Remember where we left off with Jonah and Nineveh last week. Jonah had delivered the prophetic message to Nineveh at last and the people of the city repented. God decided not to punish them.
Now as we start the book’s final chapter, Jonah is angry when he realizes that God relented from punishing Nineveh. We aren’t given an exact reason for his anger, but as intelligent Bible students we can deduce a few possible reasons:
– Jonah did not think the people deserved mercy
– Jonah was upset at himself for not believing that the people would turn back to God and so he is ashamed at his lack of faith
– Jonah was upset at himself for his overall failure to serve God when the effort turned out to be so relatively small and the outcome so decisive
Jonah’s anger probably results from some combination of these three reasons above. As we read the verses in chapter 4, we see that Jonah wants to die at the end of these events. Jonah’s desire to die is dramatic but also suggestive of his great guilt and lack of belief. It reveals foolishness in his heart. Jonah should be joyous that God’s mercy has appeared and has saved so many from an awful fate. Jonah should also be happy that his efforts led to this outcome and that God did not further punish him for his disobedience but rather still had faith enough in Jonah to let him follow through. Rather than seeing God’s righteousness and mercy at work and celebrating it, Jonah reveals his immaturity and foolishness by being angry and wishing for death. Jonah had been a part of the effort to save the people of Nineveh, yet he despaired when they were saved.
Jonah’s anger presents an opportunity for me to look at the times when I am angry. I ask myself, looking at Jonah, does his anger serve a great purpose? What does it accomplish? For Jonah, the choice he made to be angry was one that contributed to his remaining on the wrong course. Had he been more humble, more honest, Jonah would have rejoiced at God’s mercy towards Nineveh. But instead Jonah foolishly continues in his wayward beliefs.
I confess that I am guilty of this too. Anger is a choice, and we do not help ourselves by thinking it is not and by thinking that it is always justified. Yes, anger has its place in our emotional lives, but it is more often than not selfishly misused when the world does not act the way we think it should. Remembering Jonah when my temper starts to rise will help me to realize that the world is always so much bigger than me, and that things do not run on my schedule.
God endeavors to teach Jonah this lesson in verses 5-11 with the shade from a plant and the worm that kills it. Jonah decides to watch the city from afar (supposedly still waiting for God to punish it) and God causes a plant to grow and shade Jonah from the sun. Later God causes a worm to destroy the plant and Jonah must be exposed to the harsh sunlight. God is telling Jonah: “I am in control. I determine the events and their order. You do not.”
How could Jonah be angry at a good situation? Jonah did not create the situation; God did. So was it then up to Jonah to decide how it should best turn out? No. This is true for both Nineveh and the shade plant.
In the end of the book, we are left with God explaining to Jonah about pity, but we do not get Jonah’s response. I will not speculate whether or not Jonah came around enough to understand, grow up and acquiesce to God, but instead I will turn the question back to us:
What will we resolve to do with our anger? There are some questions that could curb the effects of ill-borne anger. Once you feel your temper and blood pressure rising, try and ask yourself:
1. Why am I getting angry?
2. Can I control the the reason for my anger?
3. What will this anger accomplish?
4. Will it improve the situation?
Our anger comes as the result of us not getting what we want in some sense. Some anger is justified and some is not. Life in general and all situations are not so simple, but if we can take the time to answer at least one of these questions above (particularly #4), we could make progress towards curbing the negative and sometimes disastrous effects of our anger.