Is It Right To Be Angry?
Read – Jonah 2:10-4:11
Key Verse – Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4 NKJV)
Key Thought – God’s love is endless, not just for “us”, but also for “them.”
We pick up where we left off – Jonah is on the shore, dripping with vomit and stomach acid, praising God for his deliverance. He hears the voice of the Lord yet again, and he hears God speak the same command that he had heard before his amazing adventure on (and in) the sea – Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it (Jonah 3:2).
But this time, Jonah obeyed. This time Jonah arose. This time Jonah went, and this time Jonah preached as God had instructed him.
He entered Ninevah on foot and began to preach (3:4). Twice he had heard God tell him that Ninevah was that great city (1:2, 3:2). It was so vast that it would take three days just to walk across it (3:3). He started preaching the moment he entered the city, and his message consisted of just eight words, And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4 NKJV) It is amazing that a message of only 8 words could have such power, but such is the power of God’s Word.
I imagine there are many sitting here this morning thinking, “I’d like to see you preach only eight words, Preacher!” Hmmmm… I wonder if I could:
– “If you do not trust Christ you will die in your sins.” (Nope – that’s 12 words.)
– “Believe Jesus died for you before it’s too late.” (Close – that’s 9 words, and one of them is a contraction.)
– “If you turn to Christ, He will save you.” (Yet again – 9 words)
– “Believe Jesus, and be saved from hell.” (7 words!)
It can be done. The gospel is not complicated. We need not doubt that Jonah’s simple message spoken from God and in God’s power would be effective. Actually, I think I could get it even shorter. How about “turn or burn!” It’s not original I know, but it’s only 3 words.
Well, we see the results of Jonah’s preaching in vss. 3:5-9. The people of Ninevah believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them (vs. 5). From the king to the commoner, they heard the Word and believed and repented.
The king of Nineveh proclaimed a fast for all his people in response to Jonah’s preaching. Donald S. Whitney, in his book “Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life,” has some things to say about fasting, and one of the things I found interesting was this quote, “Incidentally, during the early days of our nation, Congress proclaimed three national fasts. Presidents John Adams and James Madison each called all Americans to fast, and Abraham Lincoln did so on three separate occasions during the Civil War.”^[Chatham, R.D., as quoted by Whitney, Donald S., “Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life”]
The result of the Ninevite repentance is seen in 3:10 – God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented. He held off on the punishment they deserved, because they confessed their sin, turned from their sin, and turned to God. What a picture of salvation! The same can be true for anybody. We all, like the Ninevites, deserve destruction, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All of us are sinners, and lost by nature. And the wages of sin is death, God said in Romans 6:23. The soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4,20). But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). If you’ve never received the gift of salvation, the Bible is clear… the message from God is plain and simple… you are going to die and go to hell, from which there is no escape. But if you’ll repent of your sins and turn to Christ, He will “relent.” He will commute your sentence and welcome you to heaven and into a relationship with Him!
What a wonderful thing – the people of Ninevah believed God! The people, from the king down to the lowest of the low, repented (vss. 5-9). God’s gracious response was to relent in His planned destruction. He did not do it (vs. 10). This was another amazing example of God’s grace, just as had been shown to Jonah previously. In delivering Jonah, and now in delivering Ninevah, God was demonstrating His unmerited and unearned mercy and grace.
Well, we come to chapter 4 and learn Jonah’s thinking about all this. He preached, the Ninevites received his words not as just from him, but as from God, and they believed. One of the greatest revivals in all of earth’s history broke out. They believed and turned to God. They believed and God’s judgment was stayed.
And Jonah was not happy about it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry (4:1). He was unhappy… he was displeased… he was hopping mad… because he preached and an entire city turned to God!
I preach here every Lord’s Day, and am thrilled when some trust Christ, even if it’s only once in a while! I give invitations after every worship service, and watch eyes glaze over, arms cross, and faces become like flint, as most of you determine in your heart of hearts that you will ignore that part of the service until the song is over. I can almost feel the palpable wave of relief sweep over the crowd like a summer breeze over a standing wheat when I close my hymnbook and you know the invitation is closing with it. Unbelievers ought to step out and kneel at the front of this church and trust Christ. It’s their only hope! Christians ought to step out and pray here at the front of this church for those very unbelievers. It’s their only hope, and we ought to care about them.
I’ve shared it before, but indulge me as I tell you again of the dear elderly saint who faithfully attended church every Lord’s Day. Her place was in the very back row, for she was not well, and would sometimes need to slip out during the service. So, not wanting to cause disturbance, she sat close to the exit door. One Sunday she awoke early. She had suffered through the night with a head cold, and considered taking the day off from church, but at the last minute she decided against that and prepared to go and worship. As she was heading out the door, she thought, “I’d better take some Kleenex with me, because of my snotty nose.” She couldn’t find any Kleenex, though, so as she headed out the door, she grabbed a roll of toilet paper and placed it in her purse. Toward the end of the service… just as the pastor was passionately concluding his sermon, she reached into her purse for that toilet paper roll because she needed to blow her nose. To her horror and dismay, she fumbled the roll and watched mortified as it fell to the ground, and rolled all the way down the aisle to the front of the church, leaving a long trail of toilet paper unrolled behind it! The service concluded, and she waited until the most had left before she gathered up the streamer and went to retrieve what was left of her roll. The preacher met her at the front, and handed the roll to her with a laugh. “I’m so sorry, Preacher. I’m mortified,” she said with a frown. “Don’t be,” said the pastor. “That’ s the first thing to come forward in this church in years!”
