Jonah 4:1

Last time, we saw that the Ninevites had repented after receiving God’s message of impending destruction brought to them by Jonah. We saw that their repentance was true and complete, and that even their animals had been made to fast, and wear sackcloth as an outward show of this repentance. Finally, we saw God’s response to the repentance of the Ninevites in the last verse of chapter 3…

Jonah 3:10
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Of course, we know (as we will soon learn Jonah himself also knew) that God’s mercy upon the Ninevites was His plan all along. Consider what Jesus says about the heavenly response to true repentance…
Luke 15:4-10

4“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  8Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Now as we take up the final chapter of Jonah’s story, we find that the prophet did not rejoice over God’s mercy to the repentant lost souls of Nineveh. Quite the contrary…
Jonah 4
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
4Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
10But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”
Jonah has been called “the reluctant prophet.” Shouldn’t he rather be called “the whiny, self-righteous, unloving, unforgiving, spoiled-rotten prophet?” And by the way, how would we handle the repentance of the Ninevites if we were in Jonah’s place? How many of us can truly live up to Jesus’ admonition?…
Matthew 5:43-45
43You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Does the eternal condemnation of lost souls like Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, or Muhammad Atta and his fellow 9-11 hijackers break our hearts as it does Jesus’, or are we more like Jonah – desiring that the wicked get their just deserts, forgetting almost always that we are no more righteous than they are apart from the blood of Jesus?…
Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
And how would we have dealt with Nineveh if we were in God’s place with the power to bless and show mercy (חֶסֶד checed) or condemn and destroy? What would we do if we could wield the absolute, unlimited power of God for even an instant. It should certainly draw us onto our knees in abject contrition when we consider our own universal inability to handle great power justly and righteously in comparison to God’s perfect holiness in the manifestation of His power…
Psalm 86:15
But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.
_____________________________
Jonah 4:1
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
Wait a minute! Didn’t we just spend a number of weeks studying how Jonah had been cast into the ocean due to his rebellion against the command of God, but that God had mercifully preserved him inside the great fish, and responded to Jonah’s own repentance by delivering him safely back onto the way to Nineveh to fulfill his assigned mission? Even walking all the way from Joppa, and then preaching in Nineveh for three days, it could only have been be a matter of a few weeks since his own deliverance that we see Jonah’s anger at God’s mercy to the Ninevites. Either Jonah had already forgotten God’s mercy and forgiveness for his own rebellion, or his repentance inside the fish hadn’t been as true and complete as the repentance of the Ninevites, because he apparently believed that he somehow deserved God’s deliverance but the Ninevites did not.
 
Let’s be honest. When we see the wickedness of the modern-day Ninevites – the Islamic State jihadis – do we truly pray and hope in faith for their redemption? Don’t we rather hope and pray for God’s justice on them? In so doing, don’t we really mean our own idea of what that justice should be – their eternal condemnation in punishment for what they’ve been doing? In our loathing of their barbarism, don’t we – like Jonah – conveniently forget…
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
We have seen Jesus’ admonition against hatred of our enemies. Does this mean that there is no place for anger in the life of a Jesus follower? Before we leave this verse in Jonah, let’s take a closer look at what God’s Word has to say about anger…
Psalm 4
To the Chief Musician. With stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
1Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
2How long, O you sons of men,
Will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness
And seek falsehood? Selah
3But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly;
The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
4Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
5Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And put your trust in the LORD.
6There are many who say,
“Who will show us any good?”
LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
7You have put gladness in my heart,
More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
8I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
What does God mean when He says here through David, “Be angry, and do not sin?” It seems plain that God intends to give an anointed place for human anger, but what exactly is that place? When is it right and holy to be angry, and when is it not? Our best example is Jesus Himself, of course. The Son of Man exhibited anger on a few occasions, not only feeling anger in His heart as in…
Mark 3:1-5
1And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2So they[the scribes and Pharisees] watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” 4Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
…but also acting in anger as in…
John 2:13-16
13Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. 16And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
What, exactly, differentiates this so-called “righteous anger” from the destructive and sinful anger Jesus warns about in…
Matthew 5:21-22
21You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
One key we can use to help us make this distinction is in closely examining the motivation for our anger. Notice that in His warning against anger in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is careful to point out that we must not be angry with our brother “without a cause.” What might constitute a righteous cause for anger? Once again, Jesus gives us the model. Notice in the two examples of Jesus’ own anger that we just examined, neither of them shows Jesus angry about insults and persecution directed toward Himself. Indeed, we know that when He suffered the ultimate persecution while being nailed to the cross, He was not angry with His executioners, but instead He prayed for them…
Luke 23:32-34a
32There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Jesus’ anger toward the Pharisees when He healed the man’s withered hand was accompanied by grief for their hardness of heart, even though He knew these very Pharisees would soon seek to kill Him. When He drove the money changers out of the temple, His anger wasn’t due to their desecration of the temple itself, but was directed against the gross injustice they were perpetrating against ordinary God-fearing people.
 
