THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JONAH (7) “JONAH’S ANGER”
During the Sunday service Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The Gospel according to Jonah’ “Jonah’s anger”. Her main text was taken from the Book of Jonah, chapters 3 and 4.
Anger (or wrath) is a strong emotion, a reaction to what people consider to be unfair or wicked treatment. It may be expressed as screaming, quarreling, loss or self-control, or physical violence. It is accompanied by the desire to punish or get revenge. Unresolved frustration leads to anger. Frustration is a feeling of disappointment because of lack of success. For example: you are trying to repair your car. After many hours of labor, you have not succeeded in fixing the problem. That is why you become frustrated and eventually angry or bitter. Passive-aggressive anger describes an attitude when anger is hidden most of the time. These people claim that they are not angry, but they are. They avoid situation that provokes them to anger. They express their anger in the form of fault-finding, withdrawal, stubbornness, resistance to authority, gossip, holding grudges, or procrastination. Anger is always destructive to man’s reputation and his relationships with others.
In the Bible we are told that anger is one of God’s holy emotions. God’s anger is always righteous. “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7:11). Without the work of the Holy Spirit, man’s anger is always sinful. An angry man is a foolish man. “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, For anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecc 7:9). The only man who can exercise righteous anger is a Spirit filled mature believer who is dead to the flesh and alive to the Spirit. His anger is an expression of God’s anger against sin, and it glorifies the name of the Lord. A mature believer never defends himself but defends God’s name. This righteous anger is a jewel. It is rare to find. It takes great peace, wisdom, spiritual strength, and self-control, to exercise it. It always glorifies God!
Jonah is a prodigal prophet. The hero in the story of Jonah is God. Like the sun rays seen behind the clouds, His Grace shines thru. Grace is the unmerited favor and kindness of God the Father, to the unworthy, based on the sacrifice of His Son on the Cross.
Jonah has a problem. He is angry with God. He has a grudge against God. Jonah’s anger is a passive-aggressive anger. In the first two chapters, his grudge is somehow hidden. He runs away from God and God’s work. In chapter 2 he prays in the belly of the fish, but he does not truly repent of his grudge. But He worships God by saying: “Salvation is of the Lord!”. Because of this true confession, God commanded the fish to vomit him unto dry land. The word of God comes to Jonah the second time. It is the same command. This time Jonah obeys God. He preaches to the people of Nineveh. He obeys God, but not joyfully. His sermon is short, to the point, intended to bring the fear of God to them. There is no love or grace in his words. Even so, all the people in Nineveh repented. God shows mercy and grace to them. One of the greatest revivals in the ancient world happens in that city. But Jonah is not happy with the events. Finally, Jonah’s anger towards God manifests openly.
“So, the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). Like the mariners on the ship, these Gentile people believed in Jehovah, the God of Jonah. From the king to the lowest person, they all feared God, believed the word of His prophet, and repented of their sins. It seems that the revival started from the ‘grass roots.’ The people on the streets who heard Jonah, the were the first to repent. They started fasting and praying before the King heard of the matter. The King believed God’s warning too and he repented openly. He then officially declared a compulsory fast for all people and even for the animals. Just imagine the noise of the hungry animals… None remembered their idols. This was an emergency action trying to find mercy with Jehovah God.
This was the king’s decree: “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Jonah 3:7-9). It is interesting that the king did not have to explain to the people, what their sins are. It is like they all knew that their ways are evil and there is violence in their hands. The only explanation is that the Holy Spirit came and convicted them all of sin. Having such a hatred for them it is possible that Jonah wanted to judge them of their sins. But there was no need. God prepared the way. They all knew that they are sinners in need of a Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit. The people of Nineveh understood God’s Word correctly. It was a warning of grace and love. They knew that Jehovah God could have killed them like Sodom and Gomorrah without any warning. They saw an open window of hope in the prophet’s warning. For example, God told Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and see how he works. The potter has a vessel in his mind. He will use the clay to make that vessel. If the vessel had a fault, he would re-use the clay to make another one. The potter has total control over the clay. In the same way, God has total control over Israel and all the other nations. There is a warning to repent. There is a window of mercy and grace revealed in the warning. In the case of Israel, God’s warning thru the prophet Jeremiah was ignored. That is why God handed them to Babylon (Jer 18:1-12). God told Ezekiel that He has appointed him to be a watchman to the house of Israel. It is the responsibility of the prophet to warn the sinners, to repent! (Ezekiel 3:16-21). True revival always starts like this, with genuine repentance. What men need is not information about their sins. They know themselves. They need the conviction of the Holy Spirit to openly repent. May revival come to our Land!
