06 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet
“An Angry Prophet in the Hands of a Merciful God”
- Chapter 1: Jonah Rebelling and Running from God
- Chapter 2: Jonah Repenting and Running Back to God
- Chapter 3: Jonah Restarting and Running with God
- Chapter 4: Jonah Regretting and Resenting God
“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So, he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?””
(Jonah 4:1-4 NLT)
Oliver Cromwell was sitting for his official portrait that would portray his image to future generations. In a time when royal people having their portraits done told the artist, “don’t paint the mole. Paint me with a smaller nose, or a taller or thinner profile.” But Cromwell told the artist to “paint him as he is, warts and all.” And so that phrase entered our vocabulary. It means, “this is how it really is.”. (OR Use high school portrait)
In Chapter 4 of Jonah, we see him portrayed “warts and all.” If we were writing this story, Chapter 3 would have been a great ending. In fact, if it ended there Jonah would be considered the greatest prophet in Israel! “From Running to Revival.” I can see the book title now!
But that’s not how it ends. It moves from Jonah preaching to Nineveh in Chapter 3 to pouting over Nineveh’s response to his message in Chapter 4. Now, beloved, I will tell you I have spent some time pouting in ministry, but usually it’s because people DIDN’T respond to what I thought was a really great message! My warts were showing in times like that. “The heart of the problem is always a problem of the heart.” (Wiersbe). Jonah had a heart problem! The Bible does not create plastic, perfect people as it’s heroes. It’s the flawed, the folks with warts.
God does not airbrush or photoshop the characters of Scripture.
Jonah, however, is pouting because they DID respond to the message! That’s like a concert violinist getting angry because she got a standing ovation or a Christian singer winning a Dove Award and flying into a rage! Jonah’s name in Hebrew is “dove.” An “angry dove” is an oxymoron. Even the anger of Yahweh against Nineveh’s evil (3:9) is not described as “very angry.”
Jonah wanted to be able to return to Israel and report, “Well God said He was going to blast the Ninevites. I told them so. And I’m happy to report today that He wiped out the whole mess of them!”
But that’s not what happened. Instead, the whole city repented, and God showed them grace! Inside of Jonah, however, that was viewed as a failure…not a success. It was a failure to how he viewed himself. It was a failure to the ideal of his national interest. It was a blow to his false idol of Jewish superiority. Jonah feared this chain of events would result in his being seen as a false prophet. So, it was also a blow to his self-esteem, his self-identity.
In the things that make us angry, we meet our “bottom line,” which is the thing we worship. In other words, it is our idol, our counterfeit god.
Nineveh’s Repentance and Jonah’s Collapse
Jonah prays his best prayer in the worst place, and his worst prayer in the best place.
In 4:2, Jonah gives us a classic description of what God is like: (Taken from Exodus 34:6-7)
1). Gracious (merciful)
2). Compassionate (soft like a womb)
3). Slow to wrath (be patient, postpone anger)
4). Abounding in steadfast love (unrelenting, covenant love). “hesed”
One of the strange ironies of Jonah’s message as he promises, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overturned” is that, while the same words CAN apply to being overturned and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, it can ALSO mean “turning something over—turning it around—or turning it into something new…” like the Lord turning Moses staff into a serpent or the River Nile into blood. It is a word that means, in English, “conversion.”
Jonah thought he was prophesying the destruction of Nineveh when actually he was proclaiming the Gospel to Nineveh! “Forty days…and you will become something other than what you are…”
So, in reality here, Jonah accomplished what he was sent to do; to proclaim the possibility of forgiveness and conversion to Nineveh even though he thought, and he had hoped he was proclaiming their destruction. He thought what he had said did not come to pass, and therefore he would be seen as a false prophet. God actually made every word that Jonah spoke come to pass!
Jonah’s Response and God’s Question
“To Jonah this was a disaster…a great disaster…and he became angry!”
Jonah was angry. Angry enough to die! “Very angry,” a term that was not even used when we hear God to describe His anger over Nineveh’s evil! Jonah was madder than God at Nineveh, and now he was angry AT God for not blowing them off the map.
These people he had so despised now became part of the same participants in the grace Israel had known. But Jonah did not rejoice in that. He was angry that God was “compassionate, and slow to anger.”
He was angry at God’s focused compassion for Nineveh.
