A Sure Sign of a Bully or Abuser: the Gnashing of Teeth
Now when they heard these things they were enraged,
and they ground their teeth at him. (Acts 7:54)
Recently I was reminded still once more of how the wicked react when their evil is exposed and they are called to account. The fangs come out. The bullying begins. They are like vicious, wild animals snapping at their prey. In this account here in Acts 7, Stephen has just confronted the Jews with their sins:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered. (Acts 7:51-52)
It sets them off like a pack of wolves and of course as we know, they murdered Stephen right there.
My recent experience with this sort was in regard to pastors who were rightly confronted with wickedness and spiritual abuse. They added to the oppression of victims and now it has come out. The response? Fangs. Gnashing of teeth. Direct assault against those exposing them. Vilification and reviling, demeaning and accusing. Of course they do all this in the name of “righteousness,” but they are anything but righteous. “Who are YOU to tell ME?” “How DARE you speak to me this way.” “You don’t know anything and I do.” “YOU are the guilty one here for slandering and gossiping.” See it? Fangs. Gnashing. It is characteristic of the wicked who are enraged when they are exposed. No hint of anything resembling repentance.
When a person, especially someone who claims to be “righteous” and who is in some kind of position of authority, responds in this characteristic manner, you can be sure you are dealing with at best a bully and perhaps even a sociopathic abuser. I am not certain, for that matter, if there is really a difference between the bully and the abuser.
If you look at Scripture and search under “gnashing of teeth” here are some things you come up with:
He has torn me in his wrath and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me. (Job 16:9)
But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me; wretches whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing; like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth. (Psa 35:15-16)
All your enemies rail against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth, they cry: “We have swallowed her! Ah, this is the day we longed for; now we have it; we see it!” (Lam 2:16)
Pretty cool, huh? By that I mean, it is soooo revealing of what a person really is because this reaction is so consistent in the wicked. How many times have we seen pastors and writers and leaders of “notoriety” respond in just this way when their sin is put before them? They ooze hatred. They threaten. They demean and accuse. Oh, and often they throw in some words of “piety” as a cover.
Do they literally grind and gnash their teeth? Apparently in some cases yes they do. Their jaw is clenched. They set their teeth together and scowl hatred. They rail and rage through tightly clenched teeth. And they do this most intensely WHEN THEY KNOW they are busted. The truth is out. It is a murderous thing.
Incidentally then, we must rightly interpret this gnashing of teeth business in Scripture. Haven’t we often thought that when the Bible says the wicked will be gnashing their teeth when the Lord consigns them to hell that this teeth-gnashing business is an expression of their anguish and pain? I think that is wrong and misses the point. Gnashing of teeth in the Bible is an expression of hatred, of intense disdain, of “I want to kill you” mentality. With that in mind, consider these verses —
I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 8:11-12)
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mat 13:41-42)
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Mat 22:11-13)
See it? Don’t feel sorry for these characters. Even as they go down to hell, they want to murder Christ! They are beasts, actually, and thus it is appropriate that they are led by a beast —
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. (Rev 19:19-20)
I say again then, one of the consistent marks of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that when cornered, when confronted with the light of truth, the wool comes off and the wolf comes out. By that I mean that the “pious and godly” church leaders, the noted Christian conference speaker, the saintliest saint in the local church who is in truth a wicked person, will, when pressed with exposure, gnash their teeth. The bullying language and posturing will begin. When that happens, you can be sure that you are dealing with a child of the beast, not with a child of King Jesus.
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1Pet 2:22-23)