The Distressing Attributes of God

How God displays anger, hate, jealousy, and wrath and other such emotions throughout the Bible and how we should think about these “uncomfortable” characteristics.

by Bodie Hodge on April 27, 2022


The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. “Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the Lord. “Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.” (Malachi 1:1–3 NKJV)

Many Christians often focus on the attributes of God that show his grace, kindness, mercy, patience, and especially love. But how often do we study and focus on his other attributes, like his perfect justice? Or his righteous anger? Or God’s righteous hate? Or his righteous jealousy, wrath, and vengeance?

These attributes are often overlooked, and I believe that is to our detriment! This fact is problematic to ignore because when we don’t understand the righteous forms of anger, hate, or jealousy, we are prone to confuse them with unrighteous forms of anger, hate, or jealousy.

Consequently, this affects how we view the nature and character of God—it also becomes easier to fall into the trap of mistaken views of anger, hate, jealousy, wrath, and vengeance. I’ve heard people say that the Bible teaches that hate is a sin. I ask in response, “when God hated Esau, do you believe God was sinning?” Before there is any confusion, let me clarify: I’m not condoning any unrighteous/sinful form of hate.

This response often surprises the person who truly loves God and his Word. The reason is that it places their position “on the horns of a dilemma.” It pits a God who cannot sin (e.g., Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 1:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Deuteronomy 32:4) against their view where God would be deemed a sinner if hate is a sin. Ergo, the person’s view is in error.

I don’t say this lightly; I’ve been the person on the other end of this. When I grew up, I was taught that hate, anger, and jealousy were sins. Imagine for a moment when I read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3–17), and it said,

You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Exodus 20:5 NKJV)
God (and by extension his Word) is the absolute authority in all matters, including in describing his own attributes. When our perception of reality is refuted by God’s Word, we need to change our perception. As sinful beings, our perceptions and thoughts can be wrong.

God (and by extension his Word) is the absolute authority in all matters, including in describing his own attributes (Hebrews 6:13). When our perception of reality is refuted by God’s Word, we need to change our perception. As sinful beings (Romans 3:23, 5:12), our perceptions and thoughts can be wrong. To correct them, we need to align our views with God’s Word, just like everything else. As a result, we start to think properly (i.e., think God’s thoughts after him). Let’s look at God’s Word a little closer regarding these attributes of God that we commonly overlook; perhaps our neglect of these attributes is intentional as we’ve become uncomfortable with them due to worldly influence.


This may surprise many, but one of God’s righteous attributes is anger. Consider when God is speaking through Moses to the Israelites (descendants of Jacob), predicting that they will provoke God to anger after Moses dies (Deuteronomy 31:29):

They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. (Deuteronomy 32:16 NKJV)

Here, the prediction is that the Israelites would serve false gods and perform abominations that would make God angry. If you follow the Bible, the Israelites provoked God to anger many times (e.g., Judges 2:12; 1 Kings 22:53; 2 Chronicles 28:25; Isaiah 1:4).

Although the Bible doesn’t use the term anger, it is perhaps apt to say Jesus was angry when he drove out the thieving money changers with a whip and overturned their tables in the temple (e.g., Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15). God has perfect righteousness, so his anger is righteous anger. Furthermore, God cannot sin in his anger.

Man, being made in the image of God, can also have righteous anger. But as sinful human beings, we need to be careful not to sin in that anger. That is where we, as fallible sinful beings, can and do err. And this is the reason people have a negative view of anger.

This is why sin is said to be crouching at the door of an angry person. Consider Cain, who did not sacrifice the same way that God did in Genesis 3:21 (a blood sacrifice for sin), but only offered first fruits. God didn’t respect that offering, whereas God accepted Abel’s blood sacrifice. This made Cain very angry (Genesis 4:5–6). Cain should have been angry with himself for not making a pleasing sacrifice, and this anger should have helped him realize that he needed to make the correct sacrifice so that his offering would be accepted.