Any preacher, you would think, would be thrilled when the word preached resulted in response… souls saved… repentance. I know I would. I can’t imagine what it would be like to watch an entire city turn to God! Jonah experienced that, and rather than rejoice, He got mad.
He poured out his black heart to God in prayer (4:2-3) and told God this was the very reason he had fled to Tarshish in the first place. “I knew you would hear their prayers and save them! I knew you were a God of grace and mercy and wouldn’t actually destroy them. I knew it, Lord, and that’s why I didn’t want to come.” Now let Jonah’s dark prayer sink in for a minute. Here was his heart finally revealed. Here was his reasoning for all the running in chapters 1-2. He knew the power of the Word, and He knew the grace of God, and he feared that if the Ninevites heard that Word, they would believe and be saved, and JONAH DID NOT WANT THAT! How can this be? How could Jonah actually want these people destroyed? How could he, a preacher, be angry that God would save them?
Well, perhaps a better understanding of who these people were will help. The Ninevites were a cruel and vicious people. They were known to treat their captives horribly. One source described them:
“Nineveh was the capital of one of the cruelest, vilest, most powerful, and most idolatrous empires in the world. For example, writing of one of his conquests, Ashurnaṣirpal II (883–859) boasted, “I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountain I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool.… The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire” (Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:148). Regarding one captured leader, he wrote, “I flayed [him], his skin I spread upon the wall of the city …” (ibid., 1:146). He also wrote of mutilating the bodies of live captives and stacking their corpses in piles. (Elliott E. Johnson, “The Bible Knowledge Commentary”)
Interesting, the prophet Nahum would later prophesy to these same people, calling Ninevah the bloody city (Nahum 3:1). The book of Nahum ends with this pronouncement of woe against Ninevah: Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you, for upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually? (Nahum 3:19 NKJV). The Ninevites were hated far and wide, which might explain why Jonah didn’t want to go there. They did not repent when Nahum preached to them, as they did under the preaching of Jonah, so eventually “The city of Nineveh fell to the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians in August 612 b.c.” (Elliott E. Johnson)
In addition to their reputation for violence and cruelty, the city was also very idolatrous. There were temples to the false gods Nabu, Asshur, and Adad, and they were known to worship Ishtar, a goddess of love and war.
Well, in the final verses of chapter 4, Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east of the city. He did that so he could watch what would happen… still hoping that he would get to see God wipe that city out… still hoping that there was yet mayhem and disaster to come for these hated people. He sat and watched. God, amazingly, prepared a plant (4:6) to provide shade for Jonah in his petulant pouting. Jonah was thankful for that plant and for God’s grace in providing it (4:6). But then God took away the plant, and replaced it with a vehement east wind and sun that beat on Jonah’s head (4:8). Jonah was angry and very nearly suicidal with rage at this turn of events (4:8) and lashed out at God as a result.
Finally, God pointed out to Jonah just how hypocritical he was. He cared more for a worm and a plant than he did about the souls of Ninevah (4:10). God, on the other hand, DID care about the souls in Ninevah… all of them… from the least to the greatest. He even cared about their livestock! (4:11)
What it Means
I’d like to consider 2 questions and 1 primary application from this text:
First question – Is it right for you to be angry? (4:4)
What about when evil people hear the gospel and turn to Christ? What about when others, perhaps who have been unkind or unpleasant toward us, experience God’s grace and blessing? What about when the Word of God bears fruit in people we just don’t like?
“I would never be that, Pastor!”
What about the Muslim world, which is intent on murdering Christians everywhere they find them? I read an interesting bunch of statistics recently:
The worst persecution of Christians in ALL OF HISTORY is happening in our lifetime.
– The International Society for Human Rights – a secular organization – states that “80% of all religious freedom violations in the world today are directed against Christians.”
– 105,000 people are murdered for their Christian faith every year – that’s more than the entire population of Calvert County, Maryland.
– 1.6 million people have been murdered for their faith in Christ over the past 15 years.
– There used to be 1.3 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are less than 100,000. They didn’t leave. They were slaughtered for their Christian faith.
– Roughly 100 million Christians today live in countries where they face the daily threat of discrimination, interrogation, arrest, imprisonment, rape, torture, or death.
– Every five minutes, a Christian is put to death somewhere in the world. That’s 288 believers every day being murdered for their faith. By the time the average American Sunday worship service has concluded, more than 12 of our brothers and sisters in Christ have been killed.
