What do Cain, Moses, King David, the Prophet Jonah and Jesus Christ all have in common? According to the Scriptures, they all experienced anger. Cain became angry with his brother and murdered him. In anger, Moses broke the two tablets of the Law when he came down from the mountain. David became angry and passed judgment, bringing judgment upon himself and his family for years to come.
The well known author and Bible Teacher Warren W. Wiersbe, (former General Director Back to the Bible Ministries) examines anger from a biblical perspective. In this series of study he talks about Jonah: the angry preacher.
Many people have the idea that anger is always a sign of strength. On the contrary, it can be an evidence of weakness and fear. In the Old Testament, we meet an angry preacher. According to the world’s standards, this man had a successful ministry. However, in God’s eyes, he was really a personal failure. That preacher, of course, was Jonah. He allowed his anger and animosity toward the Ninevites to destroy the joy and blessings of his ministry.
The story of Jonah is a familiar one. If the Book of Jonah had ended with chapter 3, verse 10, Jonah would have looked very successful. Even though he had rebelled against God’s call in the beginning, he had rebelled against God’s call in the beginning; he experienced a miraculous answer to prayer while inside the belly of a great fish. Not only was his life spared, but he saw a tremendous awakening take place in Nineveh as a result of his preaching. But even though it appeared that Jonah’s attitude toward the Ninevites had changed, in his hear he still harbored anger and resentment toward them and toward the Lord.
It is possible to be in the place of God’s choosing and still have a heart that is hard, angry and rebellious toward God. Even though Jonah knew how to pray and how preach, even though his theology was grounded solidly in God’s Word, he still became angry when he did not get his own way with the Lord. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly [that God had spared the city], and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jon. 4:1,2).
Jonah had realized when God called him to go to Nineveh that the Lord would spare the people if they repented. He wanted the Ninevites to be destroyed, so he ran away from the Lord rather than preach to them. Finally, after Jonah learned that he couldn’t hinder from God, he reluctantly went to Nineveh. There Jonah’s worst fears were realized as the people repented. Like a child who does not get what he wants, Jonah began to pout and to feel sorry for himself, saying, “Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech the, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live” (v.3). Notice how the Lord responded to Jonah’s anger and self pity: “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (v. 4 NASB). The Lord forced Jonah to focus on his reasons for being angry. If Jonah had been honest with himself, he would have seen that his anger was unjustified. He should have been happy for the Ninevites and excited that God allowed him to have a part in their repentance.
But the prophet was not ready to repent of his anger just yet. “So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd” (vv 5.6). In the back of his mind Jonah was probably still hoping that God would destroy the city. So, just in case, he left the city and built himself a shelter nearby so he could watch what happened. Despite Jonah’s repeated disobedience and rebellion, we find the Lord still caring for his needs. He caused a large plant to grow immediately, providing shade for Jonah. Notice Jonah’s reaction. Just a few short hours before, he had been exceedingly displeased (v.1). Now he was exceedingly glad for the Lord’s provision of this plant (v.6). Jonah appears to have been controlled by his emotions.
The Lord also had another reason for providing this plant for Jonah. He used it to teach the prophet an important lesson about unjustified anger. “But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live” (vv 7,8).
Jonah’s reaction reveals to us an important truth about anger. Anger, self-pity and depression usually go together. A person who is filled with anger (even if he expresses that anger) will often undergo periods of depression and self pity. Frequently he does not even realize that anger is the cause of his depression.
While Jonah was sitting ether feeling sorry for himself, the Lord spoke to him again, driving home the point of this object lesson. “And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” vv. 9-11) The Lord told Jonah, “If you can have compassion for a plant that you didn’t even grow or tend, why can’t I forgive the people of Nineveh, whom I created?”
Unfortunately, the story ends here. We don’t know how Jonah responded to the Lord. We must draw our own conclusions. We can only hope that if there were a verse 12, it would read: “And Jonah repented and said, O Lord, forgive me for my anger, I will now go back into the city and finish my job.”
Reading the Book of Jonah is similar to undergoing a psychiatric examination. What is your response to the experience of Jonah? Do you sympathize with his dilemma, saying, “I agree with you, Jonah. Those Ninevites were wicked people, and they deserved to die. Like you, I’m angry too, I’m angry that God is allowing wicked people to continue doing whatever they want in the world today”? even though most of us would not want to be like Jonah, often we respond to the unsaved in much the same way as he did. Like Jonah, we can be overjoyed at some small, insignificant honor or material possession we receive, yet we cannot feel happy when our enemy is converted or feel sad at the sin in our life. Anger shifts the focus of our priorities from God to ourselves.
