We asked the question: How does a God of infinite love react from heaven, that is, from the heavenly principle of agape love, when His creatures decide to leave Him in order to serve the gods?
First, we would like the reader to see again why God’s wrath is “revealed from heaven.” The reasons for “the wrath of God” are given in verses eighteen to twenty-three, and we have highlighted all the words that indicate why God’s wrath is revealed:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things (Romans 1:18-23).
Verse eighteen begins by saying “For the wrath of God…” and then all the way until verse twenty-three Paul clearly explains why “the wrath of God” is revealed from God. In these verses he uses words such as “for,” “because,” and then later on in verses twenty-four, twenty-six and twenty-eight he says “for this reason,” “and even as,” to give the reasons as to why “the wrath of God” is revealed from heaven.
So then here are the reasons Paul gives for “the wrath of God”: First, “because what may be known of God is manifest in them.” Second, because “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen.” Third, “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
In verse twenty-four Paul changes his tone and uses a very special word: the word “therefore.” This word “therefore” expounds on how God’s wrath is revealed from heaven. “Therefore…” because the people did not know God, even though God’s attributes were clearly seen, and because they knew God but didn’t glorify Him as God…. “Therefore…” God is going to have to do something.
What this word “therefore” in verse twenty-four means is this: because the people had done or not done the things which were stated in verses eighteen to twenty-three, therefore, as a result, God is going to have to do something about it. The word “therefore” has to do with God’s reaction to the stated problem. It has to do with God’s solution to the situation in question. And this is what we are going to explore next. What did God have to do as a result of the “for” and “because” that was stated earlier? What is His reaction and solution?
We ask: What does God do to those who completely ignore all the things He has given them to lead them into His ways of life? In other words, how is God going to deal with those who have chosen to follow the gods? How is His wrath going to be manifested upon them from “heaven”? Does He get angry with them? Does He punish them? Does He destroy them? Does He send lightning down from heaven upon them? Does He send a destroying angel to punish them?
As we continue reading Romans chapter 1, this foundational chapter that explains “the wrath of God,” we will finally get the answer to these questions. Below we will see what this biblical term “the wrath of God” really means. And we will see why it is revealed straight “from heaven”—straight from God’s throne of righteousness.
We now highlight three places where Paul explains what God has to do to those who are ungodly, who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” who don’t know God, who don’t “glorify Him as God,” who are not thankful to Him, or who become “futile in their thoughts.” Here is what God does to them:
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:24-25, emphasis added).
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due (Romans 1:26-27, emphasis added).
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased [REPROBATE] mind, to do those things which are not fitting being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32, emphasis added).
Nowhere else in the Bible is so clearly stated what God does to those who reject Him. God gives them up, and most important, God gives them over. Giving up and giving over are two different concepts, but they are expressed by the same Greek word, paradidōmi. Notice how Thayer defines this Greek word. It pretty much explains exactly what God has to do:
1) to give into the hands (of another)
2) to give over into (one’s) power or use
2a) to deliver to one something to keep, use, take care of, manage
2b) to deliver up one to custody, to be judged, condemned, punished, scourged, tormented, put to death
2c) to deliver up treacherously
2c1) by betrayal to cause one to be taken
2c2) to deliver one to be taught, moulded
3) to commit, to commend
4) to deliver verbally
4a) commands, rites
4b) to deliver by narrating, to report
5) to permit allow
5a) when the fruit will allow that is when its ripeness permits
5b) gives itself up, presents itself
Strong’s Concordance says that paradidōmi means “to surrender, that is, yield up, intrust.” When the Bible says that God is giving up someone or giving them over, it is literally saying that He is handing them over to someone else, delivering them over into someone else’s power, surrendering them to someone else, permitting and allowing someone else to have jurisdiction and power over them.
It means delivering them up to the custody of the god who, because he does not have God’s agape love, will judge, condemn, punish, scourge, torment, and put them to death. This is what God does; this is what He has to do because He is a God who sacredly guards our freedom. And He does it in agony and pain as will be confirmed by a multitude of scriptural passages as we go on.
This often raises the question of God’s reason for doing this. Does God use someone else to do His punitive work? Does He use someone else to do His dirty work, as some say? Is that what is happening here? We will address this very shortly from the Bible, as we continue.