“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… But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (Jonah 3:10; 4:1). Jonah was ‘displeased exceedingly and became angry’. In Hebrew, these are strong passionate words. Jonah hated that God used him to bless his enemies. He was selfish and proud. He wanted to control the prophetic office. But that can never happen! God is always in control. We are God’s servants. We do what God commands. We do not have personal preferences in the matter.
God relented from destroying Nineveh. The word ‘relent’ is defined as to soften the harsh attitude because of mercy; to act in a less severe way towards someone and allow something that you had refused to allow before. God decided to forgive the sins of the people of Nineveh. This forgiveness is not because of what they said, or their sackcloth fasting and prayers. It is because ‘God saw their works’. They truly repented with fruits to prove it. Their character and actions truly changed. Only God can detect if a repentance is true or false. Thiers was a genuine repentance that led to salvation. We shall meet our Nineveh brethren in heaven one day! Halleluiah!
We are not told why they repented so quickly. It is possible that their general Naaman has told them the story, how Jehovah, the God of Elisha, has healed him. Some say that Jonah was mentored by Prophet Elisha. Naaman was an Assyrian general who possible lived in Nineveh. He took soil from Israel with the promise to always serve Jehovah God. He also told Elisha that when his master, the king, goes to the temple to serve the Assyrian idol called Rimmon, he will follow but, in his heart, he will worship only Jehovah God (2 Kings 5). This is only one possibility that the people of Nineveh heard about Jehovah God, His power, and His mercy towards others and not only towards Israel.
Our Lord confirms that the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. Their hearts were open to believe the Word of God. But the Jewish religious rulers, closed their hearts towards God’s Son and His Word. That is why, the people of Nineveh who got saved, will stand in judgment against all religious hypocrites. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed, a greater than Jonah is here” (Mt 12:38-41). Our Lord used the story of Jonah as a sign to confront the religious unbelievers. He reminded them that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights. In other words, Jonah died in ‘the heart of the earth’. The fish’s belly represents the grave of Jonah. On the third day, The Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah unto dry land, near the city of Nineveh. This ‘vomiting’ of the fish is a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. God is totally in charge of all events: the fish swallows Jonah and the same fish vomits Jonah. Once the fish vomited Jonah, he immediately does the work of an evangelist. His words are anointed because they were backed up by His miracle of death and resurrection. In the same way, God the Father sent God the Son to die for sinful men. On the third day, Christ rose from the dead thru the glory of God the Father! This is the Gospel we preach: Christ Crucified and resurrected! It has the power of eternal life, to save all who believe the Word! The power of resurrection is the true source of revival and fruitfulness in ministry. Glory to God!
“IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU TO BE ANGRY?”
Despite this extraordinary success in ministry and revival, Jonah is still angry with God. Most prophets were persecuted and even killed because of their words. But God preserved and blessed Jonah. The people believed his words. He should have been happy. But he was not. Anger breeds un-gratefulness to God. He should have celebrated this great deliverance with the people on the streets of Nineveh. He should have organized some Bible studies centers to help them understand God’s word better. But, no! Jonah is still angry! This is clearly a sinful anger. Let us study it… Jonah was not angry with himself, or with the people of Nineveh. He was mostly angry with the only Living Holy Gracious Merciful God of Israel. In the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed that God should help him live. Now, because of this anger, he wants to die. Jonah’s people, the Jews, praised God for His lovingkindness, mercy, and grace. But these are the very attributes that make Jonah angry with God. Jonah is angry with King Grace. His anger blinds him to his own sin, his persistent rebellion against God. Even so, God extends grace to him and rebukes him mildly for his anger.
