Two brothers fought all day. As they prepared for bed they glared at each other and fired another verbal insult. Their mother had enough and said, “Remember boys, the Bible says, ‘Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.’” One of her sons replied, “That’s not fair! How am I supposed to keep the sun from setting?”
Some of us live with a swirling anger just beneath the surface. Like a school of piranhas it eats away at our character until the foul corpse of cynicism, envy, hostility, and despair bubbles to the surface. Anger frequently hides behind more acceptable emotions. We say we are “moody,” “frustrated,” or “irritated,” but it is anger that is stirring the waters.
Anger is often triggered when our sense of justice is disturbed. We feel we were done wrong. We didn’t receive what we deserved. Life didn’t turn out as we thought it should. Anger then sets fire to feelings of resentment and jealousy. Other people sense our agitation and carefully avoid us. The resulting isolation compounds the anger.
The sad thing is, the angry person believes they have every right to be mad. They feel it is the only justifiable response to their circumstance. So, they pile up psychological and religious reasons why their resentment and frustration is the only reasonable response to their situation.
God had a conversation with an angry person. His name was Jonah. God asked him point-blank, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4,9). Without hesitation Jonah fired back, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” (Jonah 4:9). Jonah furiously called Scripture and his tragic circumstances to bear witness to his right to be angry.
But then, like a cool towel on a fevered brow, God presented a number of truths that can heal the sickness of anger. Perhaps there is a seething unrest in your heart today that needs to accept these truths.
Anger is often the result of having too little appreciation for the character of God. Jonah’s anger didn’t arise out of ignorance, but out of irreverence. Jonah was God’s prophet. He had a thorough knowledge of God’s word (See Jonah 2, Jonah 4:2), but that did not translate into an affection for God’s character.
In particular, God’s goodness to “undeserving” people repulsed him (Jonah 1:3; 4:2). God commissioned Jonah to preach a message of judgment to Israel’s enemies in the city of Nineveh. Yet, Jonah knew God would be gracious and merciful if these wicked people repented (Jonah 4:2; see Ex. 34:6-9), which is exactly what happened.
You might think that God’s grace is an admirable quality, but not when anger is present. We can gladly know that “God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Matt. 5:45), but the glare of His goodness to others often makes us blind to His goodness to us. Then anger sets in. God’s grace toward the undeserving in Nineveh created a spiritual amnesia in Jonah where he utterly forgot God’s amazing grace toward him (Jonah 1:17-3:2).
Oh, how like the prophet we are. Our anger blinds us to the multitude of God’s gracious gifts in the past (Jonah 1:17) and His precious help in the present (Jonah 4:6). It takes a fresh appreciation of God’s grace to squelch the flames of anger. Do not forget how good God has been to you (Psalm 103:1-22). Don’t miss the grace He shines upon you every day. Then gladness will replace your gloom.
Anger is often the result of putting too much emphasis on temporary circumstances. This is a lesson God taught Jonah with the use of a plant. The pouty prophet left Nineveh still hoping God would rain down fire, so he sat on a hill outside of the city and waited.
Soon, Jonah became miserable because the heat of the sun burned as hot as his anger. Graciously God prepared a plant to shield Jonah from the blistering effects of the sun. Jonah became “very happy because of the plant” (Jonah 4:6). The shade did not send Jonah into worship, but rather exposed his selfishness.
With the use of a well-placed worm God withered the plant, and Jonah’s spirits withered with it (Jonah 4:7). Then all it took was a gust of hot air and Jonah is longing for death again (Jonah 4:8-9). This time he yearns for death because his temporary circumstances are not as pleasant as he wishes.
Similarly, most of our anger is fueled by the absence of some momentary shade. Our circumstances and relationships are less than pleasurable. We think the scorching pain will last forever. Yet, like Jonah, it is only for a day. Paul asked us to remember, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18; Psalm 30:5). As long as our happiness comes from our happenings, we will be an angry people. But, anger can find no resting place in the people who delight in the glory to come.
Anger is a silent suicide note, and it involves the mental murder of others (Matt. 5:21-22). That is why the way out of anger is to see the value of life. The story of Jonah ends with God showing the prophet that people are more important than plants (Jonah 4:10-11). Pity for others is more important that pleasures for ourselves (see “pity” in 4:10,11). God is too good and people are too valuable for you to sit in a prison of anger. Get up off your hill Jonah, and go share God’s grace with some eternal soul.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
One of the most shocking comparisons in the New Testament is between Jesus and Jonah. What can a rebellious prophet teach us about the sinless Son of God? Yet, Jesus said that Jonah was a sign which illuminates our understanding of Him. But what does this “sign of Jonah” say? The text reveals three lessons. (See Matthew 12:38-42; Matt. 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-32)
Jesus’ Resurrection. Matthew’s account emphasizes the resurrection of Jesus;
“as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).