THEREFORE, GOD ALSO GAVE THEM UP
God’s response to our leaving Him for another god, master or husband, whatever the metaphor we want to use, is simple: God lets us go to that master. He gives us the freedom to do just what we want to do. The words used above, “Therefore God also gave them up” and “God gave them over,” are clear. God gives us up. He gives us over to whatever or whomever we have chosen to follow. This is an expression of freedom. God gives us the freedom to go wherever we want to go.
It is as if God says: “I have tried all I could to save you from the fate that awaits you. But you would not hear my warnings. I’ve gone as far as I could go to save you without infringing upon your personal freedom, which I prize highly. Therefore, since there is nothing else I can do for you, I’m letting you be free to live with your choice. You have the freedom to do as you choose. The master of the jurisdiction you have chosen is cruel, punishing, and destructive. If you happen to change your mind, I’ll still be right here for you. Please change your mind and come back to Me before it is too late. I take no pleasure in witnessing the death of anyone!”
This is exactly what God says in places like Deuteronomy chapter thirty-two, in the Song of Moses. This text is too lengthy to insert here, but read it with new eyes and see that, even though the language of the text says that God will heap disasters on them, what He is really saying, is that because they have given themselves over to the gods, then He also has to give them up to those same gods who themselves will heap disasters upon them. The same idea is laid down in Hosea 11:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
As they called them,
So they went from them;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images.
I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them.
He shall not return to the land of Egypt;
But the Assyrian shall be his king,
Because they refused to repent.
And the sword shall slash in his cities,
Devour his districts, And consume them,
Because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most High,
None at all exalt Him.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst;
And I will not come with terror (Hosea 11:1-9, emphasis added).
In the passage above, God says to a people who are clearly returning to the gods, who are sacrificing to the Baals (to whom they were sacrificing their own children): “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” Can you see the parallel between this passage and Paul’s explanation of “the wrath of God”? Notice what was going to happen to them:
But the Assyrian shall be his king,
Because they refused to repent.
And the sword shall slash in his cities,
Devour his districts, and consume them,
Because of their own counsels (Hosea 11:5-6).
Israel had chosen another god, another jurisdiction, the jurisdiction of Baal. God was going to have to let go of them, He was going to have to “deliver” them, hand them over to Baal. As a consequence of being let go, they lost God’s protection and were going to be conquered by another king, the Assyrian king, whose army was known for its cruelty and ruthlessness.
Terrible things happen to a people who leave the protection of God. In particular, there are two main consequences for leaving God and His principles of righteousness. The first is that the people are then left completely open to strife and destruction among themselves because of their own unrestrained and violent passions. And the second is that they are left completely open and vulnerable to the vicious attacks of Satan and his agents as well. Below are some examples of both consequences:
The burden against Egypt.
Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud,
And will come into Egypt;
The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence,
And the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.
“I will set Egyptians against Egyptians;
Everyone will fight against his brother,
And everyone against his neighbor,
City against city, kingdom against kingdom.
The spirit of Egypt will fail in its midst;
I will destroy their counsel,
And they will consult the idols and the charmers,
The mediums and the sorcerers.
And the Egyptians I will give
Into the hand of a cruel master,
And a fierce king will rule over them,”
Says the Lord, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 19:1-4, emphasis added).
Isaiah describes above the unrestrained and violent passions of a people who have been following the wisdom of Satan’s reward and punishment system rather than surrendering their carnal natures to God. They are fighting among themselves, punishing each other, “Egyptians against Egyptians; everyone will fight against his brother, and everyone against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.” There is no love, no forgiveness, no grace here.
The world is very near to being exactly in this condition. This is the state of the world right now, as we speak. People are consulting the “idols and the charmers, the mediums and sorcerers” who teach them fables and evil principles of revenge and so-called “justice.” And by the way, these idols, charmers, mediums and sorcerers are not only those who are looking through their crystal balls. These idols, charmers, mediums and sorcerers are everywhere. They are in the media, movies, cartoons, video games, news, churches, governments, world organizations, corporations, and the list goes on and on. There is no safe haven from these evil spirits outside of Jesus Christ.
