Wrathful Gods and the "Day of the Lord" (Isaiah 13:9-16)
(These Ancient Near Eastern Motifs and Parallels revealing
Why Yahweh, Jesus and Allah are portrayed as Wrathful Gods)
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10 June 2001
Revisions & Updates through 27 February 2007
Some moderns are surprised and disconcerted with the Hebrew Bible's (The Old Testament's) presentation of God. The image of a God persecuting his enemies and his own people seems to clash with the modern stress on God as a God of "Love, Mercy and Forgiveness."
"Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that any belief must carry the stamp of the age which fashioned or received it..." (p.242, "Religious Life," Georges Contenau. Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria. New York. Saint Martins Press. 1954)
Contenau's above adage, that a work reflects the age in which it was composed, is borne out by investigations into the religious concepts of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods (the 9th-6th centuries BCE) which reveal that their conceptualizations of their gods mirrors to a degree, that presented in the Hebrew Bible.
The Hebrews did not develop their religious beliefs in isolation. They drew from and were influenced by the beliefs of their contemporaries. This article explores the concept of God being a "Wrathful God" and the motif of the "Day of the Lord," a day when his wrath falls upon his enemies, including his own people, noting parallels in the literature of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods.
The Assyrians and Babylonians had the understanding that war was occasioned by a god's will and purpose. The god is often portrayed as being angry with his people and to punish them, he brings a foreign army against the land. Interestingly, the god is sometimes portrayed as declaring that the source of his anger has to do with his worshippers NOT FEARING HIM, but instead, DESPISING HIM ! He is portrayed as concluding that only wrathful warrior-gods get respect and thus he dons war-regalia and, with other warrior gods accompanying him, he proceeds to get respect, fear and honor by ravaging his own people, the righteous and unrighteous falling to his wrath. He always providentially leaves a remnant to honor him, in fear and trembling, who will sing praises of his valour, and inspire future generations to hold him in awe, fear and respect. All this archaic imagery mirrors the Hebrew conceptualizton of Yahweh-Elohim in the Hebrew Bible.
I am using Dalley's version of a text titled "Erra and Ishum," which has been dated by its colophon to the reign of the Assyrian king Asshurbanipal, 668-627 BCE and found in his library at Nineveh, but Dalley suggests that it may date as early as the 8th century BCE (cf. p.282. Stephanie Dalley. Myths From Mesopotamia, Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, And Others. Oxford & New York. Oxford University Press. 1989, 1991. ISBN 0-19-281789-2. pp.337. pbk.). Dalley understands Erra to be Nergal, a god of plague and lord of the underworld.. He was originally an astral diety who descended into the underworld, becoming its lord. Langdon understood Nergal to be an aspect of the sun, other texts suggest an association with the planet Mars (cf. pp.127-8, "Nergal," Gwendolyn Leick. A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. London & New York. Routledge.1991. ISBN 0-415-19811-9 pbk)
The Hebrew Bible stresses that God is angry with his people, Israel, because they have turned from him and worshipped other gods and have ignored his commandments given them at Mount Sinai. The claim is made that Israel "DESPISES" its God. This motif of a God being despised by his own worshippers and in anger turning on them and persecuting them is encountered in the literature (Hymns) of the Neo-Babylonians.