This is why it is so dangerous for the Christian to allow selfish anger to control his life. When we are angry, it is difficult for us to discern what kind of anger we are experiencing. We tend to convince ourselves that we are feeling righteous indignation when, in reality, we are merely expressing a godless, selfish, worldly kind of anger./ When we give in to this kind of anger, the Lord cannot bless us.
The reason for His Anger
Why did Jonah become angry at God for sparing the Ninevites? What were the results of his anger? Considering these and other aspect of Jonah’s anger can help us learn how to deal with the anger in our lives.
What was Jonah’s reason for becoming angry? Actually, the answer is very simple—incomplete surrender to God. In order to use us, the Lord must have control of every aspect of our being—our body, mind, will and heart. We must yield ourselves completely to Him. We can hold nothing back.
Throughout the Book of Jonah, we find the prophet holding out on God. But gradually the Lord gained control of the various aspects of Jonah’s life. In chapter 1, God penetrated Jonah’s mind, telling him, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it” (v.2). But, at this point, the Lord did not have control of the rest of Jonah. Jonah’s will refused to go to Nineveh. His heart agreed totally with this rebellion, and the two caused his body to run away from God. But try as he might, Jonah could not rid his mind of God’s words to him.
In chapter 2, we find God using circumstances to bring Jonah to the plce where he would surrender his will to Him. As Jonah lay in the belly of a great fish, he cried out to God: “I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay [what] I have vowed” (v.9). once the Lord had Jonah’s will his body son followed. In chapter 3, we find Jonah’s mind and will directing his body to go to Nineveh.
Yet even though Jonah obeyed the Lord and preached in Nineveh, he was still nto totally controlled by God, for for his heart was not in it. It seems incredible that Jonah could preach one fo the greatest revival sermons in Old Testament history, yet hate the people to whom he was preaching. What a tragic illustration of the truth stated in I Corinthians 13:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angles, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” We can be the greatest evangelist who ever lived, but if we do not have a heartfelt love for the people with whom we are sharing, our word will be empty and meaningless.
However, the result of Jonah’s preaching teaches us another important lesson about our service: God will use His Word even if His servant is not all that he should be. Even though Jonah’s heart was not in his ministry, the Lord blessed His Word anyway, and the people repented despite Jonah’s efforts to hinder them. It is possible for the Lord to bless a ministry without blessing its minister. When our heart is not right with God, we will miss the many wonderful benefits that can come from our service. However, God can and does accomplish His work. Without love, any sacrifice we make or service we perform is worthless: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not [love], I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and have not [love], it profiteth me nothing” (vv 2,3). Why is our ministry worthless without love? Because it cannot bless the person who’s doing the ministering.
Even though Jonah had not given his heart to God and to the people, the Lord still chose to use Jonah’s ministry to lead the people to repentance. He did so because of His great love for the people and His compassion for the innocent children of Nineveh. The Lord’s final words to Jonah are interesting. He told Jonah, “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle? “ (Jonah 4:11). It seems like that the 120,000 persons that God was referring to here were young children who had not yet reached the age of accountability. They were not old enough to discern right from wrong.
If this interpretations is correct, then we can see how large the city of Nineveh actually was. It was described as a “great city” (v.11). When you add the parents to this number, as well as older children and adult without children, the population of this city could have been close to a million. Many commentators estimate that the population of Nineveh was at least 600,000—a city about the size of San Francisco. In this passage, the Lord ws trying to make Jonah see how many innocent and righteous people would have been killed if He had destroyed the entire city because of the wickedness of a few.
To show Jonah the depth of His compassion, the Lord even expressed His concern for the animals. He told Jonah, in effect, “If all these people die in judgment, who will take care of the animals?” Jonah did not have this kind of pity.
Jonah was unwilling to surrender himself completely to God because his views of his relationship with the Lord were erroneous. First, Jonah had a wrong attitude toward God’s will. He thought that God’s will was something you could take or leave—not something to be obeyed without question. Thus, when the Lord called Jonah to go to Nineveh, the prophet made up his mind to ignore God’s will and to do as he pleased. Jonah also had a wrong attitude toward prayer. He believed in praying only when he was in trouble and needed the Lord’s help. To Jonah, prayer was simply a magic charm to get what he wanted. Likewise, Jonah had the wrong attitude toward obedience. He obeyed the Lord because he had to, not because he wanted to. His service was motivated by a sense of duty and of fear rather than from a genuine love for the Lord and for His people. Finally, Jonah had a wrong attitude toward lost souls. He did not love unbelievers. His lack of love revealed itself in his anger and hatred toward the Ninevites and in his anger toward God for not destroying them.
—to be continued
The Confident Living Magazine (Official publication of Back to the Bible India)