So then what is God’s reaction to all of this? He will give those that are seeking Satan’s wisdom into the hand of Satan, who is “a cruel master,” “a fierce king.” This “cruel master” and “fierce king” will “rule over them” with fierceness and cruelty. He will rule over them with his reward and punishment system.
Does God do this because He Himself wants these people to learn a lesson? Does He use Satan to do His dirty work? Absolutely not! God is giving them their freedom because they chose to live under Satan’s jurisdiction. God cries out in anguish at the thought of the horrors Satan will inflict upon His beloved children—the entire human race.
The people whom God hands over to Satan show by their behavior that they are living by Satan’s principles. This is expressed by the words “Egyptians against Egyptians,” “everyone will fight against his brother,” “and everyone against his neighbor.” Jesus prophesied that this would also be happening in our days—the last days:
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matthew 24:7).
Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death (Mark 13:12).
Those described in these verses are filled to the brim with Satan’s principle of reward and punishment; that is why they behave in this way. Their characters have become sealed, molded by his modus operandi.
If we examine further in the Old Testament concerning “the wrath of God,” we will see that this is exactly what takes place when God exercises “the wrath of God.” Here is another passage from the Psalms:
Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you!
O Israel, if you will listen to Me!
There shall be no foreign god among you;
Nor shall you worship any foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
Who brought you out of the land of Egypt;
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
But My people would not heed My voice,
And Israel would have none of Me.
So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart,
To walk in their own counsels.
Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways (Psalm 81:8-13, emphasis added)!
Can you feel God’s anguish, almost panic, in the words “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me!” Listen to me, I am the One who is your God!! I am the One who will take care of you! Just “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” with good things! Why do you need to go to Satan for your food? Is there any need to go seek spiritual food, wisdom and understanding from another god, the one who will destroy you with his violent principles?
Israel chose to follow a “foreign god,” the god of this world. The people would not listen to God’s admonishments and warnings. So they walked right into the mouth of the dragon. God’s lament is like a cosmic cry of pain and anguish: “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!” Oh, that the people would walk in My ways of agape love, of grace, of forgiveness, of life! Instead they “walk in their own counsels” of reward and punishment, destroying each other! Do these words sound like God is pleased to hand any of us over to Satan? Do they sound like He is a sadistic ruler who is pleased to hand us over to the torturer?
As we continue, we will take a look at a few more examples from the Old Testament. And as we explore these events further, we will continue to understand when God gives us up, why He gives us up, whom He gives us up to, and what happens when He gives us up.
In 2 Chronicles chapter thirty, king Hezekiah attempted to bring the people back to God. Thus, he sent a proclamation to them:
Then the runners went throughout all Israel and Judah with the letters from the king and his leaders, and spoke according to the command of the king: “Children of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel; then He will return to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. And do not be like your fathers and your brethren, who trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, so that He gave them up to desolation, as you see. Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you. For if you return to the LORD, your brethren and your children will be treated with compassion by those who lead them captive, so that they may come back to this land; for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him” (2 Chronicles 30:6-9, emphasis added).
Hezekiah pleaded with the people to return to God. Only a remnant, a younger generation, had escaped the kings of Assyria. Hezekiah pleaded with the children to not follow the example of their parents. What had happened to their fathers? They had “trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, so that He gave them up to desolation.” They were experiencing tragedy, destruction—“the fierceness” of God’s wrath.
But was God inflicting all these things upon them? Absolutely not! God had let go of them because they had chosen to follow another god. It may have appeared that God had turned His face from them, but we will soon see that it was they who had turned their faces away from God.
What was the trespass of the people? Why were they in such a situation? Notice what Hezekiah had stated in the previous chapter:
Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the LORD our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the LORD, and turned their backs on Him. They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel. Therefore the wrath of the LORD fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes. For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity. “No wit is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us (2 Chronicles 29:5-10, emphasis added).
The people had put “rubbish” in the Holy Place, because Hezekiah instructed the Levites to carry out the “rubbish” from the Holy Place. The KJV uses the word “filthiness” instead of “rubbish,” which in Hebrew is the word niddâh. This word means:
properly rejection; by implication impurity, especially personal (menstruation) or moral (idolatry, incest): far, filthiness, flowers, menstruous (woman), put apart, removed (woman), separation, set apart, unclean (-ness, thing, with filthiness).
