The Wrath Of YHWH -- By: S. Erlandsson

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 23:1 (NA 1972)
Article: The Wrath Of YHWH
Author: S. Erlandsson

The Wrath Of YHWH

S. Erlandsson

The frequency of the expression ‘the wrath of YHWH’ in the Old Testament is striking. The different nouns for wrath occur about 375 times with reference to the wrath of God and about 80 times referring to the wrath of man. This circumstance has caused problems when dealing with the concept of God in the Old Testament. How are we to understand the relationship between God’s wrath and God’s love? This question has been especially embarrassing for those who regard the Old Testament texts as holy and decisive for their own concept of God. The most radical method is, of course, to make a complete discharge of the wrath from the concept of God, as for example Schleiermacher did. Others have regarded the wrath-motif as a reminiscense from an earlier and more primitive stage in the history of religion in order to justify a separation of the wrath- motif from God’s real nature of love. It is clear that often an apologetic interest determines the attitude to the wrath of God in the Old Testament. But a scientific approach demands that we try to understand the statements in their own context.

Even if we try to interpret the Old Testament as it now stands, it is nevertheless difficult to get rid of the impression that the wrath of God must be something negative and strange to a perfect being. When meeting statements about the goodness and the wrath of God in the same context (e.g. Na. 1:6, 7; Is. 61:2 and 63:4) it is hard to make them harmonize. This tension has often been taken to show that in YHWH opposite elements are reflected just as in the oriental despot. Now and then something demonic and capricious appears in YHWH which is not coordinated with His love. Lindblom, for example, holds that it is ‘für alttestamentliche Gottesanschauung typisch, dass Liebe and Zorn im Wesen Gottes gerade wie in einem orientalischen Herrscher nebeneinander liegen, ohne irgenwie

ausgeglichen zu werden’.1 But we cannot take it for granted that what look to us like disparate elements in the nature of God were also understood in the same way by the author of the text. How can we know that when a text combines love and wrath in YHWH the author means that love and wrath in YHWH have the same relationship to each other as in an oriental despot?

The basis for a negative evaluation of the wrath of God as something incompatible with a good and perfect nature seems to be the experience of human wrath as something which is usually negative a...

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