Lately the Lord has been showing me my sin of anger to allow me to repent of it. The other evening, as I was contemplating my own unrighteous anger, the Lord brought to mind the attitude of the prophet Jonah after the LORD graciously saved the people of pagan Nineveh. As I turned the pages of my Bible to Jonah 4, I was certain that this passage rested squarely on the wicked anger of the prophet, and that the Lord had a lesson for me from this passage. So I eagerly read the words before me. What did this Scripture have to teach me about anger?
What do we find? We find the ugliness of Jonah’s anger. First, Jonah is “displeased exceedingly” by the LORD’s gracious treatment of the Ninevites. Immediately the wicked nature of the prophet’s anger is exposed. He is angry because the LORD had mercy. Jonah knew that the LORD is “gracious and merciful and relenting from disaster,” and so the creature has the audacity to impugn the Creator for His mercy! Then, in a fit of indignant self-pity, Jonah asks the LORD to take his life.
In response to this outburst, the LORD asks, “Do you do well to be angry?” Note that this is THE key to the passage, for the LORD asks this question twice (see v. 9). (Note that this is also similar to the question for Cain in Genesis 4:6-7.)
Jonah goes out of the city and sits down. To highlight Jonah’s selfishness, the LORD ‘appoints’ a plant to quickly grow and give the prophet shade. Jonah is “glad exceedingly” (see 4:1 for contrast) because of the plant. Then God ‘appoints’ a worm that kills the plant and ‘appoints’ a hot east wind so that Jonah becomes faint. Wallowing in his own unhappiness, Jonah again asks to die (see 4:3).
Again, the LORD asks, “Do you do well to be angry (for the plant)?” Still failing to see his obvious sin, Jonah defiantly says, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” Remarkably, this sinner justifies his sin before the Holy One of Israel and is too angry to tremble in the presence of the living God. Jonah is exceedingly glad when his selfish anger smolders and his circumstances are good, but he is exceedingly displeased and angry when God has mercy on those who are perishing.
- The Lord warns all people about the danger of uncontrolled, unrighteous anger. It is dangerous, because this anger is sin and can cause greater sin (see Ephesians 4:26-27). The question, “Do you do well to be angry?” is the sounding of an alarm. When we are angry, we must immediately recognize the anger and discern if it is righteous anger or unrighteous. “Is my anger me-focused or God-focused?” All unrighteous anger must be extinguished through repentance.
[We must be aware that unrighteous anger, like the anger expressed here by Jonah, is the rule for all mankind, not the exception. Therefore, when we realize that we are feeling and expressing anger, we must vigorously interrupt and defuse the situation and extinguish the anger until we can properly assess its nature.]
- Rejoice in God’s mercy, because in His compassion, He graciously saved even you. But also rejoice in His justice, which demands judgment for all who do not repent and believe. Indeed, the wages of sin is death.
CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER: Rarely do I do well to be angry. “Lord, give me the grace to quench my anger and to be gracious instead.”
SDG rmb 3/12/2020