The Levites had brought the moral impurity of the idols, idolatry, which is compared to a “menstruation.” They had brought the principles of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—their own works, their own righteousness—“rubbish”—into the Holy Place, and by doing so, they were in effect worshipping Satan! The “rubbish” was as impure as a woman’s menstrual cloth; it was a useless item that needed to be thrown out once it was used. It also means shedding one’s own blood for cleansing, instead of allowing oneself to be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. God doesn’t play around with His metaphors; He tells it like it is!
God uses the same metaphor in the Book of Isaiah also:
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
The word “filthy” here is the word ‘êd which means “to set a period, the menstrual flux (as periodical); by implication (in plural) soiling: – filthy (Strong’s Concordance).
The people had uprooted God, expelled Him from His rightful place in the Most Holy Place, and replaced Him with a useless idol that represented Satan’s impure, mixed principle of Good and Evil. They were the ones who had “forsaken” God, and “turned their faces away” from Him. How could they do this? But before we condemn them, we need to realize that we do exactly the same thing when we ascribe Satan’s dual character of Good and Evil unto the Holy God whose character is pure, uncorrupted, untainted by iniquity or evil!
It is highly meaningful that these idols were in the Holy Place, because the Holy Place is God’s place! Only God is holy because only He has no mixture of Good and Evil. Notice what the Word Study Dictionary says about the Hebrew word qōdeš, translated as Holy Place:
The word is also used when referring to holy places. God’s presence is what makes any place, anything, or anyone holy (Exo 3:5). The Holy Place in the Tabernacle (Exo 26:33; Exo 28:29) was separated from the Most Holy Place by a curtain (Exo 26:33); it refers to the Most Holy Place in the Temple as well (1Ki 6:16). This word with the definite article refers to the entire Tabernacle (Exo 36:1, Exo 36:3-4; Exo 38:27) and later the Temple Solomon built (1Ki 8:8); literally, the Holy Place (Psa 60:6; Psa 63:2 ) (Word Study Dictionary, emphasis added).
The Most Holy Place is where God used to come and communicate with the high priest, between the two covering cherubs who were stationed above the mercy seat. The mercy seat represents God’s throne of mercy and grace. The Most Holy Place is where God’s law—the law of agape love embodied in the Ten Commandments—was stored inside the Ark of the Covenant, under the mercy seat. Everything about the sanctuary has a symbolic meaning pointing us to the great truths and stages of the plan of salvation, and especially pointing us to God’s law of agape love, which is the essence of His character.
The sanctuary is no longer standing on earth; therefore, it’s meaning for us is chiefly symbolic. The Most Holy Place represented God’s holy character, the mercy seat represented His throne of mercy, and the law inside the ark again represented His holy and pure character of agape love, which is the everlasting moral law of the universe. When we look at the sanctuary in this light, we realize the enormity of what they had done!
They themselves perhaps had not grasped the full meaning of their actions in placing a corrupt idol which represented a mixture of Good and Evil where only the incorruptible, pure and holy God, the Creator and giver of life—whose character is singularly love—should be. This then was their great trespass, and in doing so, they aligned themselves with Lucifer, who had sought to replace the unconditional law of love with the conditional law of reward and punishment.
What was God’s response to their trespass? What was His response to their worshiping other gods, to their turning their faces away from Him? His response was a response that is in line with His righteousness, with His heavenly principle: it was simply “to give them up,” that is, to give them their freedom. And in giving them freedom, He, who had been holding back the Destroyer from them, had to allow Satan full access to them. Their heavenly protection gone, Satan used them and turned them against each other. He also used other human beings—their enemies—to oppress and destroy them. The result of God giving them up was “desolation.” Hezekiah himself explains what happened to the people:
He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes. For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity (2 Chronicles 29:8-9, emphasis added).
God gave them up to what happens when we position ourselves under Satan’s jurisdiction. They were now in Satan’s “path of curses” outlined in Deuteronomy 28, and as a result they were experiencing “trouble,” “desolation,” “jeering,” “the sword” and “captivity.” And yet, God’s unconditional, impartial, unending agape love still stretched out a hand to the people:
Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you (2 Chronicles 30:8).
