A meditation on God’s wrath from Psalm 7

“God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” - Psalm 7:11-12

In the aftermath of God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, Christians concluded that God is Love in God's very essence. Every other attribute of God was understood as a facet reflecting the pure light of that one diamond.

This revelation triggered an obvious question. If God is love, how shall we interpret “the wrath of God” in the Bible? Wrath implies not only anger, but acts of violence and destruction. But according to Hebrews 12, even God's judgements express parental love and result in restoration.

Early Christianity ultimately worked out a straightforward response. St John of Damascus (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith) said,

Many of the things relating to God ... that are dimly understood cannot be put into fitting terms, but on things above us we cannot do else than express ourselves according to our limited capacity; as, for instance, when we speak of God we use the terms sleep, and wrath, and regardlessness [being heedless], hands, too, and feet, and such like expressions.

For St John, “wrath” is an anthropomorphism—a human attribute projected onto God metaphorically, because language fails to describe God adequately. And while we must humbly speak of God in metaphors, church fathers like John Cassian warned against taking the metaphors literally.

And so as without horrible profanity these things cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy. (Institutes 8.4).

Christian interpreters thus knew that biblical “wrath” was a metaphor describing an experience of our life with God. The metaphor actually points, not to the nature of God, but to the destructive consequences of turning from God … a turn that God warns against but consents to (“gives us over” - Rom. 1).

The carnage that occurs in the shadow of our turning might be called 'wrath.' Jewish rabbis sometimes also called it 'Satan' or the 'destroyer.' And so God-in-Christ comes to rescue us from 'the wrath,' not literally from 'God.'

What then? Shall we ignore or negate the wrath texts from our Bible? Far from it! With eyes perceptive to metaphor, we mine the riches of revelation in the wrath texts. Let's turn to Psalm 7 as an example of how David worked out wrath in the presence of God.


A Psalm of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, the son of Benjamin.

Charles Spurgeon (Treasury of David) suggests Cush had slandered David to Saul of treason and now Saul's wrath was forthcoming.

Verses 1–2:

We imagine our enemies as “the wicked,” and we become afraid of their wrath.

LORD my God, I take refuge in you;

Save and deliver me from all who pursue me,

Or they will tear me apart like a lion.

And rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.


Verses 3–5:

We imagine ourselves (on oath) as innocent, with God on our side.  

LORD my God, if I had done this and there is guilt on my hands

If I have repaid my ally with evil or without cause have robbed my foe

Then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;

Let him trample my life to the ground And make me sleep in the dust. Selah.


Verses 6–9:

We imagine God as an avenging Judge, whose wrath should be on our enemies.

Arise, LORD, in your anger; Rise up against the rage of my enemies.

Awake, my God; decree justice.


Did you notice the anthropomorphism? God has been sleeping!


Let the assembled peoples gather around you,

While you sit enthroned over them on high.

Let the LORD judge the peoples.

Vindicate me, LORD, according to my righteousness,

According to my integrity, O Most High.

Bring to an end the violence of the wicked And make the righteous secure,

You, the righteous God who probes hearts and minds.


Verses 10–13:

We ask God for wrath, but wonder if our enemies are God's wrath on us.

My shield is God Most High,

Who saves the upright in heart.

God judges the righteous,

And God is angry [with the wicked] everyday.

If he does not repent,

He [God] will sharpen his sword;

He [God] will bend and string his bow.

He has prepared his deadly weapons;

He makes ready his flaming arrows.


In the NIV, God is “angry with the wicked,” keeping the crosshairs on David's enemy. But the text actually only says, “God judges the righteous, and is angry every day.” Angry with whom? In Hebrew parallelism, possibly the righteous? “If he does not repent” might just refer to the righteous one! Focus is not only the wicked other, but the inclusive man who must repent (NASB)—the spotlight of wrath is on all the actors in this drama.


Verse 14–16:

We begin to realize what “wrath” actually is: God giving us over to the backlash of sin.

Whoever is pregnant with evil conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.

Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made.

The trouble they cause recoils on them;

Their violence comes down on their own heads.


Now David reveals the literal meaning of “wrath,” the actual outworking of God’s “vengeance”: the plots of the wicked will simply backfire. It is not that God reacts in angry outbursts of direct violence. That’s not how it works. If it did, God’s patience would indeed seem like slumber. As I wrote in A More Christlike God, if God is a “mighty smiter,” he should do far more smiting! In what way is God “angry every day”?

The Psalmist has shown us. “Wrath” in Psalm 7 is just as Paul describes it in Romans 1: the wrath of God is “revealed” (1:18) as a metaphor for God “giving over” (1:24, 26, 28) the wicked to the self-inflicted wages of their own sins.


Verse 17:

We begin to trust God, and come to peace by giving ourselves over to God's care.

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness [justice]; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

David refuses to personally engage in the wrath and defers judgment to the vengeance of God. David's part—our part—is to trust in God's love and justice.


The Psalmist closes in praise because he can bank on God’s justice—a justice that includes divine patience, which explains why God has neither allowed his enemies to catch him (yet) nor failed to eradicate his enemies (yet). For the Psalmist, wrath is ultimately not about violent direct intervention but about natural self-destructive consequences, a situation to his benefit so long as his own conscience is clean.


These are my meditations of wrath in Psalm 7. We hear the poet identify the wrath of his enemies, then project his desire for vengeance onto the justice of God. In so doing, he shows us that wrath is a metaphor for the self-inflicted blowback of human conniving and violence. Like Paul, David observes and rejoices in the ways of divine justice, even while puzzling over God's inconvenient patience.

At last, a wrath-nullifying grace will appear, not in the anthropomorphic vengeance of a mighty smiter, but in the mighty love of the David's Messianic descendent, Jesus Christ.

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About the author


Brad Jersak (PhD) is editor in chief of CWR Magazine and author of A More Christlike God and the children's book, Jesus Showed Us!

About the author