"...they will turn to other gods and serve them, and DESPISE ME and break by covenant." (De 31:20 RSV)
"And the Lord said to Moses, "How long will this people DESPISE ME ?" (Nu 14:11)
"...none of those who DESPISED ME shall see it." (Nu 14:23)
"Because he has DESPISED the word of the Lord..."(NU 15:31)
"They DESPISED his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers..." (2 Ki 17:15)
"Ah, sinful nation...they have DESPISED the Holy One of Israel..." (Isa 1:4)
"And if I am a master, WHERE IS MY FEAR ? says the Lord of hosts to you O priests, who DESPISE MY NAME." (Mal 1:6)
"I will give them one heart and one way, that they may FEAR ME for ever...I will put the FEAR OF ME in their hearts, that they may not turn from me." (Jeremiah 32:37-41)
"Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; THE FEAR OF ME IS NOT IN YOU, say the Lord God of hosts." (Jeremiah 2:19)
"Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us ? Yoy shall say to them, As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you will serve strangers in a land that is not yours." (Jeremiah 5:19)
"DO YOU NOT FEAR ME ? Says the Lord; DO YOU NOT TREMBLE BEFORE ME ?" (Jeremiah 5:22)
"THEY DO NOT SAY IN THEIR HEARTS, 'Let us FEAR THE LORD our God..." (Jer 5:24)
"Says the Lord, and shall I not AVENGE MYSELF on a nation such as this ?" (Jer 5:29)
"Erra made his voice heard and spoke...ALL THE OTHER GODS ARE AFRAID OF BATTLE, so that the black-headed people DESPISE THEM. But I, because THEY NO LONGER FEAR MY NAME...I shall OVERWHELM his people." (p.290, Dalley)
"The Igigi revere you, the Anunnaki FEAR YOU, Ellil agrees with you. Does conflict happen without you ? or warfare take place in your absence ? The armory of war belongs to you, and yet you say to yourself, THEY DESPISE ME !" (p.302, Dalley)
"Erra made his voice heard and spoke...When I am enraged, I devastate people !" (p.309, Dalley)
"Your men shall fall by THE SWORD and your mighty men in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground..." (Isaiah 3:16; 25-26; 4:2-3)
"You have feared the sword; and it is a sword I shall bring upon, says the Lord God. And I will bring you forth out of the midst of it, and give you into the hands of foreigners and execute judgements upon you. You shall fall BY THE SWORD; I WILL JUDGE YOU at the border of Israel; and you shall know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 11:8-10 RSV)
"And they shall know that I am the Lord when I execute judgements in her and manifest my holiness in her; for I will send pestilence into her, and blood into her streets; and the slain shall fall in the midst of her, by THE SWORD that is against her on every side." (Ezekiel 28:22-23)
"THE SWORD OF JUDGEMENT shall not come near him but peace is ordained for him." (p.312, Dalley)
The "Day of the Lord," a day when God devastates his enemies, including his own people, some of whom who are righteous, is mirrored in the Erra hymn as the "DAY OF ERRA'S WRATH." Like Yahweh-Elohim, Erra, a great warrior-god and leader of a heavenly host (the Sebitti gods and Ishum), possesses the power to darken the sun, moon, and the stars and destroy his own people, including the just (Ez 21:3), in order to get for himself, fear, awe and respect ! Jerusalem is to lay waste for a period of seventy years because of God's fierce anger. Interestingly, Marduk, the supreme god Of Babylon, in anger with his own people, decrees his city's destruction at the hands of the Assyrians and that his temple too, is to lie desolate for seventy years.
The Assyrian king, Sennacherib destroyed the city of Babylon ca. 689 BCE. His son Esarhaddon restored the city. Being pious, Esarhaddon consulted with Babylonian priests about Marduk's will in restoring his temple, called the Esagila. The priests said that Marduk, in anger against his own people, had used Sennacherib to punish his peple for their sins against him and that the temple was to lie desolate for 70 years. They then reinterpreted the god's statement to a smaller number of years, permitting an anxious Esarhaddon to begin the reconstruction.