What had the people done to deserve “the wrath of God”? They had forsaken their Creator and turned to the gods. What was God’s response? God’s response was to honor their choice, and in so doing He had to give them up to the ruthless ruler they had chosen.
Had the people suffered wrath? Yes, they certainly had. Their land was brought to utter desolation. But who had incurred destruction upon them? The Assyrians. And who was behind the Assyrians? Not God. Why not? Because God is not the Destroyer; He is the Creator.
Here is the character of God: “the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him” (2 Chronicles 30:9). God is the only absolute. He is always there, as an unmovable rock. We are the moving objects that either turn towards or away from Him.
2. EZEKIEL TWENTY
We are now going to look at another passage that sheds further light into what it means that God gives us up when we turn from Him to follow idols. The following is an exchange between Ezekiel and “certain of the elders of Israel.” Notice how God becomes a part of this conversation:
It came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Have you come to inquire of Me? As I live,” says the Lord God, “I will not be inquired of by you.” ’ Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Then make known to them the abominations of their fathers (Ezekiel 20:1-4, emphasis added).
What we are about to witness is a very interesting and informative exchange between the prophet, the leaders of the people, and God. God Himself begins to explain why the people find themselves in their present condition. He lays before them their entire history:
Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “On the day when I chose Israel and raised My hand in an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I raised My hand in an oath to them, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God.’ On that day I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands. Then I said to them, ‘Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me. They did not all cast away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said, ‘I will pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt (Ezekiel 20:5-8, emphasis added).
What is God referring to in the above text? Isn’t He bringing their minds back to the Exodus from Egypt? Do you remember Horeb and the Golden Calf? At the same time that God was giving His law on top of Horeb, the people were molding an Egyptian idol for themselves—the Golden Calf—which represented the Egyptian god of fertility, Osiris.
Osiris is one of the major figures in Egyptian mythology along with his wife, Isis, and along with another god called Typho. These three gods formed the Egyptian godhead. They represented diametrically opposed principles, but they ruled as one. Osiris was the sun god. He was also the ruler of the underworld. He was said to embody “benevolence.”
Some Egyptian historians claim that the myth surrounding Osiris indicates that he came to be considered the benefactor of mankind, a major influence on his contemporaries. He travelled through the countryside and charmed the country folk with music and dancing, teaching them how to become “civilized,” and by that it was meant to engage in war. In the mystical literature, Osiris is also sometimes referred to as the water god, because to him was attributed anything that was good and benevolent in nature like the rain that made the crops grow in the fields.
Isis, his wife, was said to contain the creative power of Nature and she also typified “justice” or “wisdom,” a euphemism for punitive justice. Can you start to see the duality of Good and Evil here? Beneficence—Good (reward), and justice—Evil (punishment). This was the godhead of Egypt.
Thus, when the Israelites molded the Golden Calf and said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32: 3), they clearly were putting in motion the mechanism of “the wrath of God.” Can you see how they had even credited the god of Egypt as being their savior? They had clearly given themselves over to Satan and his law of Good and Evil.
God’s law, the eternal and universal law of agape love, has always been the focus of Satan’s attack in his controversy against the Creator. And now, while God was declaring that same eternal law to the world—writing it on stone, as a symbol of its immutability—at the very same moment when it was being given, the people returned their allegiance back to the one who had kept them captive in Egypt, in cruel bondage through the law of Good and Evil. Again, before we condemn them, let us be aware that we may be doing exactly the same thing. So how did God respond at that time? What did He say to Ezekiel and the elders of Israel?
But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt (Ezekiel 20:9).
By getting the people to erect an image, an idol, Satan was trying to force God’s hand into giving them up right there and then, forcing Him to remove His protection from them. Why would Satan want to do such a thing? Could it be because if God had let go of His protection, then Satan would have been free to bring disaster upon the people right there and then? And then he would be able to lead them—and all of us as well—to believe that it was God who was punishing them? Hasn’t that been Satan’s agenda all along, to make us think that God’s law is the law of reward and punishment? That it is God who punishes us?
And what about those “Gentiles” who were among them? What would they think of God if all of a sudden, the Israelites were completely annihilated? It was almost as if Satan had cornered God between a rock and a hard place: checkmate, God!