So, the section before us ends with a diagnostic question which God asked of Jonah. I want to turn the question to us today:
- “Do you do well to be angry?” (ESV)
- “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (NASB)
- “Is it right for you to be angry?” (CSB) and (NIV)
- “Doest thou well to be angry?” (KJV)
- “Is it right for you to be angry about this?
What makes you angry? Your answer reveals a lot about your true self. We become angry over the things that are most meaningful to us.
IS ANGER BIBLICAL?
Many push back on this question of anger, and will quickly assert, “Oh, I never get angry.” But to say that is very quickly to resign from the human race. People get angry. Good people and bad people. Men and women. Infants and senior adults.
Anger is a God-designed defense mechanism. It was given to us for our protection, and to make us aware when something is threatening to us. It is actually more dangerous NOT to be aware when you’re angry than to admit and recognize when you are!
We will sometimes play games with our emotions and rename them. If we say, “I don’t get angry, I get irritated” or “that frustrates me” or some other euphemism for being angry, we have not solved the problem. You won’t fix an anger issue by refusing to acknowledge the problem. And it is a problem, maybe in some ways more for Christians or those who were raised to think anger is sinful.
The Anatomy of Anger
The anger response is built into our created nature. The fact that Jesus felt anger is evidence that, even a man created with no sin could respond with anger. Anger is no more sinful than the physiological response of hunger or the need for sex. But like those, anger can become sinful if we express it wrongly.
But we throw out the baby with the bath water. We have been taught to believe that, if you feel anger, you are doing something wrong. More, you are “sinning” by feeling the emotion of anger. That belief has done a world of damage to otherwise normal people.
A Response to a Threat
When I first started doing work in counseling and even started doing post-graduate work in pastoral care at Southern Seminary, I was still not convinced that anger was normal. I had been well conditioned to “swallow” or “suppress” feelings of anger through my childhood home and even by watching my parents, in addition to being raised as a Southern Baptist in the 50’s and 60’s. It came from my home and from the pulpit of my church and through the lips of Sunday School teachers and church leaders.
“Anger is wrong,” I was taught. I was not to feel it or acknowledge it if I did. I learned my lessons well, and it was not until I started breaking down my body that I finally started revisiting my thinking on this subject.
It was there for the first time that someone in authority told me, “You’re normal if you feel anger.” This was both freeing and terrifying to me.
I had been taught that anger was almost like a monster inside me that I had to keep locked away in a dark room lest it escape and wreak havoc on those around me. But as we all know, the things we keep locked away in closets grow in the darkness. Anger is one such “monster.” Opening the closet door doesn’t “unleash” the monster: It actually reduces it!
God Gets Angry
One of the more commonly quoted verses regarding God’s anger is
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
However, there are literally dozens of verses in the Old and New Testaments that reference God’s wrath and anger. Clearly this dimension of God’s character and nature is not hidden.
Jesus Got Angry
In several places through Jesus’ life, we see the reality of His anger.
The difference is Jesus’ anger was never about Him defending Himself. It was never self-protective anger. It was “righteous” because His anger was never used to defend Him.
The Angry Christian
Christians get angry. All the time. While the Bible never strictly condemns anger per se, there are some cautions that we need to heed:
- One who is quick tempered acts foolishly. (Proverbs 14:17)
- Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly. (Prov 14:20)
- One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty… (Prov 16:32)
- Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense. (Prov 19:11)
- Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. (Ecc 7:9)
- A bishop should not be arrogant or quick-tempered… (Titus 1:7)
- …let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20)
- In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath… (Eph 4:15)
We can draw some conclusions about anger from this:
- It is not wrong to experience anger. Everyone does it. Some are just unaware that it’s happening.
- Anger that flares up (“quick tempered”) is condemned in Scripture. It is always something we should have control over and not let it become the “beast” that devours us (see Genesis 4 with God and Cain).
- Anger that we won’t release is wrong. This anger becomes resentment and embitters us toward others. We are “not to allow the sun to set on our anger,” Ephesians 4 tells us. When Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that “to call someone a fool out of anger” is tantamount to murder, He uses the word that meant “to cling to anger” or “to seethe with anger.”. In other words, holding on to anger is sinful. We must resolve if possible, the issue that brought us anger. If we cannot we need to trust God to take this from us as we release it.
- The experience of anger is tied to our autonomic nervous system, as are our hearts and lungs. It happens instinctively and automatically. You cannot “will” your heart to stop beating. But you can determine what you are going to do with your anger when it happens. We are not held responsible for being angry. We are very much held responsible for how we express it.