"According to the curious story about Esarhaddon's efforts at restoration, Marduk, in anger against the city, had dictated (sic !) to the priests the text of a tablet which forbade any restoration of the temple until after an interval of seventy years." (p.274, "Religious Life," Georges Contenau. Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria. New York. Saint Martin's Press. 1954)
"This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation..." (Jer 25:11-12)
"Thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place." (Jeremiah 29:10)
"Behold THE DAY OF THE LORD comes, cruel, WITH WRATH and fierce anger to make the earth a desolation and to destroy sinners from it. For THE STARS OF THE HEAVENS AND THEIR CONSTELLATIONS WILL NOT GIVE THEIR LIGHT; THE SUN WILL BE DARK AT ITS RISING AND THE MOON WILL NOT SHED ITS LIGHT...Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them...And Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms...will be like Sodom and Gomorah...It will never be inhabited or dwelt in for all generations..." (Isaiah 13:9-10, 17, 19, 20)
"The SUN shall be turned to DARKNESS, and the MOON to BLOOD, before the great and terrible DAY of the LORD comes." (Joel 2:31)
"Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision ! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The SUN and the MOON are DARKENED and the STARS WITHDRAW THEIR SHINING." (Joel 3:14-15)
"...the DAY of the LORD is coming, it is near...LIKE BLACKNESS there is spread upon the mountains A GREAT AND POWERFUL PEOPLE; their like has never been from of old...fire devours before them, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them." (Joel 2:1-3)
"How could you plot evil for gods and men ? Even though you have plotted evil against the black-headed people, will you not turn back ?" (p.301, Dalley)
"...the mountains shake, the seas surge at the flashing of YOUR SWORD..." (p. 302, Dalley)
"Woe to Babylon which I planted like a luxuriant orchard, but never tasted its fruit." (p. 304, Dalley)
"The city governor will say thus to his mother. "Would that I had been obstructed in your womb on the day you bore me, would that my life had ended and that we had died together, because you delivered me to a city whose walls were to be demolished, its people treated like cattle, THEIR GOD TURNED SMITER." (p.307, Dalley)
"I shall make Erkalla quake, so that the skies billow, I shall fell the rays of Shulpae and throw away the stars of heaven..." (p. 308, Dalley [Erkalla is the great city of the Underworld; Shulpae is the planet Jupiter])
"Ishum made his voice heard and spoke, addressed his words to warrior Erra, 'Warrior, be still and listen to my words ! What is you were to rest now, and we would serve you ? We all know that NOBODY CAN STAND UP TO YOU IN YOUR DAY OF WRATH ! Erra heard him and his face brightened...Ishum...began to confirm the decision concerning the scattered people of Akkad. May the reduced people of the land become numerous again...you shall put the country's gods who were angry safely back in their dwellings." (p.310, Dalley)
"For countless years shall the praises of the great lord Nergal and warrior Ishum (be sung): HOW ERRA BECAME ANGRY and set his face towards OVERWHELMING COUNTRIES and DESTROYING THEIR PEOPLE, but Ishum his counsellor placated him so that HE LEFT A REMNANT." (p. 311, Dalley)
"The king who magnifies my name shall rule the world, the prince WHO RECITES MY PRAISE of MY VALIANT DEEDS shall have no rival...In the house where this tablet is placed, even if Erra becomes angry and the Sebitti storm, THE SWORD OF JUDGEMENT shall not come near him, but peace is ordained for him. Let this song endure forever, let it last for eternity ! Let all countries listen to it and PRAISE MY VALOR ! Let settled people see and MAGNIFY MY NAME ! Colophon: Copied by Asshurbanipal, Son of Esarhaddon" (p. 312, Dalley)
"Ah, SWORD of the Lord ! How long till you are quiet ? Put yourself into your SCABBARD, rest and be still !" (Jer 47:6)
"...mountains melted before the Lord...(Judges 5:5)
"...mountains shake with the swelling thereof." (Psalm 46:3)
"..the mountains quake at him..." (Na 1:5)
"...ye mountains of Israel, hear the word..." (Ezekiel 36:1,4)
"So that the mountain peaks hear and bow their heads in terror..." (p.288, Dalley)
"...the mountains shake, the seas surge at the flashing of your sword..." (p.302, Dalley)
"The time has elapsed, the hour passed. I promise I SHALL DESTROY THE RAYS OF THE SUN; I SHALL COVER THE FACE OF THE MOON IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT...He who grows up in times of plenty shall be buried in times of deprivation...The black-headed people will revile you, and you will not accept their prayers. I shall finish off the land and count it as a ruin. I shall devastate cities and make them a wilderness...I shall burn like Gerra..." (p. 297, Dalley [Gerra is the god of fire])
"And on that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and DARKEN THE EARTH IN BROAD DAYLIGHT." (Amos 8:9)
"Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord ! Why would you have the day of the Lord ? It is darkness, and not light..." (Amos 5:18)
"The SUN AND the MOON ARE DARKENED, and THE STARS WITHDRAW THEIR SHINING." (Joel 3:15)
"BRIGHT DAY WILL TURN TO DARKNESS. A storm will rise up and COVER THE STARS OF HEAVEN." (p. 292, Dalley)
Inanna, "The Queen of Heaven," in a Sumerian hymn, is portrayed as possessing the ability to turn bright day into darkness, just like Yahweh. The darkening of the day is associated with a day of carnage and slaughter, as she, like Yahewh, pours forth her wrath upon all the earth-
"On the wide and silent plain, darkening the bright daylight, she turns midday into darkness. People look upon each other in anger, they look for combat...Her howling...makes the flesh of all the lands tremble. No one can oppose her murderous battle---Who rivals her ? No one can look at her fierce fighting...the carnage...sweeping over the earth, she leaves nothing behind...She brings about the destruction of the mountain lands from east to west...she obtains victory." (ETCSL "A Hymn to Inana [Inana C] http://www-etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk/section4/tr4073.htm)
Marduk to Erra:
"The very heavens I made to tremble, the positions of the stars of heaven changed, and I did not return them to their places. Even Erkalla quaked..." (p. 290, Dalley, Erkalla, the great city of the underworld)
Sennacherib (704-680 BCE) is portrayed adoring his gods, all the male gods carrying SHEATHED SWORDS at their sides (p.256, Contenau), I note Yahweh is portrayed as possessing a sheathed sword as well.