Jonah built a booth outside the city. He was waiting for the destruction of Nineveh. He was there as the spectator of a great event, much like the Romans who were watching the killing of the Christians by the lions. But after 40 days, to Jonah’s surprise, Nineveh was still standing. Just as he was suspecting, God forgave them. He became greatly disappointed with God. Then, God reveals to Jonah the root of his anger. He made a plant grow to cover him in its shade. Jonah was happy with God’s provision of comfort for himself. Then God ‘prepared a worm’ to destroy the plant and, to make the matters worse for Jonah, God ‘prepared a vehement east wind’ that brought a heat wave. Jonah became angry again, wishing to die. He even claims that he is right to be angry with God.
But God has the final word in this Book. God says: “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. And 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 4:10, 11). God ‘finds a common ground’ between Himself and Jonah. It was the attitude of ‘pity’. In Hebrew, the word ‘pity’ means to be concerned about someone, to be grieved when another suffers, to show compassion, and mercy and to spare someone from destruction. God compares Jonah’s pity to the plant and His own pity to the people of Nineveh. What are some of the points of difference? Jonah had pity on a plant, but God has pity on people, who are more valuable than plants. Jonah had pity on a plant on whom he did not contribute anything to make it grow. God had pity on people whom He created and kept alive for His plan and purpose. Jonah had pity on the plant because it died quickly. God had pity on sinners. He does not want them to die an untimely death and go to hell. Jonah wanted all the people in Nineveh to die and go to hell. Jonah has compassion only on himself. His pity was selfish. He did not even care for the plant, only for his comfort. But God has compassion on others, including Jonah.
JONAH HATED KING GRACE
Grace is God’s unmerited favor given to those who are un-deserving. We are saved by Grace alone. Because Grace is a free gift from God, no man can boast of his salvation. Grace is given to the humble and Grace humbles men. God extended grace to the sinners in Nineveh. Jonah knew that they are un-deserving. Why Jonah hated this display of Grace is because now, he too is seen as underserving. In the presence of King Grace, he is not better than the Ninevites. And Jonah saw this as humiliation. That is why he hated Grace.
In the Parable of the workers, the owner of the field said to the workers who came early in the morning: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (Mt 20:15). They were jealous with the last set of workers who received the same payment like them. They were also angry with the owner of the field because he made them ‘equal’ with others. What is the lesson? God does not owe any man anything. Whatever blessing we receive is always only by grace. Sinful men hate King Grace! Jonah was saved but, in his backsliding, he hated the very Grace that saved him. Grace is given to men to make them holy, not happy. Grace brings us to God. Under the plant, Jonah was happy, but not holy. That is why God destroyed the plant to reveal to Jonah his selfish happiness and lack of holiness. When Jonah prayed that God would save him, it was from the belly of the fish. That was not very comfortable. Even to be vomited by the fish on the beach was not a nice sight. Jonah could have preferred to walk on the water like Jesus and to stop the storm with his word. That could have been a better ‘picture’ of a successful prophet. Grace does not promise us comfort but strength to bring us closer to God. Apostle Paul suffered from a thorn in his flesh, possibly a chronic sickness. Three times he prayed to the Lord Jesus to take it away from him. “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10). Grace comes mostly as strength to endure trials. Grace changes us from selfish people to godly people. That is why we need to be grateful for all experiences, pleasant or not because thru them all, grace is revealed.
No man can control or manipulate King Grace. But Jonah hated that lesson of humility. Jonah was saved by grace. But his theology was wrong. He believed that he was saved by works. He believed that because he has been serving God, he deserves to be saved. He thought that he deserves the plant to protect him from the sun. He also thought that the Ninevites, because of their evil deeds, deserve to die and go to hell. You can see how wrong doctrines affects behavior. What you believe will manifest thru your words and deeds. Jonah was a self-righteous religious man, a Jewish tribalist. This type of man sees Grace as a gift for beggars, not for himself. He forgot that Israel became a nation, not because of their righteousness but because of God’s Grace. Jonah knew that God is “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2) to those who love Him and keep His Commandments. The problem was that Jonah could not extend this mercy and grace to the Gentiles. Jonah also forgot that the initial promise of blessing to Abraham was that thru Israel, all the nations will be blessed. “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Jonah was a symbol of the nation of Israel. They thought themselves to be better than other nations. They ‘claimed’ Jehovah God only for themselves. They thought that God is obligated to reward them for their nationality. They saw Grace as divine ‘handouts’ given to people who were inferior to them. That is why Jonah hated grace. The Book of Jonah ends with a question. We do not know if or when Jonah repented of his self-righteousness. God’s question is a sign pointing to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that any man or woman can be found righteous before God. Salvation is by Grace alone, and by faith alone. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:28, 29).