The yearly Passover feast was a very profitable occasion for the priesthood and the ministers of the temple sacrifices. Indeed, under Herod, those lucrative priestly positions were obtained by purchase from the Tetrarch (Herod). The priests would examine all the sacrificial animals brought by the people for any imperfections, and more often than not would determine that the animal brought by the penitent person was unacceptable. But the priesthood itself maintained flocks and herds of their own that had been certified by them as acceptable sacrifices. They would then sell the pilgrims these animals to be used as sacrifices (which, of course, the priests would later eat most of themselves).
 
Furthermore, ordinary currency was not accepted for buying these replacement animals, but only special “temple money.” The money changers charged an exorbitant premium to exchange the people’s ordinary money for the temple money, and the corrupt authorities would also extract a kick-back from that premium. This taking advantage of the ordinary people who dutifully came to the appointed feast in accordance with the Law to offer the sacrifices ordained by God is what made Jesus so angry that He drove the merchants out of the temple with a whip.
 
ASIDE – The sacrificial lambs maintained by the priesthood were all born and raised in Bethlehem, just a few miles away.
 
But what about Jonah’s anger here in Jonah 4:1? Clearly, his anger was directed against God Himself! Is it ever right to be angry with God? The Bible gives us some examples to ponder…
 
When King David sought to bring the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem…
2 Samuel 6:1-8

1Again David gathered all the choice men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the Name, the LORD of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. 3So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. 4And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. 5Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.

6And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. 8And David became angry because of the LORD’s outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day.

Was David’s anger about God’s outburst against Uzzah righteous? After all, Uzzah was only trying to steady the ark when the oxen stumbled. Furthermore we see no record of God chastising David for his anger against God’s punishment of Uzzah. Nevertheless, David and the entire party were clearly in disobedience when they tried to move the ark in this way, on a cart. The Law gave specific direction for how the ark was to be transported…
Exodus 25:13-15
13And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. 15The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.
So, although Uzzah’s motivations may have been entirely innocent when he reached out to steady the ark, he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Furthermore, the responsibility for allowing the ark to be transported in this improper fashion by ox cart clearly lay at King David’s own feet. Perhaps he understood this, and was not only angry with God for striking Uzzah, but angry with himself for placing Uzzah into danger. Clearly, David’s son – Solomon – took this lesson to heart, because when the ark was finally brought to Jerusalem, it was done properly in accordance with the Law…
1 Kings 8:1-4
1Now Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel, to King Solomon in Jerusalem, that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the City of David, which is Zion. 2Therefore all the men of Israel assembled with King Solomon at the feast in the month of Ethanim, which is the seventh month. 3So all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark. 4Then they brought up the ark of the LORD, the tabernacle of meeting, and all the holy furnishings that were in the tabernacle. The priests and the Levites brought them up.
Another famous example of someone being angry with God clearly evidences improper motivation…
Genesis 4:3-7

3And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Even if Cain’s anger had been driven by righteous motivation – which it clearly was not – we all know that Cain allowed his anger against God to rule over him just as God had warned. Furthermore, since Cain knew he couldn’t prevail against God, he redirected his anger against his own innocent brother. This is the second aspect of discerning righteous anger from sinful and destructive anger. Not only must the motivation for our anger be righteous, we must not allow our anger to overwhelm and rule over us as Cain allowed his anger to do. Unbridled rage is never righteous anger, regardless of what motivates it. This is what God means, when He says in Psalm 4, “Be angry and do not sin.”
 
Is it ever proper to be angry with God? I don’t think so. Such anger is a manifestation of our own sinful pride (which God tells us that He hates), and reflects a lack of trust in God’s unfailing righteousness. Does God ever err in any way? Certainly not. Therefore, if we are angry with God, the fault lies with us, because we cannot discern the fullness of God’s plans, and we allow our inability to comprehend His reasons to manifest itself as rebellion and anger due to our lack of trust and confidence that His will is always perfect.
 
 But we have to give Jonah some credit. At least he didn’t allow his anger toward God for His mercy on the Ninevites to boil up into violence against an innocent person as Cain did. Nevertheless, Jonah’s anger clearly had an unrighteous motivation. In this, Jonah becomes a cautionary tale for us. While the Bible clearly makes allowance for “righteous anger,” there is an ever-present danger that our anger will cause us to sin, if not in outright rage against an innocent person, as in the case of Cain, then in the privacy of our own thoughts when we allow a perceived threat against our own pride and self-righteousness to make us angry. As Solomon so sagely puts it…
Ecclesiastes 7:9
Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry,
For anger rests in the bosom of fools.

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