"The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries; prophesy against the land of Israel and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the Lord: Behold I am against you, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and I WILL CUT OFF FROM YOU BOTH RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED. Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore my sword shall go out of its sheath against all flesh from south to north; and all flesh shall know that I the Lord have drawn my sword out of its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again...A sword is sharpened and also polished, sharpened for slaughter...You have DESPISED the rod, my son, with everything of wood. So the sword is given...it is against my people...you DESPISE the rod...I WILL SATISFY MY FURY; I the Lord have spoken." (Ezekiel 21: 1-17)
"I SHALL SEVER THE LIFE OF THE JUST MAN who takes on paternal responsibility, I shall set up [at the head [(?)] the wicked man who cuts off life." (p.298, Dalley)
"I will shake heaven...at the fury of the Lord of hosts on THE DAY OF HIS BURNING WRATH." (Isaiah 13:13)
Erra describes himself as like Gerra (the fire god):
"Erra made his voice heard and spoke...In heaven I am a wild bull, on earth a lion...I am the smiter...in the reed thicket I am Gerra...I go out on to the battlefield..." (p.289, Dalley)
"Erra, warrior of the gods...his heart urged him to make war...YOU ARE THE SWORD THAT SLAUGHTERS, O Erra, rise up, and in overwhelming the land...how joyous your heart !" (p.285, Dalley)
"When Anu had decreed the destinies of all the Sebitti, he gave them to Erra, warrior of the gods, "Let them march at your side !" (p.286, Dalley)
"The star of Erra is twinkling and carries rays...His mantle of radiance will be activated(?) and all people will perish. As for (?) the dazzling stars of heaven that carry a sword (?)..." (p.295-6, Dalley)
Nahum's portrayal of God is intended to strike terror and fear into the hearts of sinners by portraying God's jealousy and wrath:
Nahum 1:2-8 RSV
"The Lord is a jealous God and avenging, the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengenance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies...the earth is laid waste before him, the world and all that dwell therein...Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire...he will make a full end of his adversaries..."
We have seen that the Hebrew Bible's presentation of God as wrathful, capable of destroying righteous men as well as sinners, able to darken sun, moon, and the stars, is mirrored in the Erra hymn from the 8th century BCE. The notion of seventy years of desolation for land and temple is also reflected in the Neo-Babylonian priests' answer to Esarhaddon, that this is their god's will, who is still angry with them. We have also seen that both the Hebrews and their contemporaries, the Assyrians and Babylonians understood that a god becomes "smiter of his own people" when he feels they despise and do not fear him. Both Yahweh and Erra (and Marduk) resort to destroying the land and its cities and sanctuaries, being ever mindful to leave a remnant to tremble and cower in fear of their wrath and might, and to sing praises to their valour, magnifying their holy name for generations yet to come.
