By James Boice
Theme: Wrath and Mercy Mingled
In this week’s lessons, God is displayed as the righteous Judge who demonstrates his wrath toward sinners, but mercy toward his chosen people.
Scripture: Psalm 76:1-12
It is a natural practice of the psalmists to reflect on the meaning of some great historical event, projecting it onto an even larger screen. That is what happens here in a string of theological comments woven in with the historical descriptions. These deal with the nature and inevitability of God’s judgments generally and may even point, as I suggested earlier, to the great final judgment of the last days. Derek Kidner calls this a vision of “the end-time” in which “God is foreseen striking the final blow against evil everywhere, as Judge.”1 Whatever the case, verses 7-10 provide us with a helpful theology of God’s judgment.
1. God alone is to be feared (v. 7). People have all sorts of fears—fear of failure, fear of lacking life’s necessities, fear of ridicule, fear of sickness, ultimately fear of death and dying. What this verse tells us is that these are ultimately insignificant when measured against a right and proper fear of God’s judgment: “You alone are to be feared.”
Yet sinners ignore God and dismiss all serious thought of his judgment. Why should this be? Possibly because we really do fear judgment and thus bury thoughts of what is too horrible even to contemplate. The book of Revelation describes the fear of people at the final judgment, saying, “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand’” (Rev. 6:16, 17)?
2. Every mouth will be silenced by God’s judgment (v. 8). One of the most objectionable characteristics of people who do wrong is that they never seem to admit it and then shut up. On the contrary, they are always making excuses for their wrong behavior, trying to get in the last word of self-serving, self-justifying explanation, if they can. There will be no final words from sinners at the last judgment. That is why Paul writes in Romans, “Whatever the laws says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (3:19). The psalmist captures the same thought when he says that faced with God’s judgment “the land feared and was quiet.”
3. God mingles wrath with mercy for the afflicted (v. 9). Display of God’s wrath is only one part of what the final judgment is about, however. The other side of wrath is mercy, and mercy will be shown by God to the meek and afflicted of the earth. In the historical judgment that is the occasion for this psalm. It was mercy to Israel. In the judgment of the last days it will be mercy to those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. We saw this theme in the previous psalm, noting that it is also found in Hannah’s song, recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, and in Mary’s great Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Mary’s well-known words say, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever” (vv. 52-55).
4. God is glorified even in his wrath (v. 10). The last important reflection on God’s judgments, looking forward to the final judgment, is that God is glorified and is to be praised even in the outpourings of his wrath: “Surely your wrath against men brings you praise” (v. 10).
This is the answer to why God elects some people to salvation in Jesus Christ while passing by others who are reserved for judgment, as the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 9. God’s desire is that he might be known and glorified in all his attributes. Therefore, he displays his mercy in saving those he does save, and he displays his power, justice and wrath in judging those he passes by. Pharaoh is an example, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9:17, 18).
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 275.
- Why will every mouth be silenced at God’s judgment?
- Describe what will be demonstrated along with God’s wrath.
- Who will be shown mercy? How will mercy be shown in the last days?
- How is God glorified through his wrath?
Application: In your personal devotions and prayer, remember to praise the Lord for his grace and mercy shown to you in your salvation. Look for opportunities to share the gospel with someone who right now appears to be under the wrath of God.
For Further Study: The wisdom of God is seen partly in how he exercises both wrath and mercy. To see how the Apostle Paul describes God’s wisdom, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Profound Wisdom of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
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