When was the last time the theme of a popular Christian song was wrath of God on the ungodly? That long, eh? To be honest, since I have listened to popular Christian music I cannot recall any song on the wrath of God that was not either an updated version of a great hymn of the faith or just making a passing reference to God’s wrath. I cannot recall ever hearing a song expressly praising God for displaying His greatness in the dispensation of His wrath.
It seems to strike sharply against the sensibilities of today’s Christian to even admit the existence of God’s wrath, much less make it an object of worship and adoration. It is as if the modern church has taken its God to the surgeon’s table and excised those attributes it is not comfortable with. Give them Love, give them a Comforter, give them the Prince of Peace — but do not give them a Tempest!!
Yet, this is precisely what we see throughout Scripture. It can be almost formulaic at times: God displays His wrath and His people praise His name.
Take a journey through the Scriptures sometime to those passages where God displayed His great power in devastating the ungodly and see what the reaction of His people were. Consider the utter annihilation of Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. After the Lord destroyed the entire host of Pharaoh’s army, in Exodus 14:31 we read:
Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
They “saw” the great power of God and so the people “feared” the Lord. From thousands of years of distance, we can read such an event and not be stirred to fear. But those who witnessed this great display of power could not help being moved to fear. They did not have a modern, sanitized sense of what we call “godly fear” by which we mean only reverence and awe. They were afraid — terrified. Fear of the Lord may contain reverence and awe, but the reason such reverence and awe exists is precisely because the Lord, by His power, instills great fear. The people understood this and realized that the Lord was great in power. And this produced within them a song of praise. Contemplate the partial citation of that song:
Exodus 15:1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name.
4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
5 The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone.
6 Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.
7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
8 At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
10 You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
11 “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
“The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation”…”Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
These words were not written in a vacuum. There was a specific context — a specific reason that God was seen as majestic in holiness and awesome in power. As Moses rehearsed the events that preceded the song, neither political correctness, nor hurt feelings over the vanquished, nor even the duration of the Hebrew oppression was his concern. The object of his worship was God. The lofty theme was the majesty and holiness of God as displayed in His wrath against Pharaoh.
The reason why God is awesome is because He displayed His wrath and power against His enemies, and this stirred the heart of Moses and Israel to praise Him. It could be argued that this song had the theme of God’s love, but while there was a demonstration of His love for His people the focus of the song was not His love. This is no small point to grasp. This was true worship. The message is clear: God is worthy of worship in the display of His wrath upon the ungodly.
God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. “The Lord is good…” Nahum tells us also after telling us, “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” This was no difficulty for Nahum. It was not a contradiction to him.
Imagine, for just a moment, if one were to take the words of the song in Exodus and give it a modern beat. How would such a song be received in the Christian community? I shudder to think that the modern Christian heart would not be stirred by the words themselves. Would their hearts be stirred by something other than the words, such as the music? After all, we are part of the “It’s just song” generation, are we not?
It is a real problem with modern “worship” and why themes such as the wrath of God, if they are mentioned at all, are overwhelmed by themes such as Love, Grace, and Mercy. In today’s church, worship seems to be all about the comfort of man. Colors, architecture, themes, music — much of it is geared toward comfort and pleasure. So much thought, energy, and time is put into how men are pleased by worship that one wonders how much consideration and study and contemplation is given as to whether or not God is pleased by it. Man must find it acceptable and God must just deal with what we give Him.
I fear that the modern church treads too lightly on the wrath of God. It seems that it has mistaken “boldly approaching the throne of grace” with arrogantly approaching the throne of grace. The reason why God’s love, grace and mercy are so wonderfully sweet to the believer is precisely because he has a clear — a frighteningly clear — perception of the wrath of God. God is holy, and were it not for His mercy, the ground upon which we stand would swallow us up as it did Korah. We were enemies of God before faith in Christ. We were children of wrath. We cling to Christ dearly because we know in Him we are redeemed from the righteous indignation of God. A true heart of faith acknowledges that God is just in his wrath against him and confesses that He is right to do so because of our sin. He will cling to Christ alone because in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We are humbled because of His mercy.
God’s people throughout Scripture were able to sing of God’s wrath when they knew Him and were obedient to Him. God’s people today need to recapture that reverence and fear of the Lord and sing songs with the intention of pleasing the Lord rather than pleasing men.
Revelation 15:3-4 And they sang the song of Moses the bond-servant of God and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; For all the nations will come and worship before Thee, For Thy righteous acts have been revealed.”