I understand that Yahweh is portrayed as a "wrathful" God because this was the commonly perceived understanding of the Mesopotamian world of the 4th through 1st millenniums BCE, my investigations into the "pre-biblical" origins of the Bible suggest that Mesopotamian concepts underlie much of its notions. Ancient man was no fool, and quite early on came to realize that _ONLY FEAR_ commanded respect and obedience! Gods who did not exhibit "wrathful" personalities did NOT get respect or obedience from their peoples:
"Erra made his voice heard and spoke...ALL THE OTHER GODS ARE AFRAID OF BATTLE, so that the black-headed people DESPISE THEM. But I, because THEY NO LONGER FEAR MY NAME...I shall OVERWHELM this people." (p.290, Dalley)
"The Igigi revere you, the Anunnaki FEAR YOU, Ellil agrees with you. Does conflict happen without you ? or warfare take place in your absence ? The armory of war belongs to you, and yet you say to yourself, THEY DESPISE ME !" (p. 302, Dalley)
"Erra made his voice heard and spoke...When I am enraged, I devastate people !" (p. 309, Dalley)
Surprisingly, some Christians are not aware that the "wrathful God of the Old Testament" was none-other than Jesus himself in his role as Logos or "The Word" (cf. John 1:1-5, 14, 18). It was Jesus who made Adam and Eve, and spoke to Moses. It was Jesus who via Moses and Eleazar the priest, ordered the slaughter of the Midianites telling Israel that after killing all the men it was okay to rape the Midianite women who were still virgins, but to kill the non-virgin women and their babies or "little ones" (Nu 31:15-18).
John 1:1-5, 14,18 RSV
"In the beginning was the WORD, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father...No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known."
Nu 31:1-18 RSV
The Lord said to Moses, "Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites"...They slew the kings of Midian...the people of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones...And Moses was angry...Moses said to them " Have you let the women live ?"...kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep for yourselves."
At the ripe old-age of 63 I at last realize that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are _all_ TERRORIST RELIGIONS. Their source of power and growth IS TERRORISM. All preach love and compassion, but in the end it is their employment of TERRORISM that makes them "great."
The God they all worship is himself A TERRORIST-GOD. This vindicitive God allegedly destroyed the world in a flood, AN ACT OF TERROR. He gave Israel Canaan via ACTS OF TERROR (telling Israel to slaughter the Canaanites, man, woman and suckling child).
Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire via ACTS OF TERROR sanctioned by the Christian Roman Emperors. Pagans outside the empire were forcibly converted via TERRORISM. Any nation that "aspires to greatness and power in the world" does so THROUGH TERRORISM.
This is "Nature's Way," the dominant in any species maintains their dominance via TERROR, be it insects, fish, fowls, animals or mankind (or nations). FEAR guarantees DOMINANCE and POWER, FEAR arises from acts of TERRORISM.
The Mesopotamians portrayed their gods as TERRORISTS, the god who was not feared was portrayed as being held in contempt and despised by mankind.
"The Day of the Lord," then is a Day when the Lord revels in the slaughter of the righteous and innocent as well as the evil, because he feels that mankind DOES NOT FEAR HIM but instead DESPISES him. He will get fear (and "respect") via ACTS OF TERROR.
Jesus' last act will be when he returns to the earth as a TERRORIST-GOD to destroy those who refuse to bow-down and acknowledge him as "Lord" in the Battle at Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).
"...hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?"
"The nations raged, but thy wrath came...destroying the destroyers of the earth."
"...he also shall drink the wine of God's wrath..."
"...seven angels with seven plagues...the wrath of God..."
"...pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God."
"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war...He is clad in a robe dipped in blood...From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords."
As a Secular Humanist I understand there are no gods, they have been made in man's image. Man's loves, hates, lusts and fears have been projected onto imaginary deities. THE GODS OR GOD MUST BE PORTRAYED AS SOME ONE TO BE FEARED, NO FEAR, NO RESPECT. TERROR BRINGS FEAR AND RESPECT IN ITS TRAIN. The purpose of religion, especially Judaism, Christianity and Islam is to control human behavior via TERROR AND FEAR. God will destroy those who do not obey him. He will accomplish this via Nature (storms, droughts, disease) or via War and other acts of terror, bringing the enemy to pitilessly devastate all, righteous and unrighteous. Religion based on only love cannot succeed. The BEASTS have their "pecking orders" dominance is achieved via terror and fear over their kind; MAN-THE-BEAST is no different, his God is modeled after Nature's rules for achieving dominance and compliance via fear, Darwins' "Struggle of the Species."