But Cain, in an unrighteous manner, directed his anger toward his brother. God warned him that sin was at his door (Genesis 4:7), but he didn’t rein in his anger. Instead, Cain succumbed to sinning in that anger when he killed his brother Abel.

Compare this case to Moses, where he mimicked the righteous anger of God. Contextually, from Numbers 26–31, the Midianite women were seducing the Israelite men at Peor to sin against God and serve false gods like Baal.

After a plague, God sent the Israelites to war to wipe out the Midianites involved in this seduction. But the Israelite army did something strange—they instead kept the very women alive who instigated the seduction. Furthermore, the soldiers wanted to bring the women into their houses as personal captives and part of the plunder.

If you missed the big picture, this is the main thing God warned the Israelites against—pagan women having direct influence over the Israelite men! Moses was angered because they didn’t follow God’s instructions. We read,

But Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle. And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? “Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. “But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately. (Numbers 31:14–18 NKJV)

Moses’ actions in his anger endeavored to follow what God said and were meant to push the Israelites back on track with God’s commands. In both cases, Cain and Moses were both angry, and as a result people died. In Cain’s case, it opposed God’s Word. However, in Moses’ case, it was in accordance with God’s Word.

The point is that anger is not always a sin, but in some cases, actions resulting from that anger can lead to sin. In other words, anger that goes against God’s Word is an unrighteous and sinful anger.


A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:8 NKJV)

As we read at the onset of this article (Malachi 1:1–3), God hated Esau. God reiterated this hatred for Esau in Romans 9:13. A perfectly righteous God (Romans 9:14) can hate with perfectly justified hatred (i.e., without malice). Why did God hate Esau? God alludes to the reason in Hebrews 12:16–17, saying that Esau was ungodly and profane, and that he sold his God-given birthright for a morsel of food—this obviously didn’t sit well with the Lord.

The point is that Esau followed evil and, at a whim, sold something only God can give for a mere meal.1 In contrast to this, Christ, who fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan directly, didn’t succumb to hunger pangs, but remained steadfast in the Word of the Lord (Matthew 4:1–11).

To many Christians’ surprise, God commands us to hate certain things, like evil:

You who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 97:10 NKJV)
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate. (Proverbs 8:13 NKJV)
Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:15 NKJV)
We are commanded to hate specific forms of evil in order to reflect God’s righteous hatred for these things.

Why? We are commanded to hate specific forms of evil in order to reflect God’s righteous hatred for these things. In poetic language, the book of Proverbs points out six things that God hates, and seven that are an abomination. The seven abominations are then listed:

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren. (Proverbs 6:16–19 NKJV)

Throughout Scripture, the six things God hates to go along with these seven abominations are

  1. Pride (Proverbs 8:13)
  2. Arrogance (Proverbs 8:13)
  3. The way of evil (Proverbs 8:13)
  4. Perverse speech (Proverbs 8:13)
  5. False worship (Deuteronomy 12:30–31; 16:21–22)
  6. The love of violence (Psalm 11:5)

You can see how Esau’s pride, arrogance, and way of evil dominated his life to sell his birthright at a whim. In the Bible, we see reflections of God’s hate for lying, arrogance, ways of evil, and violence:

I hate and abhor lying, But I love Your law. (Psalms 119:163 NKJV)
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity. (Psalm 5:5 NKJV)
Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:104 NKJV)
SAMEK. I hate the double-minded, But I love Your law. (Psalm 119:113 NKJV)
Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:128 NKJV)
Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? (Psalm 139:21 NKJV)
I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21 NKJV)
I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. (Amos 5:21 NKJV)

But I want to make a point here that is not to be missed— the hatred of evil, lying, pride, and so on is not in contradiction with the command of our Lord to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). We are commanded to hate sin and evil but to have mercy for the sinner (e.g., Jude 1:22–23). In mimicking God, we should also develop the same hate of sin that God has (i.e., not being afraid to point out sin, but without hypocrisy), which is among the most loving things we can do for others. And the primary way we can show the same mercy we’ve received to other sinners is by pointing them to Christ and his sacrifice, which is the only way for their (and our) sins to be forgiven.