The people had chosen Satan, and Satan was demanding the right to have access to them. It is as if he was telling God: “you have to remove your protection from the people because they have chosen me as their god. If you are a righteous God who believes in the utter sacredness of the people’s freedom, then let them go. Turn them over to me. They have chosen me as their leader.”
Indeed, what can a God who respects our freedom to the highest degree do? He has to let go. God was in a very precarious position that day. In that very moment, God needed a human agent who would intercede on behalf of the people. He needed someone who would stand in the gap of that metaphoric wall of protection. There was a huge metaphoric hole in that wall, a gap big enough for a whole enemy army to come right in. The people had created that gap by erecting an idol. And now God needed a human being who would pray, and who would ask for protection, in spite of what the people had done.
Why did God need this? He needed it so that He would have the right to keep Satan the Destroyer at bay. So that He would have the right to continue protecting the people from the malice and cruelty of the Destroyer. Moses fulfilled that role. Take a look at what the Psalmist wrote about this very same episode:
They made a calf in Horeb,
And worshiped the molded image.
Thus they changed their glory
Into the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God their Savior,
Who had done great things in Egypt,
Wondrous works in the land of Ham,
Awesome things by the Red Sea.
Therefore He said that He would destroy them,
Had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach,
To turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them (Psalm 106:19-23, emphasis added).
Moses stood before God “in the breach, to turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them.” Here is that metaphor—standing in the breach or the gap of the wall of protection. This makes no sense to us, unless we study it to see what it means. We will not discuss this fully right now, but we will address it when we discuss God’s Strange Act. For now, suffice it to say that Moses’ intercessory prayer was enough to give God the right to continue protecting the people, which He did. “God’s wrath,” His letting go was averted and He did not release the people into the hands of the Destroyer. Thus, God was able to say:
But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt (Ezekiel 20:9).
God acted for His “name’s sake.” He protected them for “His name’s sake,” so that His name would not be profaned among the Gentiles. So that Satan couldn’t take this opportunity to soil God’s character yet once again. If we go back to the event itself, in Exodus, we get further understanding of what happened here:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people (Exodus 32:7-14, emphasis added).
Those who don’t understand God’s character and the behind-the-scenes workings of the great controversy will take this passage and say that it was Moses who convinced God to relent from His anger. Thus, they make the creature into a better being than the Creator Himself. They ascribe more compassion and mercy to a human being than to God—the God of mercy Himself, whose throne—the mercy seat—is established upon mercy.
If we don’t realize how “the wrath of God” works behind the scenes, then we will inevitably default to this understanding too, and we will see God as temperamental and hot-headed, as someone who needs a human being to restrain Him in order to pacify His temper.
Moses’ intercession was not needed to calm down an angry, furious God. It was not needed to make God relent from harming His own beloved people. It was not needed to remind a forgetful God who could not remember His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God does not have a temper problem. God loved the people more than Moses could ever dream of loving them. And the God about whom it is written “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13) is certainly not a forgetful God.
But Moses, a human being, intercedes with God as a human being. And when humans intercede for others, their intercessions have power in the context of the great spiritual war that is taking place between God and the Devil. It has the power to give a righteous and fair God—who does not “bring a reviling accusation” (Jude 9) even against the Devil—an argument in defense of the people before a ruthless ruler like Satan. Notice how this is exactly what happens, according to Zechariah chapter three:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:1-2)?
Joshua is a type of the human race standing before “the angel of the Lord.” “The angel of the Lord” is the Lord Himself, and He says to Satan, who is “standing at his right to oppose him,” to accuse Joshua: “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
Satan, whose name means “accuser,” is that “thief” that “does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). He is that “roaring lion seeking whom he may destroy” (1 Peter 5:8).
When we pray for those that are clearly walking in Satan’s path, Jesus says to Satan: “The Lord rebuke you, Satan!” “Someone has interceded for this person, and this gives Me the right to keep you away for now.”
If we return to Ezekiel chapter twenty, we will see that God continued explaining to Ezekiel and the elders of Israel what had happened in their history:
Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them.’ Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them (Ezekiel 20:10-12, emphasis added).
