By Walter C. Kaiser Jr., with Tiberius Rata, adapted from Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah.
Probably more than in most other biblical books, Jeremiah presents God as one having deep feelings, emotions, and passions (pathos). Yahweh shows his love and affection for Israel and the peoples of the earth, but he also shows his deep anger and wrath for all the moral degradation and flaunting of his law. This is hard for many contemporaries to understand, for we have forgotten that it is a matter of evil to stand in the presence of wickedness or sin and not be moved to hate that evil with a passion.
Understanding God’s anger
Our problem with God’s anger is to be located in our definition of anger. We tend to identify anger with a desire to “get even” or to retaliate against someone who has hurt us. But God’s anger doesn’t involve that desire; instead, it is the passion of his soul and his total being stirred up against all that is wrong, unjust, unfair, evil, and wicked. If mortals loved righteousness and goodness like God loves it, then we would better understand his revulsion against all that stands opposed to that sense of right, truth, goodness, and justice.
God’s anger is provoked when his mortals sin in word or in deed (7:18; 8:19; 32:29–32). Anger must be God’s response, but it is not one of God’s attributes. His response is his expression of grief and dismay over the ruptured relationship that had, or could have, existed otherwise, had it not been for sin, evil, wrong, and injustice. God’s grief and sorrow are great in the presence of sin and wickedness. Even though God’s sorrow and grief must be distinguished from his anger, the two cannot be separated. But the matter never rests at that point, for his grace and mercy are greater than the aggregate deeds and words of unrighteousness by mortals.
Why God’s anger isn’t at odds with his love
To the amazement of all, this Lord can also atone for the sins of those who persistently err and sin against him, so that his grace and mercy might eventually triumph for all who call on him in faith. This would be the sticking point of interpretation for those in Jeremiah’s day as well as in our own day: How could God simultaneously hate our sin, yet love the sinner?
But all who make this objection have never thought about the way they regard themselves; they oftentimes hate some of the stuff they do, but that does not keep them from having a decent regard for themselves. If we can do that for ourselves, then we ought to withdraw the objection when God does the same: he does indeed love us, yet he also totally dislikes some of our actions.
It is clear that as a result of Judah’s “wickedness” (רָעָה, rāʿâ), “disaster” (רָעָה, rāʿâ) would break out on the people. This is merely to say that evil has a distinctive “fruit” that was associated with it (1:14, 16; 6:19; 12:2). In fact, the verb for “to punish” (פָּקַד) is the same verb meaning “to visit” on the people the fruit, or results, of their own deeds, whether they were evil doings or good actions (5:9; 14:10; 21:14). In so doing, God allows the consequences that are already present in the people’s wicked situation to be the method he uses to judge them.
This entry is adapted from Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah (Lexham Press, 2019). The title is the addition of the editor.