A Harsh God?

Posted on May 26, 2020


By David Ettinger

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “fire and brimstone.” Basically, this an expression which refers to God’s wrath as expressed in the Bible – particularly the Old Testament.

One Bible book in particular seems to specialize in God’s orations of “fire and brimstone,” and this the Book of the “minor prophet” Nahum. Here are a few examples:

  • “A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (1:2).
  • “Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him” (1:6).
  • “… with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, and will pursue His enemies into darkness” (1:8).
  • “She is emptied! Yes, she is desolate and waste! Hearts are melting and knees knocking! Also anguish is in the whole body and all their faces are grown pale!” (2:10).
  • “The noise of the whip, the noise of the rattling of the wheel, galloping horses and bounding chariots! Horsemen charging, swords flashing, spears gleaming, many slain, a mass of corpses, and countless dead bodies – they stumble over the dead bodies!” (3:2-3).

Wow! What’s all this? This isn’t the “God of love” Christians have come to know. This is one harsh God!


A Closer Look
The Book of Nahum concerns the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. This is the same Nineveh who 150 years earlier Jonah preached to. Then, the Ninevites repented and were spared God’s judgment. However, they eventually resorted to their usual ways.

And just what were those “ways?” Let’s take a look. Caution: This is not pleasant reading.

  • King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.): “I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountain I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed their mountain red like wool. The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over and against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned alive in the fire” (Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:148).
  • King Ashurnasirpal again, telling of a captured enemy leader: “I flayed [him], his skin I spread upon the wall of the city …” (ibid, 1:146).
  • King Sennacherib (705-681): “I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives [as one cuts] a string. Like the many waters of a storm I made [the contents of] their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth … Their hands I cut off” (ibid, 2:127).
  • King Shalamaneser II (859-824 B.C.): “A pyramid of heads I reared in front of his city. Their youths and their maidens I burnt up in the flames” (ibid, 1:213).
  • King Ashurbanipal again: “I pierced his chin with my keen hand dagger. Through his jaw … I passed a rope, put a dog chain upon him and made him occupy … a kennel” (ibid, 2:310).

No need to torment you further; you get it. The Ninevites were a brutal, violent, destructive, and merciless people. The Book of Nahum is about God’s vengeance against and judgment upon this society which is one of the most barbaric humanity has ever known.

A Harsh God?
Is God too harsh in meting out such punishment upon such a society? Is God any better than those He is destroying? Is this the same God you love and adore, the One whom you call “Father” in whose hand you love curling up and telling all your troubles to?

Of course it is. God is multi-faceted and cannot be fit into the box Christians want to place Him. Of course He is a God of  love; but He is also a God of vengeance. Of course He is a God of compassion, but He is also a God of justice. Of course He is a God of mercy, but He is also a God of righteousness.

But is He a harsh God? No, He is not. God is a God whose justice and righteousness dictate that He punish evil and make and end of it. As Christians, we must accept this. We cannot pick and choose the attributes of God we like and ignore those we find distasteful. All of God’s attributes work as one, and the same God who loves us so deeply and cares for us so greatly is also the One who will bring final fiery judgment upon a very, very wicked Earth.

Is God a harsh God of fire and brimstone? He is not, but, like any father, He is a God who must act with harshness when circumstances dictate. “God is love” (1 John 4:8; 16) indeed, but He is so much more than that. This is something believers must recognize and accept. Anything less does a disservice to Him.