God gave the people the one thing they needed in order to live under His jurisdiction, His protection, and His blessings: He gave them His statutes. He gave them His law. He gave them the law of agape love, “which, if a man does, he shall live by them.” He gave them what Satan has tried to remove from the universe’s view since the beginning of his rebellion. This, the giving of His law, was the best thing God could have done for them. It was like giving them life—“which, if a man does, he shall live by them.” He also gave them His Sabbaths so that they might know that He is the One who “sanctifies them,” not the one who destroys them.
The word “sanctify” means to “to be (causatively make, pronounce or observe as) clean” (Strong’s Concordance). God pronounces us as “clean,” He sees us as “clean.” That is why He gave us the Sabbath, “to be a sign between” Him and us, so that we “might know” that He, the Creator, is “the Lord who sanctifies” us. He goes on explaining:
Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I wo pour out My fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them uld. But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. So I also raised My hand in an oath to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands, because they despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless, My eye spared them from destruction. I did not make an end of them in the wilderness. (Ezekiel 20:13-17, emphasis added).
As we read these events of the past, we must keep in mind that all biblical history serves as a type—as examples—for us who are living in the last generation of this earth’s history. The exodus story especially, is given to us as a warning and an object lesson so that we will not make the same mistakes they made back then. Notice what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter ten in this regard:
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:1-11, emphasis added).
We are supposed to learn from the mistakes of the past. “The ends of the ages” is the end of the world as we know it. This is our time—right now. We are living at the very edge of the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. We, living right now, are those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” All this was written for our “admonition”—as a warning to us. Notice please, who it was that destroyed them: they “were destroyed by serpents” and “by the destroyer.”
Now, the Destroyer is clearly pointed out in Revelation chapter nine and verse eleven:
And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon [DESTRUCTION], but in Greek he has the name Apollyon [DESTROYER] (Revelation 9:11, emphasis added).
The Destroyer is the “angel of the bottomless pit.” This is definitely not God! God continues His exposition in Ezekiel twenty, His explanation of why “the wrath of God” comes upon the world:
But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the Lord your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.’ “Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; but they profaned My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew My hand and acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. Also I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries, because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols. (Ezekiel 20:18-24, emphasis added).
Can you see how God seems to be unceasingly trying to get the people to make the right choices so that He can prevent their disaster? And yet the people seemed set on following the gods and the teachings from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God’s sacred regard for our freedom does not cause Him to punish us, but rather to release us to the choices we make. Notice the next verses carefully:
therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live; and I pronounced them unclean because of their ritual gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire, that I might make them desolate and that they might know that I am the Lord” ’ (Ezekiel 20:25-26, emphasis added).
When the people chose the gods, they were in effect choosing to live by the statutes of reward and punishment, the moral law of Good and Evil—”statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live.” In other words, statutes and judgments that do not produce life, but that in effect take away life, just as God had warned Adam regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “the day you eat of it you will surely die.”
The end result was that, since they were worshipping the gods of reward and punishment, they “caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire”—in other words, they sacrificed all their firstborn on the fire in order to appease the anger of the punishing gods. God pronounced them “unclean” because of these ritual gifts which were meant to placate the anger of their gods.
God goes on to say:
Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me, by being unfaithful to Me. When I brought them into the land concerning which I had raised My hand in an oath to give them, and they saw all the high hills and all the thick trees, there they offered their sacrifices and provoked Me with their offerings. There they also sent up their sweet aroma and poured out their drink offerings. Then I said to them, ‘What is this high place to which you go?’ So its name is called Bamah [HIGH PLACE] to this day.” ’ Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Are you defiling yourselves in the manner of your fathers, and committing harlotry according to their abominations? For when you offer your gifts and make your sons pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols, even to this day. So shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live,” says the Lord God, “I will not be inquired of by you. What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, ‘We will be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries, serving wood and stone’ (Ezekiel 20:27-32, emphasis added).
It was in the high places (think of Mayan or Aztec pyramids on top of which human sacrifices were conducted) that the people sacrificed their own children to the gods. It was there that they made “their sons pass through the fire,” something which is abominable to us and even more so to God.
