"The secret of God's anger is God's care"
-Abraham J. Heschel
I do not intend to equate God's progressive nature of wrath to that of mere humanity. Humanity has a strong tendency to display wrath in an unfair, often selfish and quick tempered way with no previous thought. We, in many different ways, explode. Can we see though that God has changed the nature of God's wrath? I should rather ask if God has altered the order of the steps in which God's wrath occurs? I rephrase the question because God's wrath is always accompanied by God's true nature which is love. Often some will list the attributes of God and attempt to equate wrath as an equal attribute with love. I do not believe this can be done. God's core, God's very being, God's single attribute is love. Everything else we read about coming from God must be seen in this light, love, including wrath.
A major roadblock for the western mind is our own judicial systems. Of course there are many different varieties of judicial systems. The commonality is the desired "final" judgement which obviously varies with the crime. We all want to see the criminal "get theirs". God has a completely different view of a judicial system. Take the book of "Judges" for example. What did the "Judges" do? Did they "judge" in the manner of modern society? No, they delivered Israel, rather God delivered Israel through the judges! While the judge remained alive the people flourished. Another example are the cities of refuge. A man commits a terrible crime and might be sent to such a city to avoid certain death. If the man lived long enough he may eventually be allowed back into his own city. Cain worried about revenge taken against him after he murdered his brother yet God provided a way for Cain to live without this fear; even worse to our modern minds, Cain had children and great societies, cities and cultures come from him! That is some punishment! Big deal right? So what, Cain could not rely on farming anymore, he could adapt! How unjust!
Deuteronomy 10:13 NRSV
(13) and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.
The desire of God was to provide Israel with a way to keep them safe and well cared for. God loved Israel. God did not begin with thoughts of wrath and anger. God began with thoughts of care and a desire for Israel to be the light of then nations whom God also loved.
Exodus 20:4-6 Brenton
(4) Thou shalt not make to thyself an idol, nor likeness of anything, whatever things are in the heaven above, and whatever are in the earth beneath, and whatever are in the waters under the earth.
(5) Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them; for I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation to them that hate me,
(6) and bestowing mercy on them that love me to thousands of them, and on them that keep my commandments.
In Exodus 20 God sets a plan of wrath. If Israel sins the children of the sinning generation will suffer all the way through the fourth generation! That is a long time for people to suffer the wrath for something a long lost relative did. In verse 6 we see mercy, after a long period of wrath. After the commandments were given Moses went back up the mountain to receive further instruction from God. This is a familiar story.
Exodus 32:7-10 Brenton
(7) And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Go quickly, descend hence, for thy people whom thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt have transgressed;
(8) they have quickly gone out of the way which thou commandedst; they have made for themselves a calf, and worshiped it, and sacrificed to it, and said, These are thy gods, O Israel, who brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
(10) And now let me alone, and I will be very angry with them and consume them, and I will make thee a great nation.
Notice that the original wrath God intended to pour out through the fourth generation is not even considered! God decides instead to wipe them all out and start over again with Moses. We know that Moses interceded and appealed to God's sense of humiliation to save Israel.
The next time we see the same thought from God as expressed in Exodus 20 is in Exodus 34. Something changes here. Notice that God begins with the statement of mercy and adds long-suffering, compassion, and truth. God sates that God will take away iniquity and unrighteousness on thousands. Then God, lastly, gives mention of holding the children through the fourth generation guilty for their ancestors sin.
Exodus 34:6-7 Brenton
(6) And the Lord passed by before his face, and proclaimed, The Lord God, pitiful and merciful, long-suffering and very compassionate, and true,
(7) and keeping justice and mercy for thousands, taking away iniquity, and unrighteousness, and sins; and he will not clear the guilty; bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and to the children's children, to the third and fourth generation.
The next time we read of God's declaration regarding the generations and the guilt of sin is in Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 18:14-21 Brenton
(14) And if he beget a son, and the son see all his father's sins which he has wrought, and fear, and not do according to them,
(15) and if he has not eaten on the mountains, and has not set his eyes on the devices of the house of Israel, and has not defiled his neighbor's wife,
(16) and has not oppressed a man, and has not retained the pledge, nor committed robbery, has given his bread to the hungry, and has clothed the naked,
(17) and has turned back his hand from unrighteousness, has not received interest or usurious increase, has wrought righteousness, and walked in mine ordinances; he shall not die for the iniquities of his father, he shall surely live.
(18) But if his father grievously afflict, or plunder, he has wrought enmity in the midst of my people, and shall die in his iniquity.
(19) But ye will say, Why has not the son borne the iniquity of the father? Because the son has wrought judgment and mercy, has kept all my statues, and done them, he shall surely live.
(20) But the soul that sins shall die: and the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nor shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the iniquity of the transgressor shall be upon him.
(21) And if the transgressor turn away from all his iniquities which he has committed, and keep all my commandments, and do justice and mercy, he shall surely live, and shall by no means die.
God now keeps the sin with the sinner. The sinner's children, if they keep the law, will not be punished. Verse 19 shows the mind of people! They will ask and wonder why justice has not been served! Even more is that God allows for the sinner to change their ways and live! Numerous times God changed His mind regarding the punishment of Israel. Deuteronomy chapter 30 states that God's total desire was for Israel to live long in the land they were to inherit. God worked out of love for His people. Ultimately God intended for Israel to be a light to all nations so that the nations would be blessed by Abraham's seed. Israel was to bring to God's love the world.
Isaiah 42:6-7 NRSV
(6) I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,
(7) to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Every instance of God's wrath poured out on Israel was to bring them back to God so that the ultimate goal would be realized and God's love would be made known to ALL men. Unfortunately Israel never fulfilled God's desire and by Acts 28 Israel was temporarily set aside. Did God's idea of wrath change? I do not believe so but I do see that God must have given thought to how God would reveal His love and over time and through the ever changing relationship with Israel God did adjust how wrath would be used to accomplish His purposes. This by no means suggests that God's nature changed! Rather it suggests that God simply revealed His nature in a different way.