ANGER IS CRIMINAL
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But 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. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny” (Mt 5:21-26)
We shall study our Lord’s words concerning anger against people. Our Lord exposes the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They twisted the law of God to benefit them. They were only interested in keeping the law outwardly, for men to see and admire their obedience. They ignored the spirit of the Law. They interpreted the law legalistically, without a spiritual meaning. They love to be seen and admired as religious leaders. But with all their visible religion, they behave as slave masters. They are hypocrites. They live a double life. In their private lives they are wicked, stingy, they lack compassion, and they exploit others. This legalism is an empty religion not pleasing to God. Our Lord exposes their error and reveals the true meaning of obeying the Law. God who gave the Law is Spirit. The Law is always spiritual. Obedience must start in the spirit, in the heart. Obedience that is only outwardly, in the flesh, is not true obedience. God looks at the heart and tests it. The Pharisees obeyed God only for men to see. Our Lord confronted and cursed this unspiritual proud religion (Mt 23:1-7).
One of the Ten Commandments given by God thru Moses is this: “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). The Pharisees added something to God’s law. They said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment” (Mt 5:21). They added that if you murder a person, you ‘will be in danger of the judgment’. What they meant is that if any one physically murders a human being, that person will be in danger to be judged by a human court and found to be a criminal. To the Pharisees, murder was defined only as the act of killing a human being. But our Lord reveals the spiritual meaning of the Law, what God had in mind when He said: “You shall not murder!”. Our Lord says that anger in the heart is sin, and it will be judged by God, in His court, as murder. Religion is only concerned with men’s actions and opinions. Christianity is always concerned with the heart, with the thoughts and the motives that dwell inside, where no man sees but God sees and judges. Our Lord says that anger against men kills them. It may not be physically, but thru careless unkind words, anger kills another’s peace of mind, joy, and reputation. The Pharisees excused themselves. Because they did not physically kill anyone, they thought that God is pleased with them. They did not care about the purity of their hearts. They slandered others by calling them ‘Raca’ (which means worthless fellow, stupid, or ‘ye-ye man’). When they quarreled, they insulted others by saying “You, fool”. They thought that just because they are religious leaders, they are better than others. They were proud and wicked. Anger manifests as pride and slander. Anger and murder are brothers. Every insult towards another human being is a sin and makes you a criminal. You need to repent before God who created the man you have insulted. Repentance towards God is the first step. Secondly, you need to try your best to reconcile with the offended party and restore peace. Jesus said that if you worship God and the Holy Spirit reminds you of a quarrel you had with another, stop the worship. Go and ask for forgiveness from the person. Pray that you may find favor with the offended person. Try your best to change war into peace. After that, you come back, and you continue the worship. If not, that worship, that prayer is in vain. God will not listen to your prayer. Stubborn anger and unresolved quarrels between people are mighty hindrances in your prayer life. No matter how serious your need is, God will not listen to your prayer request. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear” (Ps 66:18).
A Christian loves God and obeys His commands, not for men to see, but in his heart. Jesus loved the sinners and He laid down His life for them, even unto death. If you are a true Christian, then you desire to be and behave like Jesus. You too should lay down your life for the brethren. To lay down your life it means to love the loveless, to humble yourself and to help those in need (1 Jn 3:16-23). Love is expressed in words, but it is not only words. Love combines words with deeds. Love is a verb! Love is action! Love is never stingy with his prayers, encouragement, and helping the needy with provisions. Once you love God and sacrificially help the brethren, you become a friend of truth. You lose the guilt and the condemnation of a backslider, or a hypocrite. You gain confidence before God. Your prayer life gets stronger. God answers your requests freely and without delay. You make spiritual progress. The worship of God is intimately connected with the practical love for all men, and especially with the love for the brethren. This is a simple test: if God delays your prayers, you should examine your heart towards people you dislike. Marriage is a territory of much misunderstanding and anger. The devil attacks the husband or the wife creating painful conflicts. Learn to repent quickly, to God and to one another. If not, your prayers are ‘blocked’ (1 Pet 3:7). Anger in the heart quenches the prayer life and your desire to worship. Your progress in life, your spiritual growth in a way, it is in ‘the hands’ of your brethren. You cannot escape this law. If you want to hear God always, learn the value of peace with all men! Worship the Lord!