Now not ALL of that persecution comes from the Muslim world, but most of it does. How do you find yourself praying for Muslims?
What about “the other side” from you in American politics? How do you pray for them? If you’re a Democrat, how do you pray for Donald Trump? If you’re a Republican, how do you pray for Nancy Pelosi?
God asked Jonah, Is it right for you to be angry? He was asking him specifically, “Is it right for you to be angry with how I choose to deal with others? Even your enemies… even those you don’t want saved?”
This has convicted me this week as your pastor.
– I regularly find myself confronted by people who claim to believe but refuse to live like they believe. I mean, just because our culture says it’s perfectly OK to abort and murder babies, or engage in homosexual behavior, or live together outside of marriage, or divorce your spouse when things get hard… doesn’t mean CHRISTIANS should do such. But it’s everywhere. And I confess to a heart not far removed from Jonah sometimes… a heart that sometimes wants to pray over such,”Lord, they just won’t listen. Sic ’em!”
– I regularly find myself confronted with unbelievers who mock Christianity… who look at me like I’m an idiot as they smirkingly spout some age-old argument like they are the first to have thought of it.
– I cringe as I watch people ignore the truth over and over and over… as I watch them refuse to budge at invitation after invitation after invitation, knowing that each time they say “no” to God brings them one step closer to the place where they will be unable to say anything BUT “no.”
In such cases, I often find myself feeling very Jonah-esque… feeling a black urge to pray, “Sic ’em, Lord.”
Am I alone in this?
Second question – Is it right to be angry about the plant? (4:9)
The first question pertained to how God deals with others. This one pertained to how He chose to deal with Jonah, himself. By application, it has to do with how God deals with me… with you. Is it right to be angry when things don’t go as we expect them to? When God chooses to do things in our lives that we don’t like?
– What about when God withholds blessings from us, and we see Him bestowing those blessings on others?
– What about when He DOES give blessings, but then takes them away (as He did here with the plant)?
– What about when He sends the vehement east wind and the blazing sun to dry up everything around us?
I confess that anger seems to be more of a problem for me in my sixth decade of life than in previous decades. Interestingly, my bouts with aner aren’t so much over the big things now as they are over the little stupid niggling things.
– My son got cancer, went through 3 surgeries, was nearly killed by the chemotherapy he received, lost his hearing, and suffered irreparable kidney damage. I don’t remember getting mad at God through any of that experience.
– My wife died… suddenly… unexpectedly… in the midst of our vacation where we had gone to spend a fun and relaxing week together, just the two of us. The experience with my son’s cancer had been horrible, but nothing… even that.. could prepare me for the horror of watching Beth die. But… I don’t remember getting mad at God through that experience, either.
I’m not saying there were NO moments of questioning or crying out to God. But there weren’t many. He gave more grace. The vehement east wind blew, and the blazing sun beat down, but He held me through those big moments, and I felt that.
BUT… it’s the little things that can throw me into a rage now. I drop my keys almost constantly in my old age. It drives me nuts… throws me over the cliff of anger every time it happens. Yesterday morning I walked into my office at home and as I walked past my desk my robe caught on a container full of pencils and pens that sits there, knocking it to the floor. When I sharpen pencils, I often sharpen them into that container, and so it not only had pencils and pens, but a bunch of shavings and lead dust. I watched that container fall and spread dirt and junk all over my carpet, and I confess… mad… anger… rage… I was very Jonah-esque right then.
Am I alone in this?
– Listen, we all face times where our circumstances turn dark, or difficult or troublesome.
– We all face times when God seems to be testing us, allowing things to take place that we don’t understand and we plainly don’t like.
– We all face days where God seems to be sending a vehement east wind and a blazing sun.
Is it right to be angry about those times… those circumstances?
Twice God asked Jonah, “Is it right to be angry?” He didn’t directly answer His own question either time, but the answer implied in the text is clear – NO, it is not right to be angry. Not about the way God chooses to deal with others, and not about the way He deals with us.
Why? Well that brings us to the one application I want to conclude with today.
God’s love is endless, not just for “us”, but also for “them.” God, amazingly, loves everybody!
– He loved and blessed and used Jonah, who was certainly less than we would hope for in a preacher.
– He loved the pagan sailors in the midst of the storm.
– He loved even these horrible and vicious Ninevites.
– He loves Muslims.
– He loves the hordes of people illegally invading our country every day.
– He loves Democrats.
– He loves Republicans.
– He loves drug dealers and drug addicts.
– He loves alcoholics.
– He loves adulterers.
– He loves homosexuals.
– He loves abortion providers.
– He loves those who have undergone abortions.
– AND, He loves YOU! Even when you’re at your most Jonah-like, He loves YOU.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV) The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. (Jeremiah 31:3 NKJV)
God’s love is endless. Let me say it again, God’s love is endless… ENDLESS… not just for “us”, but also for “them.” God, amazingly, loves everybody!