God’s Victory over Man’s Wrath: B.B. Warfield and Psalm 76:10: A Difficult Doctrine Illustrated in Church History

kain_abel_grt (1)Psalm 76:10 is a difficult verse.  In its simplest translation, it reads, “Surely the wrath of men brings you praise, and with the remainder of wrath you arm yourself.”[1]  This verse, in a nutshell as it were, presents the student of the Bible with the practical difficulty of reconciling God’s sovereignty with the ugliness we see all around us in human history.

How is it possible to believe that a sovereign God will be praised through this mess we call human history – with all of its hostility and injustice?

Although the late nineteenth, early twentieth-century theologian B.B. Warfield doesn’t address this scripture in any explicit manner, I recently came across a sentence in his article Antitrinitarianism that brought this verse to mind.[2]  The sentence is rather long and best read twice:

“The interaction of the modalistic and Arian factors brought it about that the statement of the doctrine of the Trinity wrought out in the ensuing controversies was guarded on both sides; and so well was the work done that the Church was little troubled by antitrinitarianism for a thousand years thereafter.” [3]

In simpler, non-academic terms, here is what Warfield is saying:

“The folks who argued that God went through three modes of being (first he was Father, then he was Son, now he is Spirit – but never three at once), and the folks who argued that only the Father is truly God and the Son and the Spirit are in different ways created, lesser divine beings, did such a great job of contesting the doctrine of the Church, that a statement of that doctrine was formulated that preserved the peace of the Church for a thousand years.”

In other words, all of the fighting about that issue, all of the wrath poured out in all of the debates concerning it, resulted in one thousand years of peace.  To put the doctrine of Genesis 50:20 to use, God intended the Trinitarian debates to better establish the doctrine of the Trinity.  He was indeed praised by the wrath of men.  And what was left after the dust settled was the residue of that wrath – a statement which God has used to powerfully guard his church since.

Today, we live in a time of great contention.  Society seems to be hell-bent on seeing how polarized it can become.   We are once again proving what a wrathful species we truly are.  For me, stumbling across this gloss on the history of antrinitarianism reminded me of this biblical truth:  God wins.

Consider the wrath that you are experiencing.  The truth that God will be praised even through the expression of humanity’s ugliest side, even despite our fallen intentions, offers a remarkably different perspective than the default settings of our heart.  Think about how the late second-century Christian in Cappadocia or Alexandria might have been utterly bewildered by the carousel of conflict that was the church and the world in his or her day.  But what if they could see the defining peace that God would establish through that conflict?  A peace that they themselves might not see on this side of heaven.

Commit yourself to the fact that God will be praised.  Even by the wrath that you have both expressed and experienced.  And live humbly, knowing that when it is all said and done, yours will be one of the restored voices singing a no-longer-broken hallelujah – truly rejoicing in the strength of your great God and Savior.  And freed once for all from the wrath of men.  Even your own.

Your Pastor,

Bob Bjerkaas


The painting accompanying this post is “Cain and Abel,” painted by Il Tintoretto, an Italian Renaissance painter who was at one time called “Il Furioso” because of the muscular energy with which his work was associated.

[1] This is the alternate reading suggested by the NIV (1984), the preferred NIV reading says, “Surely your [God’s] wrath against men brings you praise.”  In the Jewish tradition, the Rev. Dr. A. Cohen offers the alternative translation: “Surely the wrath of men shall praise you.  The residue of wrath shalt though gird upon thee.”  Cohen offers the further gloss, “The explanation of wrath as man’s agrees with Rashi and Ibn Ezra, and is to be preferred to the alternative which understands it as Divine anger.”  A. Cohen, The Psalms: Hebrew Text & English Translation with an Introduction and Commentary (London: The Soncino Press, 1969), pp. 244-245.  In Christian scholarship, see Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975, and Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990).

[2] B.B. Warfield, “Antitrinitarianism,” Benjamin B. Warfield: Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1, Ed. By John E. Meeter (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1970), p. 88f.

[3] Ibid., p. 89.

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