Skip to content ↓

Slow to Anger, Quick to Wrath

Articles Collection cover image

In God’s revelation of himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, he says that he is “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). However, later in the Old Testament, in the prophecy about Christ in Psalm 2, we are told to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (2:12).

So which is it? Is God slow to anger or is he quick to wrath? It can’t be both, can it?

It seems to me that the answer lies in understanding that there is a distinction between “getting angry” and “kindling wrath.” Getting angry refers to the attitude God has toward his creation. Kindling wrath refers to the ways in which he acts out that attitude.

In this sense, we can affirm both: God is slow to become angry, as he tells Moses on Mount Sinai (and repeats throughout the rest of Scripture (see Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15, etc.). But after he is angered, his wrath, the means through which that anger is manifested, can be kindled quickly.

Romans 2:4-5 captures this distinction powerfully. After mentioning how the people have been presuming upon “the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience” (referring to the slowness of God’s anger), Paul says that they are storing up wrath for themselves “on the day of wrath,” which, as we know from Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, will come quickly, “like a thief in the night.”

Ultimately, each of these is true and each of them is a blessing to us. The fact that God is slow to anger means that there is time and opportunity for us to repent of our sin. The fact that he is quick to wrath guards us against presuming upon his mercy and prolonging our rebellion.

(For a look at other apparent contradictions in the Bible, see Justified by Faith or Works?, Who Incited David?, and That Pesky Rooster.)

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 9)

    A La Carte: How to cope when suffering with depression / How can I be a godly mom? / Am I out of asks? / You can’t outsmart smartphones with teenagers / Zeal for your house has (not always) consumed me / Family is for our humility / and more.

  • Epic

    My Epic Documentary Series Is Now Free to Watch

    In 2020 I teamed up with Zondervan to release Epic: An Around-the-World Journey through Christian History. This is a two-part product that takes the form of an illustrated book and a ten-part documentary video series. Epic is ideal for group studies, homeschool curriculum, and enjoying either alone or with the whole family. I am pleased…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 8)

    A La Carte: Slouching toward Saul / Did the Jews kill Jesus? / The growing boredom toward movies / Expecting temptation before it comes / 5 things prayer has the power to do / A good neighbor / Book sale / and more.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 7)

    A La Carte: How to love every version of your wife / A Christian’s perspective on AI / If God is sovereign, why pray? / Summer break and the challenge of home / Assessing the arguments for and against physician-assisted suicide / and more.

  • Do You Practice

    Do You Practice?

    There is little we are called to in life that is purely intuitive. There is little that truly matters to our lives, yet comes to us innately. To the contrary, almost everything that is important and almost everything that matters requires practice. What matters most in life is love. We are called to love the…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 6)

    A La Carte: A response to John MacArthur’s statement on mental health / How much should churches pay their pastors? / Love is no longer my god / The fatally friendless father / Fear of missing out / Keeping watch / Kindle deals / and more.