We must ask ourselves: what would cause a parent to sacrifice his/her own child to a god? Why would anyone do something so awful as that? The people offered their best possible offering—their own children—to the gods in order to avert their anger and severe punishments, which of course, they thought were coming from God. The people were in a sense cornered because of their false understanding of who God is. Perhaps they thought that it was better to sacrifice one child rather than their entire family. But through the prophet Jeremiah, God says that such horrific sacrifices never even entered His mind:
Thus says the Lord: “Go and get a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests. And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle. “Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind) (Jeremiah 19:1-5, emphasis added).
How horrific! How tragic that the people were so misled regarding God’s character that they would even imagine that He wanted them to burn their children in the fire in order to please or appease Him. Baal, yes, he required such a heart-wrenching sacrifice because Baal is ruthless, cruel, unmerciful. Satan, the true force behind Baal, cares nothing for the human race. He has a point to make, and that is all that matters to him: he wants to prove that he was right in rebelling against God’s law of agape love. He doesn’t want to lose this battle. But Satan is no longer in his right mind. He has already lost this war, and yet he keeps persisting as if he can still win it.
The problem with Satan’s system of reward and punishment is that his methods are so damaging to human beings that the moment he manages to create some semblance of order through his methods of violence, he also creates chaos. We can understand this if we look at how we were punished as children. Yes, a good lashing did make us toe the line for a little bit, but it also created such fear and hatred in our hearts that we rebelled even more. This is a microcosm of Satan’s reward and punishment system. Imagine this in a worldwide scale, in every aspect of life. There comes a point when the whole system has to implode and explode. Which is the point where we are arriving at right now in this world’s history.
The point Satan wants to make is this: he wants his system of reward and punishment to win over God’s law of agape love. He had claimed that Good and Evil—iniquity—was much more efficient in creating order and harmony among intelligent beings than unconditional love. “How can you rule without reward and punishment, God? Your love is weak. It is foolish!”
Satan’s reputation amongst an entire universe is on the line here. Thus, he goes to great lengths to keep us in ignorance regarding God’s infinite love for us so that we keep worshipping the wrong god. But the day we wisen up to him, he will lose this battle. And that day is coming soon.
In view of all the evidence we have seen so far, how do we then answer those initial questions we posed at the beginning of this chapter? When does God give us up? Why does He give us up? Who does He give us up to? What happens when He gives us up?
We have seen that God gives us up when we turn our faces away from Him to worship other gods. And He gives us up because in His righteousness, He has to provide us with total freedom. If we choose to follow another god—the only other god, the one who is the god of this age—then the true God gives us the freedom to do so. What happens next is complete chaos, destruction, pain and suffering. Not only do we destroy each other, but Satan also attacks and destroys us.
In Isaiah thirty-four, God calls all of us, the entire earth, to come and “hear” and understand exactly this:
Come near, you nations, to hear;
And heed, you people!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
The world and all things that come forth from it.
For the indignation of the Lord is against all nations,
And His fury against all their armies;
He has utterly destroyed them,
He has given them over to the slaughter
(Isaiah 34:1-2, emphasis added).
God has “given them over.” We stated earlier that “the wrath of God” is a mechanism within the great controversy between God and Satan. This mechanism is very simple, and it works much like a political election. It is basically a set of choices and consequences that determine which jurisdiction we belong to. If we elect to follow and live by Satan’s principles, then God has to honor our freedom and allow us to suffer the consequences inherent in that jurisdiction. God releases us to the choices we make.
Since God can only act in harmony with His heavenly principles of righteousness—the principles of agape love—hence, this is exactly what He does: He gives us the freedom to leave Him. He simply lets us go. He permits us to walk fully into the choices we have made. This is what God does when we leave Him for another god: He reluctantly accepts our divorce papers.
There is no escaping this mechanism of “the wrath of God” which is put in motion by our choice of worshipping the god of this world. Why? Because freedom is sacred to God. It is the foundation of His character, His agape love, and His government.
If we elect Satan as our god, the Creator has to give us up, has to hand us over to the jurisdiction of our choosing; and then, once He does, destruction comes both from within us (we will see more examples of this) and from the violent ruler we have elected. This is the mechanism of “the wrath of God.” This is the true meaning of the biblical term “the wrath of God.”