God could righteously hate Esau because God is omniscient, and he knew that Esau would never repent—unlike us fallible and sinful human beings who are not in God’s all-knowing position. As limited humans, we do not have the luxury to know the future; only God does. We are to hate the sin, but at the same time love our enemies. Our actions of loving our enemies can be used by God to bring people to repentance. This is part of the process of sanctification—that is, becoming more pure and holy as the Holy Spirit conforms us to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).


As we read in the Ten Commandments, God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). Furthermore, one of God’s names is “Jealous.”

For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14 NKJV)

Contextually, God is commanding the Israelites to destroy the false idols and false places of worship in the land of Canaan; God warns that when they and their children follow the false religious worship, they are no longer godly, but are instead considered adulterous and playing the harlot. See the context:

But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods. (Exodus 34:13–16 NKJV)

God is consistent in the Bible about his jealousy when God’s people are unfaithful to him. God’s jealousy can bring wrath.

“For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel.’” (Ezekiel 38:19 NKJV)

This brings us to a good transition point to discuss God’s wrath and vengeance in more detail.

Wrath and Vengeance

God is a just God, and he enacts perfect justice on those who deserve it.

For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30–31 NKJV)

Many times in the Bible, God himself or a man or an angel would enact his judgment, vengeance, and wrath. See the brief examples below:

[Man] “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go against the Midianites to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian. (Numbers 31:2–3 NKJV)
[Angel] And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the Lord looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (1 Chronicles 21:15 NKJV)
[God] And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:13 NKJV)

God, being provoked to wrath by sin, shows that wrath is not a sin. God, being a righteous judge (2 Timothy 4:8), punishes sin:

Also at Taberah and Massah and Kibroth Hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. (Deuteronomy 9:22 NKJV)
Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. (2 Kings 23:26 NKJV)
“But because our fathers provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and carried the people away to Babylon.” (Ezra 5:12 NKJV)
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Just as I determined to punish you When your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ Says the Lord of hosts, ‘And I would not relent.’” (Zechariah 8:14 NKJV)
Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. (Revelation 19:15 NKJV)

Wrath and vengeance are not sins, though we are told to let God enact such things (Romans 12:19). God, in his perfect wisdom, knowledge, and power, can do it justly. For those who are unrepentant, this should be a fearful thing.

Final Thoughts

The wrath of God on earth seems to be temporal in its nature to judge unrepentant sinners for their evil. But God is an eternal God, and we are made in God’s eternal image (Genesis 1:26–27). Your soul will go on forever.

If you have not repented and turned to Jesus Christ in faith, who bore the wrath of our sin upon himself (Isaiah 53), this should cause you to wake up and think about your eternity. God, being a righteous Judge, will judge sin with eternal consequences. The God of the Old Testament is the same consistent God in the New Testament (e.g., Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2 NKJV)
And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46 NKJV)

When it comes down to it, it really is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NKJV)

Yet none of us are righteous as all have sinned (Romans 3:23). This is what hell is. Hell is eternal, conscious punishment with the wrath of God on unrepentant sinners for all eternity.

He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36 NKJV)

But Jesus Christ, the eternal and infinitely powerful Son of God, was able to take the wrath of sin upon himself (Hebrews 9:26) and make salvation possible by his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 10:9). It’s amazing to know our loving God did something for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV)


  1. Furthermore, Esau, knowing the birthright wasn’t his anymore, tried to steal it back. He wasn’t honest with his father who may have also insisted on giving it to Esau unjustly anyway. Nevertheless, Jacob and his mother both realized what they were up to and although Jacob didn’t use the best means to deal with the situation, he did receive what was rightfully his—the birthright.


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