinfulness of Sin when he says, “In short, sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, the contempt of his love. We may go on and say, it is the upbraiding of his providence, the scoff of his promise, the reproach of his wisdom.”
The warning the Psalmist gives here begins with the words, “do not harden your heart.” Basically meaning don’t become increasingly stubborn and reject God’s commands. And that warning applies to us as well. This is why the author of the Hebrews picks up this section and warns the Hebrews against falling away.
When you stubbornly reject God’s commands, you heart gets harder and harder over time. Really hard hearts usually happens over long spans of time, not overnight. We think we’ll never be the kind of person who ends up in unrepentant sin, but we could. Really hard hearts happen over time when we choose to disobey God in the little things over and over and over again. A quick look here, a small lie there, and over time we become desensitized to sin and begin to justify it. And before you know it, we’re just pretending, until we get tired of pretending and stop following Jesus altogether. Those small battles are actually huge.
So if you’re here today and allowing some sin to remain in your life, repent! Now! Confess your sin to others. Don’t begin this cycle of hardening your heart. Instead of trusting your ways, know His. Follow His ways. Trust Jesus and believe His Word. He loves you and has given you commands for your good. Follow His path.
OK, so God’s anger is provoked by sin and sin is choosing an alternate path. So what? What’s the consequence of choosing this alternate path?
III. Sin keeps us from God’s rest
Listen to verse 11.
So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”
The consequences are that in God’s anger, He will punish them. In this particular incident, God forgives them, but He doesn’t allow them to enter the Promised Land. But by the time the Psalmist writes this, God’s people have already entered. So he uses this text to talk about God’s eternal rest. And this is how the writer of Hebrews uses it too. God has an eternal rest that we can enter, but our sin can keep us from it.
We see here that not only does God get angry, but He makes decisions in His anger. Actually, in this passage He makes an oath in His anger. He does exactly what one of the earlier quotes says not to do. But His anger isn’t fickle like ours. This isn’t to say that all human anger is sinful. But His NEVER is. Anger doesn’t intoxicate Him and move Him to make foolish decisions. Instead, His anger is level headed, holy, and He still responds with goodness and justice.
God’s eternal rest is the beautiful, peaceful, non-stressful, God glorifying place that all of His true people will end up in. God’s wrath is the holy, just, awful, terrifying fate for those who get what they deserve [reword]. There is no rest in Hell. There is no relief in Hell, only suffering and wrath. And we’re not talking about the wrath of an army or a man, but the wrath of almighty God on your head for an eternity. God’s wrath doesn’t only exist in the Old Testament. He still hates sin today. We should fear this amazing God. Their sin kept them from God’s rest, and ours can too.
This is for everyone in here this evening. After you die, you will either enter God’s rest or endure God’s wrath. Those are the only two options. All of us deserve the second option. Because all of us are like the sinful generation he talks about. We go our own path. We go astray in our hearts and we don’t follow His ways. We’ve done the very thing that angers God over and over and over again.
So is there hope for any of us? There is.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Paul describes a man from Galilee with these words, “his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
And later in 5:9-10 he says to the believers, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
Our only hope is Jesus. And He loves us so much.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
There was a cup, full of furious wrath and anger that God was prepared to pour out on us. But for those of us in Christ, we don’t have to endure that wrath. Instead, God has taken that cup from over our heads and He’s moved it. For those of us in Christ, He took the wrath that we stored up, poured it all in one cup, put it over the head of His Son and He poured all out on Him. What great love! Jesus endured the terrifying wrath of God for sinners on the cross. He died on that cross, but He rose from His grave three days later as our victorious King. And Jesus has said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
The Good News is that those who put their faith in this Jesus- God has no anger left for us. In Christ, God is no longer angry with us. He’s grieved at us when we sin, but we will not be punished for them. Blessed is the man whose sins are not counted against Him.
And if we continue to trust in Christ, when He returns we can receive Him with joy instead of terror. And we can sing, “Even so it is well with my soul.”