Jonah 4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
Jonah is probably the most famous of the group called “the minor prophets” (because the books with their names are short). However, he is also probably the least admirable of all the genuine prophets! In the first place, he did his utmost to run away from God’s commission on his life, and in verse two of this chapter he gives a very ignoble reason for his actions, as though it were an excuse. God doesn’t let him get away unanswered, though. We don’t know how this particular interchange came to be recorded, but that seems like a small issue compared to the whole matter of Jonah being in the whale for three days! That said, the whole thing about Jonah was how very human he was. He wasn’t very dedicated and he certainly wasn’t compassionate. That makes it all the more significant that God used him in spite of all that, and even used him as a direct foreshadowing of Jesus’ time in death. (Matthew 16:4) We don’t have to worry whether our vaults and failures are too big for God to use us! Among Jonah’s many faults was his conviction that he had a “right” to be angry. Anger is a very natural emotion, and rightly used it can be a powerful motivator for good, but when we start thinking of it as a right, as Jonah did, we are valuing it for its own sake, and that is very destructive. Jonah himself said, “I am angry enough to die.” Anger does the most damage to the one who is angry! Right now there are an almost unlimited number of things in the world to make us angry, from fraud and injustice in government all the way down to people cutting us off in traffic. We need to be very careful what we allow to make us angry. Outer-directed, the ultimate expression of anger is murder. Inner-directed, it is suicide. Anger nursed is always destructive, regardless of the justification. That’s why God tells us so clearly, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) (Older translations say, “Vengeance is mine,” which somehow seems meatier and more satisfying.) There is much to make us angry, even rightly so, but if we hang onto that anger, we and others will suffer needlessly. We need to release it into God’s hands.
Recently my wife made a joke based on something the Lord spoke directly to me several years ago, which I quote frequently. She said, “What was that three-r saying? Rest, relax, revenge?” (It’s actually, rest, relax, rejoice.) I have learned the hard way that the longer I hang onto anger, the worse things get. I actually really dislike getting angry, so when it happens, I get angry that I’m angry! That’s certainly a self-defeating cycle. If I were never to get angry, that would not be following the example of Jesus, who drove the merchants out of the Court of the Gentiles with a whip! (John 2:15) However, I must be very careful to let the Lord direct my anger where it rightly belongs, and not be like Jonah. I think anger is analogous to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is extremely valuable in some cases of surgery and injury but is easily fatal in overdose. Being “angry that I’m angry” doesn’t solve anything either! I need to be an instrument of God’s grace, mercy, and love, even toward those who provoke me to anger – including myself!
Father, thank You for this clear Word. I don’t think there’s anything in it You haven’t said to me before, though. Help me apply it fully! May everything about me be fully submitted to You, to accomplish that for which You intend it, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!