The experience of Jonah and Jesus were not exactly the same. Jonah never actually died. Jesus’ emphasis is on “three days.” For three days, Jonah was all but dead, except for the power of God that deposited him alive on dry land. Likewise, the world would rightly consider Jesus dead for three days, until the power of God brought Him back to life. Through sacrificial death others would be saved. Here, the “sign of Jonah” points to the power of God to restore life from certain death.
Jesus’ Preaching. Luke’s account emphasizes the preaching of Jesus.
“This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation… 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” (Luke 11:29-30,32)
Here the emphasis is on the power of God’s message to create repentance in those who accept it. The whole-hearted repentance of a wicked, pagan city in response to the preaching of a rebellious prophet, stands in sharp contrast to the lack of repentance the nation of Israel gave in response to the preaching of God’s own Son. Here, the “sign of Jonah” points to the power of God’s word to change hearts.
Jesus’ Mission. The “sign of Jonah” can also be seen in the context of these New Testament statements. Jesus points to Jonah in response to the wickedness of the religious leaders.
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign” (Matt. 12:39)
“A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign” (Matt. 16:4)
“This is an evil generation” (Luke 11:29)
The impenitent wickedness of Israel in Jesus’ day would be judged. In this way, Jonah and Jesus shared a similar mission. Jonah’s preaching saved the Gentiles, but ultimately resulted in the destruction of Israel (Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire, which a few years later God used to remove the ten northern tribes of Israel – 2 Kings 17:23). In the same way, Jesus’ gospel saved the Gentiles, and led to the removal of the rest of Israel (Mark 8:38-9:1; Luke 19:41-44; Luke 21:31-32) Here the “sign of Jonah” is that God’s salvation is for all the world.
Jonah Thought Too Little Of God’s Character of Justice
Jonah may have also thought too little of God’s justice. Nineveh was a wicked city (1:2). Do just a few days of hunger and sitting on ashes make up for all the evil they did? Not at all! That is why the relenting of judgment is called “mercy” and “grace.” However, that does not mean that judgment won’t come to those who persist in rebellion. 150 years after Jonah’s remarkable revival, the people of Nineveh returned to their wicked ways. So, God rose up a prophet named Nahum to decree death for an evil people who have worn out the patience of God (Nahum 1-3).
By the way, the prophet Elijah also prayed to die after a great victory for grace (1 Kings 19:4). This plunge into despair was the result of hearing that Jezebel made a vow to kill the prophet. Elijah just purged the land from idolatry on Mt. Carmel, and yet it seems things have not changed. The wicked are still in control. “So,” Elijah says, “just kill me.” This despair is unwarranted! A deeper appreciation for the character of God’s justice would reveal that the Jezebels of this world will fall (2 Kings 9:30-37) and the Elijah’s of this world will rise (2 Kings 2:10-11). Anger, and its twin brother, Despair, are restrained by a deeper appreciation that “Judge of all the earth will do right!”
A Note About Anger
There are many examples of God being angry (Ex. 4:14; 2 Kings 13:3), and there are a few examples of godly men becoming angry (Psalm 119:53; Ex. 32:1-20; yet, Num. 20:10-11). However, it seems like anger one of those things God does much better than us. Implications can be made from Ephesians 4:26-27 that there are times when we should be angry. For example, irreverence for God should make us angry (John 2:12-25). Yet, even then we should be “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6; James 1:19) and not take vengeance into our own hands (Rom. 12:17-21), and realize the weakness of our own judgments. Warnings against anger far outweigh any recommendations for it in Scripture.
Jesus’ people are to be characterized by love not hate (John 13:34-35; even for enemies, Matt. 5:43-48). Perhaps this is why Paul calls believers to “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31; see Col. 3:8). The reality is, most of the things that make us angry are not a defense of righteousness (despite our Jonah-like justifications), but our anger arises out of a demand for our own rights and pleasures. It is this all too common anger that hides undetected in our hearts and ruins our effectiveness and generates a host of other sins.