LESSONS FROM JONAH
*God is sovereign! His providence always wins! “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [for He does not withdraw what He has given, nor does He change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call]” (Rom 11:29; AMP)
*God’s dealings with men are always and only based on His Grace. We do not merit salvation, prosperity, children, or any blessings from God. Salvation is not a reward for labor. Salvation is a free gift found in Christ alone. The principle of Grace applies to all relationships we have with other people. We should be kind and forgiving with difficult people, even with the unbelievers. Let all people see King Grace living in us!
*This is the question the Lord asked: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). The answer is no! I have no right to be angry at God, His Word, and His ways. I am what I am by grace alone! Anger is a work of the flesh (Gal 5:20). Uncontrolled anger has damaged the testimonies of many Christians. It has done great harm to relationships, marriages, and the fellowship of the brethren. It divides the Body of Christ. Many struggles with wounds received from angry, bitter people. Words spoken in anger hurt more than physical pain. We are commanded to forgive those who hurt us. The best way is to control your anger and live in wisdom, humility, peace, and love! By the power of the Holy Spirit, flesh must die! Repent of your anger! Destroy its stronghold in you! Redeem your testimony! This is God’s command to His children: “My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:19, 20). “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph 4:26, 27). Give all glory to God!
*Hating the grace of God is sin. “Insulting the Spirit of Grace” is punished by God (Heb 10:29). It is a sin to grumble when we do God’s work, or because He blesses others more than us, because He does not give us what we think we deserve, or because God chooses to withdraw some of our blessings. Anytime you discriminate others based on nationality, race, gender, or social status, you sin against King Grace. The solution is to be humble, grateful, and satisfied with King Grace alone. This is a question: “Is Jesus enough for you?”
*Evangelism and revival are Grace gifts. Preach the whole Gospel, Christ crucified and resurrected. True repentance shows fruits of a changed behavior. Even when God grants you success in ministry, remain humble and faithful, giving God all the glory! Praise the Lord!
*Human anger bows to God’s anger. God uses all situations to glorify His name. Man’s anger and rebellion is an opportunity for God to display His power. God, in His providence, uses all things for His glory, even men’s sins and failure. God’s always wins! “Human anger only results in more praise for you; those who survive the wars will keep your festivals…Even the most angry people will praise you when you are furious… For the wrath of man shall praise You; With a remnant of wrath You will clothe and arm Yourself” (Ps 76:10; GNT; CEV: AMP). Like all His qualities, God’s holy anger against sin is eternal. He defeats all His enemies. With the overflow (remnant) of anger, God will dress in His ‘army uniform’. King Grace is the Captain of our salvation! He is the Lord of Hosts, the General of the heavenly armies! God can never lose! Worship the Lord!
*Jonah should do what Job did! Repent and submit To God and His ways! Job said: “I had heard of You [only] by the hearing of the ear, but now my [spiritual] eye sees You. “Therefore, I retract [my words and hate myself] And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5, 6; AMP). Praise God!
Dear child of God, because of God’s grace, you are a special person. As a child of God, it is expected of you to behave well. Thru the study of God’s Word and prayer, become spiritually mature. Do not grumble when you pass thru difficult trials of life. Never doubt God’s love for you! Never allow grudges in your heart towards God. Don’t forget: God is in you! God is with you! Always! You may not like it, but because of sin, you need loving chastisement. God is interested in your soul more than He is interested in your body. He wants you to be holy more than He wants you to be happy. God is interested in your sanctification, that you may become holy like Jesus! When things are difficult, keep your eyes on Jesus, not on your circumstances! Remind yourself of the character of God, His loving-kindness, His faithfulness, His greatness, and His goodness. Remind yourself how big God is and how small you are. Your mind cannot understand God’s ways. That is alright. Accept that limitation. And still trust God! He loves you! The road from earth to heaven may be rough, but it is paved with the precious jewels of grace and glory! In all things give thanks to God! For He alone is worthy! Worship the Lord!